Monday, January 27, 2020

MAAC Monday: Remembering Kobe, Malik Johnson’s POY-caliber senior year, stat leaders, power rankings

By Jaden Daly (@jadendaly) and Vincent Simone (@VTSimone)

MAAC Monday returns today with a different spotlight this week, as we focus not a team, but rather on a senior that has gone from underappreciated role player to one of the most impactful leaders for his program. From there, the weekly stat leaders and power rankings will be refreshed. But first, an opening segment was initially going to be a recap of what turned out to be Monmouth’s fourth straight victory Sunday as the Hawks wrapped up a regular-season sweep of Iona, now becomes an unexpected eulogy for one of the most transcendent figures the sport of basketball has ever seen.

As Monmouth and Iona slugged it out inside the Hynes Athletics Center Sunday afternoon, turning in yet another classic installment to one of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s premier rivalries, the tenor of the day shifted from exciting to somber during the second half.

It was then that the world learned of the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant, killed Sunday in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles at the tender age of 41. Eight others, including the Laker great’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, also perished. Almost instantly, a pall was cast over the basketball world, and certainly on press row in New Rochelle.

It is inexplicable as to how something can so suddenly become inconsequential in the grand scheme of life, but so it was on this particular day. For the final 12 minutes of action, neither the final score, nor the winner and loser, mattered. The central focus shifted to the well-being of a man who was not only the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history, but more importantly, an ambassador of the great game we all love and one just beginning to relish his new role in teaching his offspring the right way to make an impact and cement her own legacy, so that the youth of her generation could potentially idolize her in much the same vein today’s children of the 1990s and 2000s did her father.

The clips of Kobe teaching a young Gianna on and off the court, working on mechanics and studying film, have made the rounds on social media, and rightfully so. Forget whether or not you loved or hated Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Laker. The impact that Kobe Bryant — man, husband, and father — left upon a world that must now face life without his unyielding and inspiring work ethic to guide it in times of adversity, is undeniable. As Steve Masiello has said many a time during his years at Manhattan College, it is bigger than basketball. It always has been.

Therefore, we urge you to hug your loved ones. Hold them close. Let them know how much you love and appreciate them, and most importantly, cherish the opportunity you are blessed to have whenever you spend time with them.

Life is too short, and tomorrow is not promised. 

Make it count while you still have the chance, just like Kobe Bryant did every day of a life that was abbreviated far too soon before any of us could stop taking it for granted and simply be grateful for what we did have when he walked alongside us.

Rest in peace, Mamba.

***

Malik Johnson’s production has risen to career-high levels, validating development of Canisius’ senior point guard. (Photo by Tom Wolf Imaging)

From an early stage in his collegiate career, it seemed as though Malik Johnson was destined to be the consummate leader on a Canisius team that possessed multiple veteran options for the Richmond, Virginia native to complement with his fearless approach and stalwart mentality that head coach Reggie Witherspoon was fortunate to inherit when Johnson upheld his commitment in the wake of Jim Baron’s retirement following the 2015-16 season.

“Malik is the guy that didn’t score a lot of points, but had a huge impact for our basketball team,” Witherspoon said in 2017, in the waning stages of Johnson’s freshman season, when the 5-foot-10 bedrock of the Golden Griffins’ program completed an inaugural campaign that resulted in a spot on the MAAC’s All-Rookie team. “To have a freshman play that many minutes on a team with a winning record anywhere in the country is remarkable, and for him to be a point guard and do it, that’s really remarkable.”

Three years later, as Johnson prepares himself for the coda to one of the more complete four-year tenures on Main Street in recent memory, very little has changed. The departures of Isaiah Reese and Takal Molson have positioned him as the undisputed face of the Griffs’ roster, but the approach to which Johnson goes about his business remains virtually the same.

“I wouldn’t say I needed to prove anything, but I knew there was going to be an opportunity for me to step up,” he said Friday after Canisius battled Iona to the wire in New Rochelle. “I knew we were going to have a bunch of young guys who were going to be looking up to me to be a leader and show them how we do things here, so it was a challenge in that way. But I wasn’t out to really prove anything. I knew who I was, how good I am as a player. I just had to show it.”

Malik Johnson has turned in perhaps his most stellar season halfway through his senior year at Canisius. (Photo by Tom Wolf Imaging)

Where Johnson has markedly improved, aside from the slight offensive uptick, is in his growth as a two-way player as well as a facilitator. The MAAC’s leader in both assists per game and steals per game, and Canisius’ all-time leader in games played, Johnson ranks among the top ten in the conference in rebounds per game, averaging six boards per contest, usually unheard of for a small point guard. In Friday’s game against Iona, he racked up a double-double with 11 assists and 10 rebounds, the latter marking his third double-digit effort on the glass.

“His rebounding has been a part of what he’s about when he plays the game,” said Witherspoon. “He looks to win the game, so if there’s an area we need him at to win, he just embraces it and goes at it.”

“I would say I got a lot better,” Johnson concurred. “I credit the coaches, just working over the summer on weaknesses and stuff like that, but a lot of the stuff just came with being more confident and as Coach said, sometimes I’ll have to go out there and rebound a lot in certain games, so I just try to keep that in my mind and as far as assists, just find my teammates, push the floor, and get guys open shots. That’s all I really focus on.”

As the Griffs continue to make headway in a parity-laden MAAC entering the second half of conference play, they do so with a battle-tested leader that is not only unfazed by the big moment, but also one whose value cannot truly be measured in tangible units.

“He’s meant a lot,” a passionate Witherspoon remarked. “I’m thankful that he decided to stay, and he has been the face of our program and the leader in our locker room from the moment he arrived on campus. That’s not just because of his ability to play basketball, but that’s who his family raised him to be. He’s that way every day. That’s just who he is, and he has a real good idea of what he needs to step to the plate and swing at.”

Scoring Leaders
1) Rich Kelly, Quinnipiac (17.3 PPG)
2) E.J. Crawford, Iona (17.0)
3) Deion Hammond, Monmouth (16.3)
4) Jalen Pickett, Siena (16.0)
5) Elijah Burns, Siena (14.8)
6) Ray Salnave, Monmouth (14.6)
7) Tajuan Agee, Iona (14.2)
8) Landon Taliaferro, Fairfield (13.9)
9) Dimencio Vaughn, Rider (13.6)
10) Manny Camper, Siena (13.6)

Rebounding Leaders
1) Kevin Marfo, Quinnipiac (13.7 RPG)
2) Manny Camper, Siena (10.5)
3) Tyere Marshall, Rider (7.9)
4) Tajuan Agee, Iona (7.4)
5) Dimencio Vaughn, Rider (6.5)
6) Elijah Burns, Siena (6.5)
7) Frederick Scott, Rider (6.3)
8) Pauly Paulicap, Manhattan (6.2)
9) Malik Johnson, Canisius (6.2)
10) Vincent Eze, Fairfield (5.8)

Assist Leaders
1) Malik Johnson, Canisius (6.0 APG)
2) Jalen Pickett, Siena (4.8)
3) Rich Kelly, Quinnipiac (4.3)
4) Stevie Jordan, Rider (4.3)
5) Samuel Chaput, Monmouth (3.5)
6) Isaiah Washington, Iona (3.2)
7) Samir Stewart, Manhattan (3.2)
8) Ray Salnave, Monmouth (3.2)
9) Marcus Hammond, Niagara (3.1)
10) Tajuan Agee, Iona (3.1)

Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Elijah Burns, Siena (.624)
2) Tyere Marshall, Rider (.578)
3) Warren Williams, Manhattan (.576)
4) Tajuan Agee, Iona (.541)
5) Greg Kuakumensah, Niagara (.528)
6) Vincent Eze, Fairfield (.522)
7) Manny Camper, Siena (.491)
8) Frederick Scott, Rider (.478)
9) Jalen Pickett, Siena (.467)
10) E.J. Crawford, Iona (.465)

Free Throw Percentage Leaders
1) Landon Taliaferro, Fairfield (.947)
2) Rich Kelly, Quinnipiac (.867)
3) Ray Salnave, Monmouth (.863)
4) Donald Carey, Siena (.854)
5) Elijah Burns, Siena (.835)
6) James Towns, Niagara (.829)
7) E.J. Crawford, Iona (.816)
8) Taj Benning, Fairfield (.806)
9) Deion Hammond, Monmouth (.800)
10) Stevie Jordan, Rider (.764)

3-Point Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Matthew Lee, Saint Peter’s (.512)
2) Ray Salnave, Monmouth (.468)
3) Doug Edert, Saint Peter’s (.462)
4) Dimencio Vaughn, Rider (.426)
5) Rich Kelly, Quinnipiac (.417)
6) Frederick Scott, Rider (.415)
7) Raheem Solomon, Niagara (.413)
8) Jacob Rigoni, Quinnipiac (.408)
T-9) Jordan Henderson, Canisius (.400)
T-9) Matt Herasme, Marist (.400)

Steal Leaders
1) Malik Johnson, Canisius (2.4 SPG)
2) Christian Hinckson, Manhattan (1.7)
3) Stevie Jordan, Rider (1.6)
4) Isaiah Washington, Iona (1.6)
5) Michael Cubbage, Marist (1.5)

Blocked Shot Leaders
1) KC Ndefo, Saint Peter’s (2.7 BPG)
2) Tajuan Agee, Iona (1.5)
3) Pauly Paulicap, Manhattan (1.5)
4) Seth Pinkney, Quinnipiac (1.4)
5) Jalen Pickett, Siena (1.1)

Power Rankings
1) Monmouth (12-7, 6-2 MAAC)
Last Week: T-2
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 at Iona (W 94-88)
Next Game: Wednesday 1/29 at Saint Peter’s, 7 p.m.

2) Quinnipiac (10-8, 5-3 MAAC)
Last Week: T-2
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 at Siena (L 84-61)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 at Canisius, 7 p.m.

3) Rider (11-8, 5-4 MAAC)
Last Week: 6
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 at Manhattan (W 67-63)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 vs. Fairfield, 7 p.m.

4) Siena (9-9, 5-4 MAAC)
Last Week: T-7
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 vs. Quinnipiac (W 84-61)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 at Iona, 7 p.m.

5) Manhattan (8-9, 4-4 MAAC)
Last Week: 1
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 vs. Rider (L 67-63)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 at Saint Peter’s, 7 p.m.

T-6) Fairfield (8-11, 4-4 MAAC)
Last Week: 5
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 vs. Canisius (W 63-55)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 at Rider, 7 p.m.

T-6) Niagara (6-13, 4-4 MAAC)
Last Week: 4
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 at Saint Peter’s (L 58-53)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 vs. Marist, 7 p.m.

T-6) Saint Peter’s (7-10, 4-4 MAAC)
Last Week: 9
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 vs. Niagara (W 58-53)
Next Game: Wednesday 1/29 vs. Monmouth, 7 p.m.

9) Iona (5-10, 3-5 MAAC)
Last Week: 10
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 vs. Monmouth (L 94-88)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 vs. Siena, 7 p.m.

10) Canisius (8-12, 3-6 MAAC)
Last Week: T-7
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 at Fairfield (L 63-55)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 vs. Quinnipiac, 7 p.m.

11) Marist (4-14, 3-6 MAAC)
Last Week: 11
Last Game: Friday 1/24 at Siena (L 70-57)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 at Niagara, 7 p.m.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Late run helps Hofstra get back on track with win over Drexel

Tareq Coburn’s 24 points and 12 rebounds led Hofstra past Drexel, avenging last-second loss in previous game versus Delaware. (Photo by Vincent Simone/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Vincent Simone (@VTSimone)

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — On to the next.

The benefit of playing in a conference built around a strict Thursday-Saturday schedule is a quick turnaround. 

A chance to right the ship before you drown in the thoughts of a crushing defeat. Three weeks ago, Hofstra suffered one such crushing defeat in the form of a 27-point drubbing at the hands of Colonial Athletic Association underdog William & Mary. Two days later, the Pride turned the tables and doled out a 27-point punishment of its own to conference for Elon.

This past Thursday, Hofstra found itself on the wrong end of one of those crushing defeats once more when Delaware’s Kevin Anderson drove the length of the court and found the bottom of the net with a floater to break a 71-all tie in the final second of regulation. That bucket would be featured that night as SportsCenter’s No. 1 play of the day.

Rather than wallow in misery, Hofstra had the benefit of being forced to turn its attention toward Saturday afternoon’s contest against Drexel.

"We were frustrated after the game Thursday," senior Desure Buie said. "We wanted to get right back at it the next day. We brought that energy today and played angry."

Entering the half down a point, the visiting Dragons burst out of the gate with a 13-2 run to open their largest lead of the night at 43-35 early in the second stanza. With his team struggling to stay afloat, Hofstra senior Tareq Coburn soon sparked the Pride with five quick points to help pull Hofstra back within one.

"I was just bringing energy, starting out on defense," Coburn said of that spark, “keeping my teammates motivated and doing whatever I can."

Junior Jalen Ray came through with a triple to deliver Hofstra its first lead of the second half, at 52-51, with 9:47 remaining, and from there, the Pride never looked back. The trey turned out to be the catalyst of a 17-0 Hofstra run, lifting the Pride to a 72-59 victory and a 6-3 record in league play.

Coburn capped the night with a career-high 24 points to go along with 12 rebound for his fourth double-double of the season. Pride leading scorer and CAA Player of the Year candidate Buie managed 12 points and 5 assists despite a dismal 5-of-20 night from the floor.

"He just proved he's human," Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich said of Buie. "I get more upset if they don't take an open shot than if they miss an open shot."

Despite the off night shooting, Buie enjoyed setting the program record in games played at Hofstra with 129. Isaac Kante and Eli Pemberton joined the duo in double figures with 13 and 12 points apiece. Junior forward, CAA leading rebounder, and walking double-double James Butler paced Drexel with his 14th double-double of the season on 21 points and 12 boards. Zach Walton added 14 points while Camren Wynter notched 10 points and four assists in his return to his hometown of Hempstead.

Notes:

* William & Mary, Charleston, and Northeastern all lost at home Saturday afternoon, throwing the CAA standings into a deliciously chaotic mix. William & Mary maintains its lead atop the league at 7-2, while Hofstra, Charleston, and Towson each sit a game behind at 6-3. Northeastern, Delaware, and Drexel are all just two games back of the conference lead at 5-4 with half the league slate left to play.

* Prior to Saturday's game, Hofstra senior walk-on Connor Klementowicz was awarded an athletic scholarship to cover the remainder of his time at the university. 

"He is the best walk-on I've been around in my life," Mihalich said of Klementowicz, who has accrued 17 career points. "He's not liked, but loved by all these guys, and respected."

Saturday, January 25, 2020

WATCH: Geo Baker hits game-winning 3-pointer to beat Nebraska

Watch Geo Baker’s game-winning 3-point field goal in the final seconds of Rutgers’ 75-72 win below:


(Video courtesy of Brian Fonseca/NJ Advance Media)


Seton Hall vs. Providence Photo Gallery

Photos from Seton Hall’s 73-64 win over Providence on January 23, 2020:

(All photos by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Friday, January 24, 2020

Iona survives, ends Canisius’ win streak to begin homestand

Tajuan Agee scored season-high 24 points as Iona fended off late run to defeat Canisius. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Following a much-needed win one week ago Friday, E.J. Crawford praised Iona’s development effusively, citing that the collective buy-in of the Gaels had risen to a crescendo halfway through a season rife with adversity and a roster still feeling itself out through its first two months of playing alongside one another.

Seven days later, the individual and group commitment manifested itself in the form of a 22-point lead, but threatened to evaporate after the four-time defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions surrendered 19 unanswered points.

That was when muscle memory and senior leadership kicked in.

After opening up a 59-37 advantage over Canisius and then seeing its cushion whittled down to a mere three points, Iona found a way to close its opener of a three-game homestand, salting away a 69-66 victory over the Golden Griffins to remain just two games out of the lead in what has shaped up to be an even more unpredictable MAAC race than that of one year ago, where the Gaels rode a seven-game surge at the end of the regular season to an historic conference tournament crown.

“I feel like we still haven’t played to our fullest potential,” Tajuan Agee candidly opined after his season-high 24 points propelled Iona (5-9, 3-4 MAAC) to a bounce-back win on the heels of a disappointing loss last Sunday at Marist. “We got off to a good run, got up 22, but I think we fought hard. We’ve still got a lot to work on, but tonight was a good win to get us rolling.”

“We’ve made big strides,” Crawford added after supplementing Agee with 18 points of his own. “We’ve got to keep going and we’ve got Monmouth on Sunday. We’ve got to come and play the right way, and get that W as well.”

For the majority of the evening, Iona fed off its customary brand of transition offense and deceptively strong defense, seizing control midway through the first half with a 17-4 run and holding Canisius (8-11, 3-5 MAAC) to just two field goals during a five-minute outburst that illustrated the Gaels’ potent attack at perhaps its most complete appearance to date this season. But a 19-0 run by the Griffs, punctuated by a Majesty Brandon 3-pointer with 3:15 remaining in regulation, forced acting head coach Tra Arnold to call a timeout to rally the troops for a suddenly intense stretch run.

“We’ve been having lulls like that throughout the year,” Arnold, who continues to fill in for Tim Cluess as he recovers from a health issue that has sidelined him, said. “I just told them to be tougher offensively and make plays offensively, and then defensively, we can’t have lapses at those points.”

In addition to Agee and Crawford leading the way, Isaiah Washington flirted with a triple-double, ultimately finishing with eight points, seven rebounds and seven assists while demonstrating an all-around game that has markedly improved since his Gaels debut in November.

“It’s something we’ve been talking about,” said Arnold. “We want him to score, but we want him to get in the paint and pass, and get guys shots, because he has the ability to do that. When transfers come in, it usually takes a while to adjust to a system, and I think he’s really recently grasped what we want him to do, and hopefully it continues going forward.”

Iona resumes its stay at the Hynes Athletics Center on Sunday, when it welcomes a resurgent Monmouth team currently tied for the MAAC lead. The Hawks already own a victory over Iona, on January 5 in West Long Branch, but the Gaels have a shot at retribution with a momentum-boosting triumph to fuel the fire.

“It’s definitely better to win and learn than lose and learn,” Arnold admitted. “We had shown spurts in the game, especially in the second half, and defensively, we were really good.”

LIU vs. SFU Photo Gallery

Photos from LIU’s 86-81 win over Saint Francis University on January 23, 2020: 

(All photos by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Kevin Willard quote book: Big East conference call

Opening statement:
“I was really happy with the way our guys battled all game long. I thought Providence’s defense was probably one of the best we’ve seen, they played physical — it was a physical basketball game where both teams, I thought, played really well. I like the way we shared the basketball, and this week, we’re going to take a couple days off and try to get healthy a little bit, and get back after it Saturday and get ready for a very good DePaul team.”

On Shavar Reynolds’ value:
“I think it’s huge, because the one thing that most people don’t know about Shavar is that he’s an extremely smart basketball player. I could play him at three different positions, he’s one of the best on-the-ball defenders that we have, but he’s also a physical and strong enough kid where I could move him to the wing and play him on bigger guys like we did last night against Alpha Diallo, who’s one of the better players in this conference. He understands what his role is for this team this year, to come in and give us energy on the defensive end, and I think he’s playing very well on the offensive end. He’s playing very under control with a lot of confidence, and he just gives me multiple options on the floor, and those are guys I really like.”

On the timing of Seton Hall’s bye week:
“I think it’s a pretty good time. We’ve been grinding pretty hard just like everybody else in the league, and Myles and Quincy — and really Ro now — have put in a lot of mileage in the conference schedule. I just think it gives us a couple days, more mentally than it is physically, and it gives us a couple days to just clear our head and kind of get refocused on the next seven games before we have a bye. I’ve got to put some new plays in to try to help with face-guarding with Myles and some things like that, so we’ll work on that, but overall, we’ll kind of continue just getting better, focusing on the next three or four games, because it’s three or four big ones.”

On Quincy McKnight’s defensive mentality:
“I think we kind of get our identity defensively from Quincy. He brings the toughness, the grit, really a workmanlike attitude to the defensive end. He’s always going to guard the best player, he’s gotta cover for a lot of guys on the court, and I think more than anything, he just brings a mentality to our team that we’re going to be a great defensive team because it all starts with him. When those other four guys are seeing him heating up the ball and working on it, it gets them engaged to do the same thing. More than anything, it’s just his attitude, and really, his toughness.”

On Myles Powell opening up the perimeter to other players:
“I think the one thing Myles does as good as anybody in the country is Myles really picks his spots. He’s gotten so much more mature with when and how he shoots the basketball. Last night, I thought he played one of his better games even though he only scored 14 points, just because of the maturity he showed in the fact that other guys were open because of the double-teams he was facing, even triple-teams sometimes last night, and his maturity and his growth as a player has allowed everybody to kind of let their games grow and get better. It just shows you what type of player he is and how good of a player he really is, because he’s letting everyone grow and has confidence in his teammates to make plays, and I think all the guys are doing a good job with stepping up.”

On being surprised by Romaro Gill’s maturation and evolution:
“No, not at all. I saw this — he started developing at the beginning of the last Big East Conference season, and unfortunately, he had that really bad ankle injury that had him miss seven games — we got off to a good start early in the conference because I thought he was playing at a high level. He’s a young man that has a great attitude, probably one of the best attitudes I’ve ever seen, and he has a relentless work ethic, so when you add a work ethic and a great attitude, good things are going to happen.”

4 Thoughts: Seton Hall takes down Providence for 9th straight win

Romaro Gill matched career-high 17 points, highlighted by this dunk, as Seton Hall defeated Providence for ninth straight win Wednesday. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

NEWARK, N.J. — At 6-0 in the Big East and already with four conference road wins under their belt, the 10th-ranked Seton Hall Pirates had their best offensive option taken away by the Providence Friars, but saw others step up with big performances in a 73-64 victory at Prudential Center. The team's ninth-straight win moved them to 15-4 on the season, and extended their program-record start to conference play to 7-0.

Here are four thoughts from the Rock:

1. Powell Bottled

Give Ed Cooley credit: He came out with as good of a defensive game plan on Myles Powell as we've seen. It involved sticking the 6'5" David Duke on him to essentially be his shadow, and when Powell did get the ball in his hands, the superstar guard saw more than one black jersey in his face.

Head coach Kevin Willard remarked that although his best player was held to just six shot attempts from the field, it didn't faze him in the least.

"I thought it showed a lot of maturity by Myles that he didn’t get frustrated," he said. "In years past, he would have gotten a little frustrated with getting face-guarded, with getting grabbed, and I thought he really kind of sacrificed, he made a great screen coming out of a timeout for a layup (for example), and I think the rest of the guys kind of understand that when he’s getting taken away, they’ve got to step up and make some plays.”

Powell, by the way, still ended up with 14 points, sinking all eight of his foul shots.

"He was (my) head coach at the Pan-Am Games (this summer), so he knew how I liked to score, when I was going into attack mode, and things like that," Powell added. "So he was just throwing different defenses at me, but I'm proud of my guys that they picked up the slack that I couldn't pick up today."  

Boy, did they ever. And once again, there was a Big Man On Campus that spearheaded the attack...

2. Gill-ing Me Softly With His Song

Romaro Gill's evolution from a shot-blocking reserve into arguably the best center in the Big East took another step forward Wednesday night. After posting a huge double-double at St. John's, the 7'2" center posted his sixth straight game with double figures in scoring, pouring in 17 points (the third time in that span he's had exactly that many) while adding a career-high eight blocks and six rebounds. 

He shot 8-for-10 from the floor, including a rim-rocking dunk in the second half for which he took off from outside the lane that widened everyone's eyes and brought them out of their seats. That was on a pick-and-roll play, the likes of which Providence had no answer for all game long.

"In practice, we work on it a lot," Gill said. "In practice, I have Ike (Obiagu) on me, and sometimes he can't stop it, so I'm not worried about opposing teams stopping it."

But what of the monster jam?

"Yeah, that was crazy," the big man quipped. "I didn't even think it was going to go in. I thought it was going to get rim-stuck."

Gill's averaging 14.3 points per game over his recent scoring binge along with nearly seven rebounds and over four blocks per contest, shooting 66 percent (31-for-47) from the floor. But Willard wouldn't call him a second option behind Powell offensively, even though he's been that guy statistically and certainly was tonight.

"He doesn't get any plays run for him," Willard clarified. "What we try to do is kind of use different guys in pick-and-rolls and disguise coverages so it (doesn't look) the same way. But I think the biggest thing you’re seeing (is) that guys are very confident in throwing it up to him, and even if he misses it or drops it, the guards are very confident that he’s going to catch it and do something good with it."

3. Old Town Rhoden

It was Quincy McKnight who orchestrated the Gill-centered offense tonight, with a bunch of his eight assists going straight to the big man. He added 11 points for good measure as an outside compliment to Gill's inside dominance. But the Pirates needed something extra in the second half, especially as the Friars tried a zone defense.

Enter Jared Rhoden, who yet again had a solid shooting night en route to 15 points, and yet again stuck his nose into everything on the glass, finishing with a team-best eight rebounds. It was his eighth double-figure scoring game this year, and ninth game with eight or more rebounds.

He also got right into the center of that zone defense at the high post area, which further added to the Friars' frustrations on a night where nothing they tried really worked save for a bunch of offensive rebounds (19, leading to 21 second-chance points).

It was yet another example of this Seton Hall team being special: The Pirates have one of the best players in the country, who can score 30 points with his eyes closed, but they have so many more ways to get it done offensively.

"I feel like we're showing everybody across the country that we're not just the Myles Powell show," Powell commented. "I had three points at halftime, but we were still winning, and I felt like we had control of the game the whole time."  

4. Rarefied Air

With the victory tonight, Seton Hall made its current win streak the longest in the Kevin Willard era (2010-present). It is the Pirates’ longest win streak since 2003, and just their fifth nine-game win streak in the Big East era. Not only that, but Willard also tied the great P.J. Carlesimo with his 78th Big East win at Seton Hall, the most all-time in program history.

Willard was asked about it after the game, and he delivered one of his great, Willard-style answers.

“I’ve had a lot more chances," Willard quipped. "Gary (Cohen) just told me that P.J. only got 16 games a year. I’m getting 18, so I think there’s got to be an asterisk until I get at least a lot more to even out. I can’t divide, but I know the ratio of wins and games played, so I’m a little skewed because I’m sure I have a lot more losses than him, too."

Willard continued when asked how it feels to be mentioned in the same sentence as Carlesimo.

"I don’t deserve to be anywhere near Coach Carlesimo," he said. "He is the gold standard, and will always be the gold standard- he’s the one that put this program on the map. I’m just an asterisk below him until I get the ratio. I’ll go home tonight and have a club sandwich and see if the ratio (is up there) - Tom (Chen) is good for that. Tom’s the best SID in America, so Tom will probably come up and tell me that I have a conference call tomorrow at 11:40, and my ratio is not even close to Carlesimo.”  

I won't even get into the math, but the bottom line is that the feeling around this team is something that hasn't been there in a long time. The fans feel it, the old alumni feel it, and the longtime scribes who cover the team can feel it as well. If the Hall continues on the path they seem to be on, we may be talking a lot more about Mr. Carlesimo and his legendary squads of the early 1990s in reference to the 2019-20 Seton Hall Pirates.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Kevin Willard quote book: Providence

On Romaro Gill’s progression:
“I think the way he’s progressed this summer, he’s put a lot of work into his game. This summer, when we went overseas to Italy, I thought he had a different understanding of the game and had a much better feel than what he did last year. He was starting to play this way before he got hurt, he had two big blocks and a big dunk at Xavier, then he got hurt right before the DePaul game and missed seven games, and I thought those seven games kind of stopped him from progressing the way he had been progressing, so I started seeing this a little bit early last year. I thought it hurt us last year when he went down.”

On winning despite Myles Powell only taking six shots:
“That’s one of those things that, the way they play — the physicality, as good as they are — they make you grind and they make you guard for a full 25 seconds, and us giving up 19 offensive rebounds really hurt the fact that it just limited the number of possessions that we had on the other end. I thought it showed a lot of maturity by Myles that he didn’t get frustrated. In years past, he would have gotten a little frustrated with getting face-guarded, with getting grabbed, and I thought he really kind of sacrificed — made a great screen coming out of a timeout for a layup — and I think the rest of the guys kind of understand that when he’s getting taken away, they’ve got to step up and make some plays.”

On Gill being a second option offensively:
“I wouldn’t call him a second option, because we’re not throwing him the basketball in the post. He doesn’t get any plays run for him, what we try to do is kind of use different guys in pick-and-rolls and disguise coverages so it’s not the same way, but I think the biggest thing is what you’re seeing, that guys are very confident in throwing it up to him, and even if he misses it or drops it, the guards are very confident that he’s going to catch it and do something good with it.”

On Jared Rhoden’s physicality:
“Jared is — I told him, ‘J, you gotta get in there and rebound, you gotta try and do something for me,’ and that’s what I love about Jared, you tell him something to do and he’s going to go out there and try to do it. I thought he did a really good job against their zone, getting them out of zone, hitting the high post and making some good plays.”

On Quincy McKnight:
“You’re looking at a senior who has played a lot of games, a lot of minutes. I think the biggest thing with these guys is they’re all playing their role really well. No one’s trying to do anything they’re not supposed to do, and I think when you understand your role and you play your role and you do it well, you have confidence in what you’re going to do.”

On Sandro Mamukelashvili returning next week:
“Sandro’s not clear to practice yet, so no. He looks great in doing individual stuff, and that looks great, but he just doesn’t have enough muscle in his forearm yet to protect himself if he falls, and that’s why he’s not clear. He doesn’t have enough muscle in his forearm — his bone is healed and his wrist looks great — but I have to protect him just in case he falls again. He’ll be clear for practice, he won’t be clear for Wednesday. He won’t be ready to play Wednesday.”

On Seton Hall’s versatility and depth:
“It helps you look like you know what you’re doing on the offensive end, that’s for sure, and again: I think when the guard play has been as good as it has and you have one guard as good as we have, and is as excellent as we have, I think the other guys are really understanding at times when it’s their turn. That’s something that a mature team and a veteran team does, and I think these guys are doing it.”

On Seton Hall’s offense against Providence’s zone:
“We shot 54 percent, so I’d say I liked my offense pretty good. They were really pressing up on us and taking away Myles, but I thought we did a good job of — when you shoot 54 percent against a Providence team, your offense is obviously doing something right — and 16 assists, I like the fact that we’re sharing the basketball and everyone’s getting involved in the offense.”

On whether Seton Hall could have won a game like this last month without Powell:
“I think last month, we could have. I think last year, we would not have. I think all these guys have great confidence now, I think that’s kind of grown from when he went down, I think all these guys understood that they can’t just depend on him. I think that’s been the biggest growth. We’re still going to roll with the little man, but I think the biggest thing is when he went down, everyone kind of realized, ‘Okay, we’ve got to step up and do something different, we just can’t sit there and just depend on him to do this on a nightly basis.’ Every once in a while — he’s played six phenomenal games in a row in Big East play — he’s going to have an off night, and tonight, the off night was we gave up 19 offensive rebounds and I couldn’t get him anymore shots than six.”

On tying P.J. Carlesimo for most Big East wins in program history:
“I’ve had a lot more chances. He only played a 16-game schedule, I’ve played an 18-game schedule, so I think it’s a little skewed. Gary (Cohen) just told me that P.J. only got 16 games a year. I’m getting 18, so I think there’s got to be an asterisk until I get at least a lot more to even out — I can’t divide, but I know the ratio of wins and games played, and I know that’s got to be somewhere to the point where P.J.’s games, Coach Raf — he never won any Big East games, P.J. won all the games — so I’m a little skewed because I’m sure I have a lot more losses than him, too. I don’t deserve to be anywhere near Coach Carlesimo. He is the gold standard, will always be the gold standard, he’s the one that put this program on the map. I’m just an asterisk below him until I get the ratio. I’ll go home tonight and have a club sandwich and see if the ratio — Tom (Chen) is good for that. Tom’s the best SID in America, so Tom will probably come up and tell me that I have a conference call tomorrow at 11:40, and my ratio is not even close to Carlesimo.”

Monday, January 20, 2020

MAAC Monday: Connecticut spotlight, stat leaders, power rankings

By Jaden Daly (@jadendaly) and Vincent Simone (@VTSimone)

MAAC Monday returns today with a dual team spotlight, driving over the Connecticut state line to highlight the Nutmeg State’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference representatives after Jaden was on hand to watch Quinnipiac against Manhattan last Thursday, then having the chance to see Fairfield against Iona 24 hours later. As always, an updated set of stat leaders and power rankings will follow. Without any further ado, let’s raise the curtain:

Quinnipiac made strides in each of Baker Dunleavy’s first two seasons since leaving Jay Wright’s staff at Villanova for Hamden, first reaching the semifinals of the MAAC tournament despite a last-place projection at the start of the year, then holding a share of the conference lead late in the season before finishing tied for second and bowing out in the quarterfinals last year.

Even without reigning MAAC Player of the Year Cameron Young, the Bobcats have not missed a beat this season, winning their first four league games since the calendar turned to 2020. And although Quinnipiac has suffered losses to Manhattan and Saint Peter’s in its last two contests, the general consistency has resulted in maintaining a perch at the top of the leaderboard.

“I think we’ve played well,” Dunleavy concurred when surmising the Bobcats’ performance to this point, boasting both the conference’s leading scorer and rebounder in Rich Kelly and Kevin Marfo, respectively, the latter leading the nation in rebounding. “I think we’ve come together, I think we’ve had young guys probably grow faster than I would have expected, especially when we started the season, so I’m happy with that.”

“I’ll be completely honest with you: I would have predicted that he’d be top five in the country in rebounding,” Dunleavy said of Marfo. “The thing that I’m really proud of his growth is playmaking ability, he’s shooting the ball well from the foul line — that’s something he’s developed — defensively, he’s our backbone. He’s improved in a lot of other areas, but we’d be lying if we didn’t take any credit for his rebounding. It’s a God-given talent that he brings to the table.”

When Jay Young earned a long-overdue first head coaching opportunity in the Division I ranks this past spring when Fairfield athletic director Paul Schlickmann hired the longtime Steve Pikiell assistant to replace Sydney Johnson at the helm of the Stags, he was fortunate to inherit a young core whose experience going through the rigors of the MAAC season would serve it well this year in a league beset with more parity than in any year prior. The conference's coaches saw differently, however, selecting Fairfield last of the 11-team congregation in October’s preseason poll.

Fairfield has made short work of correcting the preseason slight, having split its first six games in MAAC play to sit one game off the conference lead, and if the regular season ended today, the Stags would get a first-round bye into the tournament quarterfinals. A non-conference victory over Texas A&M in the Orlando Invitational proved to be the launch pad for a program still just 22 months removed from playing for a MAAC championship, and its new leader admitted such when discussing his team’s progress, which although incremental, has not been lacking in year one of a new regime.

“We’ve had some good moments and some not-so-good moments,” a candid Young assessed following Fairfield’s 64-57 loss at Iona this past Friday. “We’ve got to get better on offense, we’re preaching that all the time, but I’m happy with the effort that they give us and I’ve got a good bunch of guys. I was very fortunate that I was left a really good group of guys who come to work every day.”

Scoring Leaders
1) Rich Kelly, Quinnipiac (17.1 PPG)
2) E.J. Crawford, Iona (16.9)
3) Jalen Pickett, Siena (15.7)
4) Deion Hammond, Monmouth (15.5)
5) Ray Salnave, Monmouth (14.5)
6) Elijah Burns, Siena (14.2)
T-7) Tyere Marshall, Rider (14.0)
T-7) Dimencio Vaughn, Rider (14.0)
9) Malik Johnson, Canisius (13.6)
10) Landon Taliaferro, Fairfield (13.4)

Rebounding Leaders
1) Kevin Marfo, Quinnipiac (13.8 RPG)
2) Manny Camper, Siena (10.8)
3) Tyere Marshall, Rider (8.3)
4) Tajuan Agee, Iona (7.8)
5) Dimencio Vaughn, Rider (6.7)
6) Frederick Scott, Rider (6.2)
7) Elijah Burns, Siena (6.1)
8) Malik Johnson, Canisius (5.9)
9) Tykei Greene, Manhattan (5.9)
10) Pauly Paulicap, Manhattan (5.9)

Assist Leaders
1) Malik Johnson, Canisius (5.9 APG)
2) Jalen Pickett, Siena (4.4)
3) Rich Kelly, Quinnipiac (4.3)
4) Stevie Jordan, Rider (4.0)
5) Samuel Chaput, Monmouth (3.4)
6) Marcus Hammond, Niagara (3.4)
7) Ray Salnave, Monmouth (3.1)
T-8) Brendan McGuire, Quinnipiac (3.0)
T-8) Samir Stewart, Manhattan (3.0)
10) Isaiah Washington, Iona (2.9)

Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Elijah Burns, Siena (.600)
2) Tyere Marshall, Rider (.585)
3) Greg Kuakumensah, Niagara (.548)
4) Warren Williams, Manhattan (.547)
5) Vincent Eze, Fairfield (.530)
6) Tajuan Agee, Iona (.523)
7) Scott Hitchon, Canisius (.481)
8) Manny Camper, Siena (.474)
9) Frederick Scott, Rider (.465)
10) Dimencio Vaughn, Rider (.459)

Free Throw Percentage Leaders
1) Rich Kelly, Quinnipiac (.855)
2) Ray Salnave, Monmouth (.848)
3) Donald Carey, Siena (.848)
4) James Towns, Niagara (.831)
5) E.J. Crawford, Iona (.811)
6) Elijah Burns, Siena (.809)
7) Taj Benning, Fairfield (.794)
8) Scott Hitchon, Canisius (.776)
9) Kevin Marfo, Quinnipiac (.758)
10) Stevie Jordan, Rider (.753)

3-Point Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Ray Salnave, Monmouth (.508)
2) Doug Edert, Saint Peter’s (.493)
3) Matthew Lee, Saint Peter’s (.441)
4) Dimencio Vaughn, Rider (.429)
5) Matt Herasme, Marist (.418)
6) Jacob Rigoni, Quinnipiac (.418)
7) Rich Kelly, Quinnipiac (.415)
8) Raheem Solomon, Niagara (.414)
9) Mo Thiam, Iona (.400)
10) Justin Roberts, Niagara (.395)

Steal Leaders
1) Malik Johnson, Canisius (2.4 SPG)
2) Isaiah Washington, Iona (1.7)
3) Stevie Jordan, Rider (1.6)
4) Christian Hinckson, Manhattan (1.6)
5) Ray Salnave, Monmouth (1.6)

Blocked Shot Leaders
1) KC Ndefo, Saint Peter’s (2.9 BPG)
2) Tajuan Agee, Iona (1.6)
3) Seth Pinkney, Quinnipiac (1.4)
T-4) Pauly Paulicap, Manhattan (1.3)
T-4) Jalen Pickett, Siena (1.3)

Power Rankings
1) Manhattan (8-7, 4-2 MAAC)
Last Week: 2
Last Game: Saturday 1/18 vs. Monmouth (L 65-58)
Next Game: Wednesday 1/22 at Marist, 7 p.m.

T-2) Monmouth (10-7, 4-2 MAAC)
Last Week: T-5
Last Game: Saturday 1/18 at Manhattan (W 65-58)
Next Game: Friday 1/24 vs. Niagara, 7 p.m.

T-2) Quinnipiac (9-7, 4-2 MAAC)
Last Week: 1
Last Game: Saturday 1/18 vs. Saint Peter’s (L 71-51)
Next Game: Friday 1/24 vs. Fairfield, 7 p.m.

4) Niagara (6-11, 4-2 MAAC)
Last Week: T-5
Last Game: Sunday 1/19 vs. Siena (W 72-71)
Next Game: Friday 1/24 at Monmouth, 7 p.m.

5) Fairfield (7-10, 3-3 MAAC)
Last Week: 8
Last Game: Friday 1/17 at Iona (L 64-57)
Next Game: Friday 1/24 at Quinnipiac, 7 p.m.

6) Rider (9-8, 3-4 MAAC)
Last Week: 4
Last Game: Sunday 1/19 at Canisius (L 95-86)
Next Game: Friday 1/24 vs. Saint Peter’s, 7 p.m.

T-7) Canisius (8-10, 3-4 MAAC)
Last Week: T-10
Last Game: Sunday 1/19 vs. Rider (W 95-86)
Next Game: Friday 1/24 at Iona, 7 p.m.

T-7) Siena (7-9, 3-4 MAAC)
Last Week: 3
Last Game: Sunday 1/19 at Niagara (L 72-71)
Next Game: Friday 1/24 vs. Marist, 7 p.m.

9) Saint Peter’s (6-9, 3-3 MAAC)
Last Week: 7
Last Game: Saturday 1/18 at Quinnipiac (W 71-51)
Next Game: Friday 1/24 at Rider, 7 p.m.

10) Iona (4-9, 2-4 MAAC)
Last Week: 9
Last Game: Sunday 1/19 at Marist (L 83-73)
Next Game: Friday 1/24 vs. Canisius, 7 p.m.

11) Marist (3-13, 2-5 MAAC)
Last Week: T-10
Last Game: Sunday 1/19 vs. Iona (W 83-73)
Next Game: Wednesday 1/22 vs. Manhattan, 7 p.m.