Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Pink Whistle: Blake Tournament Finals

Ray alongside Pat Larezza, whom he worked with in Blake Tournament finals. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

UPPER SADDLE RIVER, NJ - The final day of the week long Blake Tournament is reserved for consolation and finals in all brackets. The games are at the grade school(s) in this northern New Jersey suburb, virtually a stone’s throw from the New York border.

I was fortunate to get the call for two championships, and I ended up working with good friend and good official Pat Larezza. The first time we met, she was coaching her daughter’s grade-school team. Glen Mezzatesta and myself had the game her team won easily. Afterward, she came up to us and said, “Thank you for a great job. You let the kids play and do not call ticky-tack stuff.” I returned the thank-you and said a lot of my work in high school is in Jersey City; in fact the day before, I had worked a St. Anthony scrimmage. “Say no more,” she said smiling, “that is real basketball.”    
Before the games, I reminded Pat of that and she remembered that Saturday morning vividly. More importantly, our order was to discuss the possibility, or probability, of seeing pressing in game one and be ready with our areas of coverage.

6th Grade Girls: Upper Saddle River 28, Wayne PAL 24

On this level, pressing is allowed the entire game. Last time out, we discussed what that entails at this level. The situation comes up again. At the half, the teams have combined for 24 points and 20 fouls. The score is tied at 12. Both teams are pressuring full court from the inbounds pass on. What we have is a scrum, a foul fest by players not skilled in defensive fundamentals and trying to put on pressure. On offense, both teams get the ball in, take a few dribbles and try to complete a long touchdown pass. No semblance of half court offense is displayed by either team.
Players on both teams have a habit of getting an offensive board close to the basket and instead of a putback, dribble outside for a shot. Interestingly, the coaches do not address this, nor do they address any occurrence where we call a foul and the fouler shrugs her shoulders and/or gives us the rolling eyes. Seeing that situation not remedied, during one dead ball Pat says to the kids, “Ladies, let’s play basketball,” to which I add, “a novel idea.”
Numbers-wise it is a close game. Upper Saddle River is up five late, but Wayne answers to cut it to two. With fifteen seconds left, the hosts finish a transition basket off a long pass and are home free.

Talking with Pat afterwards, I mention that the winning team should feel good about their accomplishment. The coaches, however, should recognize the team deficiencies and correct them next practice. Caught up in the euphoria of a championship, that isn’t always the case. We also discussed body language. Neither of us were thrilled with the incessant fouls and lack of flow. She agreed our demeanor and body language on the floor gave no hint of our displeasure. It sounds trivial, but good body language is vital to an official’s credibility.

Sixth-grade champions Upper Saddle River. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

5th Grade Girls: Mahwah 28, Ridgewood 23

On this level, no press until the last two minutes of each half, a godsend. I chat briefly with the Ridgewood head coach, who played collegiately at Bywn Mawr College. I talked about my theories of eliminating pressing on lower levels and she agreed, citing the needs for younger kids to grasp half court and basic fundamentals first.
From the outset, you can see this was a better game execution and tempo-wise than the first.  Both teams utilized zone a good part of the game and both teams ran a simple but effective zone offense. Coaching. Mahwah grabs an early lead which is never lost. At the half, they are ahead 18-11. Not surprised, given her college experience - the Ridgewood coach is in a total teaching mode with her players.

In the second half, the difference is a consistent six to eight points in Mahwah’s favor. It is sort of deceptive, as Ridgewood is in reach, but the game feels like a 15-point difference. Ridgewood’s strength is in their center, No. 34. She has size, but more importantly, a soft touch out to about eight to ten feet. She gets to the line and hits with a better percentage than some players in high school. I did not check the book, but of Ridgewood’s No. 23, it is safe to say she had 19 points. During a late game timeout, Pat noted how both coaches are doing a great job with their teams. She did add from personal coaching perspective, “I would double team No. 34. When I coached, if a team had a star, I doubled her and dared the others to beat me.” The difference in the stretch never gets under two possessions as Mahwah closes it out.

As noted, the game had a much better flow and tempo than the first one. Ridgewood’s coach was enthused by No. 34’s play, but did add secondary scorers must emerge. A positive note is their regular season has yet to start, so there is plenty of time to work things out.

Two in the books, two championship games decidedly different in nature. The constant of it all on this Sunday, everyone competed hard with the hopes of earning the trophies and champions’ T-shirts.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Monmouth quietly going about their business, slowly building to another memorable March

Winners of six straight, Justin Robinson and Monmouth continue to build toward bigger payoff following last year's unparalleled success. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

STATEN ISLAND -- The marquee victories over high-major schools have not returned. The famous celebrations from the bench have been muted.

What has remained in West Long Branch, aside from the competitive defiance of the head coach; who boldly proclaimed he and his program would be back with a vengeance after a bitter postseason exit last March, is an incremental build to something bigger.

Something better. Something special.

"That's what we're trying to do," head coach King Rice reassured after Monmouth shook off a first-half shootout to pull away from Wagner to take their sixth straight win with an 81-71 victory over their former Northeast Conference rival. "The thing I'm trying to do, this year especially, is enjoy the process, enjoy the journey. You get so caught up as a coach that you truly miss the journey. I was guilty of that, and this year we're definitely building towards something, but it's building towards having a program that sits at the top of the MAAC like Iona does, like Manhattan does, like Siena did. We want to be one of those teams."

"Having a successful season one time does not put you in the air with them," he added. "I'm trying to build to shorten the gap between them long-term, and short-term is to win the MAAC regular season championship and then give ourselves a chance to be playing our best basketball in March so we could win the MAAC Tournament championship."

And while last season's upsets of UCLA, Notre Dame, USC and Georgetown were instrumental in raising the profile of the Monmouth program, the fact that such a statement victory is missing from the Hawks' resume turns out to be a blessing in disguise, keeping a focus on the simple things in the locker room.

"I want these kids just to work and get better," Rice solemnly shared. "The publicity we received last year was incredible for our program, our school, our kids. Incredible. I had never seen anything like that before at a mid-major school, so for us to think that would happen again, not realistic."

"We're just trying to be a team that just gets better every single day in practice," he elaborated, driving a point home in such a way that it felt not like the cliché it often gets utilized as by his fellow coaches, but rather a plea from a coach who has his players' best intentions ahead of anything else on his plate. "So far, we've been able to do that."

Easier said than done in the case of a team that won 28 games and reached the round of 16 in the nation's oldest postseason tournament. In that instance, the hangover can spill long into the ensuing season and erase all progress, yet Monmouth's personnel has found the rare balance between not only harnessing the bitterness stemming from an earlier than expected exit, but also how to properly channel that aggression.

"These kids have been incredible," a genuine Rice reflected. "We look a lot stronger, our togetherness is off the charts. These kids have been total what you want for your basketball team, and I think they'll keep getting better. We've got to keep enjoying this journey."

The journey has been rife with equal parts adversity and growing pains, and is so for a second consecutive year, but as the leader of a national darling looking for belated vindication, such an obstacle merely comes with the territory.

"We've definitely matured a lot, but we've definitely got some growing to do," senior point guard Justin Robinson said on a night where his contribution to the cause took on a greater role in the form of 33 points and six three-point field goals. "We're an older team, but we're a young team in the season if that makes any sense. There are going to be times where we'll have lapses that we're not going to have later in the season, so it's basically about growth every day in practice and every game."

Perhaps the biggest example of growth in the Hawks' rotation this season is their reigning MAAC Rookie of the Year, now the proven second scoring option behind Robinson and a player to be feared just as much; if not more, but more importantly a larger figure behind the scenes.

"I've gone under a transition, but more of it has been being more vocal," Micah Seaborn admitted. "Last year, I did a lot of the same stuff I did last year, but now I'm just trying to be more vocal, listening and trying to help Coach Rice get what he's saying to the other people."

"Last year, I got down on myself when I missed shots," he recollected, revealing that his moping has given way to a newfound confidence. "This year if I miss a shot, I just keep shooting. That's a big part of my growth."

And Seaborn is not the only one, as he himself adamantly reinforced.

"I feel like we have the same amount of firepower," he began before citing the improvement of his teammates. "It's just now, Je'lon (Hornbeak) is playing more confident than he was last year and Collin (Stewart) is playing more confident too. That's a big thing, it's not like we just added them. They're playing more confident, and that's why it looks like it does now."

When you add all those factors up, the pieces are in place and the magic is sealed in an air-tight bottle, a container that the Hawks intend to crack open at full velocity three months from now.

"I feel like this could be an even better season than last year," Seaborn excitedly opined. "We have old guys and then we have some young guys like Mustapha (Traore) and Pierre (Sarr) and Sam (Ibiezugbe) and Diago (Quinn) that I feel like are really going to help us in January, February and March. All those guys are going to help way more than they're showing right now. Even though they're helping us right now, they're going to help us way more and be able to change a lot of games for us."

"It's definitely something special," said Robinson, bringing the aura around Monmouth full circle. "We want to keep building. We don't want to be at our best now, we want to be working to be our best down the stretch in March."

Monday, December 5, 2016

Rider holds off Siena for first MAAC win of season

By Brandon Scalea (@brandonscalea)

LAWRENCEVILLE, NJ -- In a game that Rider tried desperately to give away in the final moments, the Broncs earned their first conference win of the season, topping Siena, 71-69.

Siena’s Nico Clareth had a chance to win the game with three seconds left after Marquis Wright hit him with a beautiful, no-look pass. Clareth’s wide-open three-point attempt was too strong, and the rebound fell into the hands of Rider’s Norville Carey as the horn sounded. Clareth was 0-for-8 from beyond the arc and the Saints were 1-for-19 as a team.

Rider head coach Kevin Baggett said he was happy with the win, but didn’t expect Siena to shoot so dismally.

​“I’m proud of our guys tonight and we needed this win,” he said. “I don’t think Siena will ever shoot this poorly again. Tonight we had the chance to prove to people in the league where we stand, and we certainly needed this win because it was at home.”

In the first half, Xavier Lundy kept the Broncs in it. He knocked down 16 points and was 2-for-2 from three-point land, while Jimmie Taylor and Kahlil Thomas combined for just two points. Lundy finished with 20 points on the night.

The Saints led by as much as five in the early going, as Javion Ogunyemi finished a three-point play with just under eight minutes left in the first half. But every time the visitors threatened to pull away, the Broncs had an answer. The two teams traded baskets for the remainder of the half, and Rider took a 37-35 lead off a nifty left-handed layup from freshman Tyere Marshall. At halftime, Siena headed to the locker room with a 44-43 lead.

In the second half, the Broncs were forced to play fast-paced — something they aren’t used to — as they battled to keep up with the Saints. Taylor came alive in the final 20 minutes, and hit a pair of big three-pointers from the corner. He finished 3-for-8 from the field, notching nine points and three rebounds.

Twice in the final half, Rider failed to hit the front-end of a one-and-one, both leading to 6-0 Siena runs. The Saints’ largest lead of the night was 65-58 with 5:47 left, but Rider quickly went on an 11-4 run to take a 69-68 lead with 3:14 left. They wouldn’t relinquish that lead.

​Lundy said the team showed growth from last year, closing out a tight game.

​“The end of the game was a little scary because last year, it seemed like whenever we were in these situations it always went the opposite way for us,” he said. “It seemed like today, whenever they got an offensive rebound or got another chance, we just stayed with it. We did a good job of staying locked in on defense and not getting upset.”

​Through its first seven games, Rider is 4-3 and 1-1 in conference play, a terrific turnaround from last year’s 1-6, 0-2 start in its first seven. The win puts the Broncs in a nine-way tie for second-place in the MAAC, while Monmouth is the only 2-0 team and Manhattan is the only 0-2 team.

​Rider’s next game will be on the West Coast on December 10, when it takes on Pacific University in Stockton, California, before returning home for another non-conference matchup against Kennesaw State on December 14.

UConn defense, Garden magic join forces for Huskies in win over Syracuse

Christian Vital celebrates after two free throws in final seconds, his sole points on the night, give UConn a dramatic win over Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. (Photo by University of Connecticut Athletics)

NEW YORK -- There would be no overtime on this night, but just as many twists, turns and heart palpitations that were induced by the six extra sessions played between Connecticut and Syracuse in their 2009 Big East Tournament epic.

Much like that all-time classic, this one came down to the wire as well, with freshman Christian Vital; who had been scoreless on the night until stepping to the foul line with 2.2 seconds remaining in regulation, providing the final margin by sinking both free throws to give UConn a 52-50 victory over the 22nd-ranked Orange and cementing his name into the latest chapter of an illustrious and timeless rivalry.

"I had the older guys help me out," Vital said, recounting his mindset in between drawing a foul on Tyus Battle and stepping to the charity stripe. "That timeout actually helped me more than it helped them, because it gave me a chance to get talked to by the older guys and get calmed down. I was able to knock them down and we won the game."

For most of the evening, it seemed that although a magical finish was brewing, it was not going to come down to the rookie guard. The Huskies (4-4) slogged their way through a first half that saw them shoot just 26 percent from the floor and make only seven field goals, one more than Syracuse, who took a 23-21 lead into the locker room at the intermission on a weak side layup by DaJuan Coleman (10 points, 16 rebounds) that barely beat the horn.

The Orange (5-3) bolstered their advantage out of the gate to open the final stanza, using a 14-5 run to obtain their largest cushion of the game, a 37-26 lead with 13:10 on the clock. As UConn fought fire with fire, using the 2-3 zone defense made famous by Syracuse to combat the length of their opponents, their offense came to life at the most opportune time on the strength of a 23-7 spurt. 

Rodney Purvis, whose 21 points led all scorers, gave the Huskies the lead for good with 6:18 to play; draining a three-pointer that UConn would follow with four points in succession from Jalen Adams to turn a double-digit deficit that looked insurmountable in the face of their anemic offense into a 49-44 lead at the 2:58 mark of the second half.

"We just played tough," said Purvis of the team mentality, even in the face of adversity. "Once we got down, Coach said we would get back in the game."

"We were just thirsty for the opportunity and we were just hungry to hit," head coach Kevin Ollie interjected. "We were in the huddle and we were believing."

So too was Syracuse, at least for the final few minutes of regulation. After a Coleman basket brought the Orange within three, the team that bills itself as New York's College Team took advantage of the Huskies missing two field goals and five free throws down the stretch to make one last run. Following an Adams free throw that gave UConn a 50-47 lead, a deep, NBA-range triple from Andrew White III knotted the proceedings at 50 with nine ticks remaining. Purvis attempted a shot for the win from beyond the arc that misfired, but Vital was able to secure the rebound and draw the aforementioned foul on Battle, bringing a crowd of 15,347 to a crescendo they had reached many times before, some in this very building.

"I definitely had a lot of nerves," Vital reiterated. "A lot of people talk about how we have a young team, but we also have a lot of experienced guys. They talked to me in that timeout and said, 'Listen, we're in your city. Take us home.' I was able to do that."

Syracuse had one final opportunity, having to travel the length of the floor and hope for a miracle to either tie or win, but Purvis stole Tyler Lydon's baseball pass at the buzzer, sealing the latest thriller between two longtime adversaries whose rivalry still runs deep despite being fractured by conference realignment.

"I'll take this win no matter what we shot from the field," Ollie remarked, nonchalantly dismissing the Huskies' 31 percent effort, which was masked ever so slightly by holding Syracuse to an even more meager 26 percent (14-for-54) in the winning cause. "We played good defense. It was another one of those epic UConn-Syracuse battles, and I'm glad we came out on the winning side."

Binghamton 80, FDU 69: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

TEANECK, NJ - The time-worn cliche tells us the game is two halves. Forty minutes in duration.

There are times we may lose sight of that then a reminder comes in a rather eventful way. That is what happened last Friday at Fairleigh Dickinson.
For one half, all was right with the FDU women. Despite having lost their last two, the Knights were getting out in transition, converting at the offensive end and playing outstanding basketball. Your basic highlight-reel half.
Following intermission, that 50-35 lead soon evaporated. Visiting Binghamton, realizing the game was far from over, dug in. The Bearcats quickly started the third quarter by canning a few quick threes to get the deficit manageable. Eventually, they were able to overtake the Knights and claim an 80-69 road victory. The defense was a primary factor, as they held FDU to 19 second-half points, including just three the final quarter.
Beyond that, Binghamton was able to establish a winning foundation at halftime. Staying poised and collected, the Bearcats plotted a strategy to get back in the contest and put themselves in a position to win, which they did. It all came down to the stark realization that the game is a full forty minutes. No awards or the like are given for a halftime lead. Binghamton not only realized this, but used it as their incentive to a road win in most impressive fashion.

FDU on the attack:
Postgame coaching interviews are the norm on radio, but here, Binghamton coach Linda Cimino does one at halftime:
Binghamton guard Jasmine Sina on the move:
FDU coach Pete Cinella on the sidelines:
FDU attempting a mid-range jumper in the lane:
Binghamton huddling during a late timeout:
Following the game, the Knights had a mandatory shooting session to finish the evening:

MAAC Monday: First month/opening weekend review, stat leaders, power rankings

Micah Seaborn has stepped up as Monmouth's primary second option behind Justin Robinson as Hawks opened MAAC play with 2-0 start. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Our second season of MAAC Monday returns today with the traditional three-segment breakdown, focusing initially on what each team has done through the first month of the season and the mostly concluded opening weekend of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play. Secondly, we'll provide stat leaders across the conference before closing with our first edition of power rankings for the current season. Without any further ado, we catch you up on each of the 11 teams in the conference, doing so in the order that each was picked in the MAAC preseason coaches' poll released this past October:

Monmouth - When last we saw the Hawks, it was in late March after their dream season; one that saw 28 victories against a spectrum of opponents ranging from Notre Dame to Cornell, came to an end in the National Invitation Tournament at the hands of eventual NIT champion George Washington. All talk of an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament has dissipated this time around after Monmouth was defeated by both South Carolina and Syracuse in November, and that actually puts King Rice's team in a better place both physically and mentally. Without having to worry about the resume distraction that greeted the Hawks at every turn a year ago, it allows the MAAC favorites to go out and take care of business each night and focus on getting through league play as the top choice to cut down the nets in Albany, something they have already done with wins over Quinnipiac and Canisius. Renewed focus usually breeds stronger confidence, and this group will almost certainly prove that as the year goes on.

Siena - The Saints were without Lavon Long for three games at the start of the season, losing the player Jimmy Patsos affectionately calls "The Terminator" to suspension. To add to that, reigning Sixth Man of the Year Nico Clareth is still not yet 100 percent after undergoing offseason knee surgery, but after erupting for 33 points off the bench in Saturday's win over Fairfield, the Baltimore native seems to be rounding into top form at the most opportune of times. Siena, as they usually are, has already been tested sternly in the non-conference schedule, taking on Kansas, George Washington and St. Bonaventure; not to mention losing a deceptively strong road game at SEFCU Arena in the annual Albany Cup. The MAAC opener against Fairfield went in the Saints' favor, and they now look to join Monmouth as the only teams to emerge from league play's opening round undefeated when they travel to Rider tonight.

Iona - The Gaels were able to dispel an 0-2 start with a commanding performance in the Great Alaska Shootout, which saw an earlier defeat to Nevada avenged on a neutral floor with Jon Severe's game-winning layup in the final seconds. A convincing road win at Saint Peter's gave the reigning champions an added momentum boost heading into their home opener, but any substantial progress was significantly halted in yesterday's 74-58 loss to Niagara, a defeat Severe called "a bad game for everybody." Head coach Tim Cluess admitted Iona is still far away from where they should be, and singled out a lack of team communication, which had been largely prevalent on the road in November, as one of the determining factors in the biggest upset of the weekend. Forward Taylor Bessick echoed Cluess' sentiment, citing the Gaels were unprepared and had taken the matchup with the unheralded Purple Eagles lightly due to Iona's historic dominance on their home floor at the Hynes Athletics Center. While all is not lost, a lot must be rebuilt as non-conference play resumes this Wednesday with a trip to reigning Northeast Conference champion Fairleigh Dickinson.

Saint Peter's - The Peacocks may be the biggest surprise of the first month of the season, and not because their 4-3 record is ahead of where they were a year ago. In each of their four wins, Saint Peter's has scored 80 or more points, a crowning achievement for a program known primarily for its grinding and methodical defense before its scoring output. Regardless, John Dunne has ridden the hot hand of Quadir Welton to a strong start, getting steadfast contributions from fellow veterans Trevis Wyche and Chazz Patterson to supplement his all-MAAC forward. The Peacocks have also possessed a potent and deep bench through the first month of the season, something they will need immensely during an upcoming two-game road trip against Houston Baptist and Maryland.

Fairfield - Head coach Sydney Johnson has openly praised his team's 5-2 start on social media, and rightfully so.

Junior guard and dark horse Player of the Year contender Tyler Nelson made quite the splash in the first game of the MAAC season, exploding for 38 points in the Stags' win at Rider, and Amadou Sidibe has made the most out of his final year to date, tallying four consecutive double-doubles and leading the MAAC with over 11 rebounds per game. To top that off, Jerome Segura has blossomed into an all-conference-caliber point guard, while Jonathan Kasibabu and Matija Milin have served as powerful complements to Nelson and sophomore marksman Curtis Cobb. What makes Fairfield's record even more impressive is the Stags' outside shooting in the absence of Jerry Johnson Jr., their long-range specialist who is still nursing an injury that has held him out of the lineup all year thus far. The season is only one-third complete, but after seven games, their coach's oft-repeated proclamation rings true: The future is bright.

Manhattan - While Steve Masiello is beyond grateful to have his depth back after the rough start the Jaspers endured while attempting a three-peat last season, he has had to navigate the opening month of the year without the services of senior guard Rich Williams. Williams will be back soon, but a roster featuring eight players who are new to Masiello's system has been subjected to inevitable growing pains, experienced profoundly in last week's 47-point loss to West Virginia that saw Manhattan get turned over 40 times by the Mountaineers' stifling pressure defense, not to mention last Friday's MAAC opener against Canisius in which the Jaspers could not hold a 15-point lead. In a winless first weekend to conference play and 2-6 beginning to the year, Zavier Turner has been a bright spot with three 30-point games in eight attempts, fulfilling Masiello's high praise in the offseason. Calvin Crawford seems primed to fill Williams' old role as the high-scoring sixth man, and Zane Waterman has been an excellent mentor to newcomers Zavier Peart and Ahmed Ismail when he has been able to stay out of foul trouble. Manhattan will undoubtedly get it together soon enough, but will have to do so after digging themselves an early hole for the second straight season.

Rider - Whenever Kevin Baggett and the Broncs have been picked toward the middle of the pack, they have usually surprised everyone with a top-tier finish, chief among those results being the runner-up effort spearheaded by Matt Lopez two years ago. Rider has mitigated the loss of Teddy Okereafor with a pair of promising freshmen in point guard Stevie Jordan and swingman Dimencio Vaughn, increasing the supporting cast behind a trio of double-figure scorers in Kahlil Thomas, Xavier Lundy and Jimmie Taylor. The Broncs' first act in MAAC play saw them come up on the losing end against Fairfield, but not before giving the Stags all they could handle on a night where Tyler Nelson set the bar for top individual performances. Rider will look to even the score tonight when they welcome Siena to Alumni Gymnasium, hoping one of the conference's most hostile environments can catch the Saints off guard just enough to create a nine-way tie for second place in the league behind Monmouth.

Marist - This was supposed to be the year that Mike Maker took a larger step out of the cellar, as the Red Foxes now have a firm foundation to go with a proven senior leader in Khallid Hart. Friday's conference opener at McCann Arena was the first indication of promise for Marist, as they were able to defeat Niagara, but a loss to Quinnipiac on Sunday preempted what would have been perhaps the league's best story through one weekend of action. The Red Foxes have a stiff test ahead of them Wednesday against perennial America East contender Albany, but the emergence of Ryan Funk in his sophomore season to become a third scorer alongside Hart and Brian Parker is something that should be monitored more closely as the season goes on. When Maker has a multitude of weapons in his arsenal, he is among the most dangerous tacticians in the MAAC.

Canisius - Reggie Witherspoon escaped a torture chamber of sorts in his baptism to MAAC play, as his Golden Griffins used the calm and patient disposition of their coach to escape a 15-point deficit on the road to walk out of Draddy Gymnasium victorious over Manhattan. Two days later, the Griffs followed that up with a gritty and valiant showing at Monmouth, only losing by six points. The team that had Kentucky on the ropes for ten minutes in their opener has only grown stronger with each passing game, which is Witherspoon's main goal in his first season at the helm. A concern going into the year was who the second scorer would be after Malcolm McMillan graduated, and it has been answered twofold in the form of Jermaine Crumpton and Kassius Robertson, both of whom have bookended Phil Valenti to form a troika of formidable matchups. Crumpton's career-high 26 points led the way in Friday's win, while Robertson has been a revelation, posting back-to-back 20-point games against Manhattan and Monmouth. If Canisius can keep this up throughout the year, a return to the quarterfinals with a first-round bye could be on the horizon.

Quinnipiac - A winless start did little to quell the speculation surrounding Tom Moore, but the Bobcats validated their coach's optimism with a strong showing against Seton Hall and subsequent win against Indiana State in the Advocare Invitational. Quinnipiac faltered against Monmouth on Thursday before gaining their first conference win yesterday against Marist to split a two-game homestand, and the freshman pair of Peter Kiss and Mikey Dixon has accelerated the backcourt transition that was going to be an integral part of how the year would go in Hamden. While the guards have learned on the fly, Chaise Daniels is coming into his own as a potential all-conference big man now that he is healthy and fully recovered from a knee injury that cost him valuable development time during this phase of the season a year ago, and his evolution while shepherding the Bobcat front line has helped Quinnipiac stay the course as they continue on through their journey.

Niagara - The Purple Eagles had lost six of their first seven, including a setback at Marist to begin the MAAC slate on Friday, before yesterday's big win at Iona. Matt Scott has been his usual, stat-stuffing self, but credit needs to go to Kahlil Dukes for emerging as the best point guard Monteagle Ridge has seen since Juan'ya Green spent his first two years there before transferring to Hofstra. The USC transfer was effusively brilliant against the Gaels, scoring 17 points and dishing out five assists against zero turnovers, a feat made all the more impressive considering it came against the reigning conference champions. Much like nearby rival Canisius, head coach Chris Casey has stressed an objective to simply improve day by day first and foremost, referencing the importance of that taking precedence over ending a near-seven-year winless streak in New Rochelle. Much may not be expected of Niagara this season, but their most recent impression suggests that if they are taken lightly, their opponents may soon come to regret it.

Scoring Leaders
1) Tyler Nelson, Fairfield (21.0 PPG)
2) Matt Scott, Niagara (19.4)
3) Khallid Hart, Marist (19.3)

4) Zavier Turner, Manhattan (18.9)
5) Marquis Wright, Siena (18.0)
6) Quadir Welton, Saint Peter's (17.6)
7) Kassius Robertson, Canisius (16.6)
8) Jermaine Crumpton, Canisius (16.4)
9) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (16.1)
T-10) Curtis Cobb, Fairfield (15.0)
Justin Robinson, Monmouth (15.0)
Micah Seaborn, Monmouth (15.0)

Rebounding Leaders
1) Amadou Sidibe, Fairfield (11.4 RPG)
2) Kahlil Thomas, Rider (9.8)
3) Quadir Welton, Saint Peter's (8.4)
4) Brett Bisping, Siena (8.3)
5) Zane Waterman, Manhattan (7.5)
6) Norville Carey, Rider (6.8)
7) Dominic Robb, Niagara (6.6)
8) Chaise Daniels, Quinnipiac (6.6)
T-9) Taylor Bessick, Iona (6.5)
Chris Brady, Monmouth (6.5)
Matt Scott, Niagara (6.5)

Assist Leaders
1) Justin Robinson, Monmouth (5.6 APG)
2) Jerome Segura, Fairfield (5.0)
3) Marquis Wright, Siena (4.6)
4) Matt Scott, Niagara (3.9)
5) Stevie Jordan, Rider (3.8)
T-6) Rickey McGill, Iona (3.4)
Trevis Wyche, Saint Peter's (3.4)
8) Sam Cassell Jr., Iona (3.3)
9) Zavier Turner, Manhattan (3.3)
T-10) Kiefer Douse, Canisius (3.0)
Khallid Hart, Marist (3.0)
Phil Winston, Quinnipiac (3.0)

Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Chris Brady, Monmouth (.644)
2) Kahlil Thomas, Rider (.607)
3) Jordan Washington, Iona (.597)
4) Quadir Welton, Saint Peter's (.566)
5) Jermaine Crumpton, Canisius (.558)
6) Amadou Sidibe, Fairfield (.550)
7) Brett Bisping, Siena (.516)
T-8) Norville Carey, Rider (.511)
Rickey McGill, Iona (.511)
10) Javion Ogunyemi, Siena (.506)

Free Throw Percentage Leaders
1) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (1.000)
2) Jon Severe, Iona (.938)
3) Zavier Turner, Manhattan (.885)
4) Tyler Nelson, Fairfield (.870)
5) Jimmie Taylor, Rider (.833)
6) Reggie Oliver, Quinnipiac (.824)
7) Justin Robinson, Monmouth (.821)
8) Matt Scott, Niagara (.783)
9) Khallid Hart, Marist (.765)
10) Phil Valenti, Canisius (.762)

Three-Point Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Jermaine Crumpton, Canisius (.609)
2) EJ Crawford, Iona (.571)
T-3) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (.475)
Zavier Turner, Manhattan (.475)
5) Zane Waterman, Manhattan (.458)
6) Calvin Crawford, Manhattan (.450)
T-7) Je'lon Hornbeak, Monmouth (.444)
Kassius Robertson, Canisius (.444)
James Towns, Niagara (.444)
10) Jon Severe, Iona (.442)

Power Rankings
1) Monmouth (6-2, 2-0 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Sunday 12/4 vs. Canisius (W 94-88)

Next Game: Tuesday 12/6 at Wagner, 7 p.m.

2) Fairfield (5-2, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Saturday 12/3 at Siena (L 80-73)

Next Game: Tuesday 12/6 vs. Bucknell, 7 p.m.

3) Iona (4-3, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Sunday 12/4 vs. Niagara (L 74-58)

Next Game: Wednesday 12/7 at Fairleigh Dickinson, 7 p.m.

4) Siena (3-5, 1-0 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Saturday 12/3 vs. Fairfield (W 80-73)

Next Game: Monday 12/5 at Rider, 7 p.m.

5) Saint Peter's (4-3, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Game: Sunday 12/4 vs. Manhattan (W 84-70)

Next Game: Tuesday 12/7 at Houston Baptist, 8 p.m.

6) Canisius (3-5, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Sunday 12/4 at Monmouth (L 94-88)

Next Game: Wednesday 12/7 at Boston University, 7:30 p.m.

7) Rider (3-3, 0-1 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Thursday 12/1 vs. Fairfield (L 76-67)

Next Game: Monday 12/5 vs. Siena, 7 p.m.

8) Quinnipiac (2-5, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Sunday 12/4 vs. Marist (W 77-63)

Next Game: Wednesday 12/7 vs. Hartford, 7 p.m.

9) Manhattan (2-6, 0-2 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Sunday 12/4 at Saint Peter's (L 84-70)

Next Game: Tuesday 12/6 at Morgan State, 7 p.m.

10) Niagara (2-6, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Game:
 Sunday 12/4 at Iona (W 74-58)

Next Game: Wednesday 12/7 at Kent State, 7 p.m.

11) Marist (4-5, 1-1 MAAC)
Last Game: Sunday 12/4 at Quinnipiac (L 77-63)
Next Game: Wednesday 12/7 at Albany, 7 p.m.

Binghamton 80, FDU 69: Tempo-Free Recap

Binghamton's Jasmine Sina initiating offense against FDU. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

TEANECK, NJ - The first half ended with Binghamton trailing 50-35. FDU was running on all cylinders with a good lead at home. In the Binghamton locker room, Jasmine Sina told coach   Linda Cimino: “Don’t worry, coach. We got this. We are winning this game.”

Inspiration, motivation and good, old-fashioned execution saw Binghamton turn it around in the final twenty minutes. The Bearcats exited Rothman Center on Friday victorious, 80-69, to improve to 2-5. FDU lost its third straight, falling to 2-5. The numbers of note:

Possessions: Binghamton 84, FDU 83
Offensive efficiency: Binghamton, FDU 83

Four Factors:
eFG%:  Binghamton 56, FDU 46
Free Throw Rate: Binghamton 43, FDU 33
Offensive Rebound%: Binghamton 19, FDU 27
Turnover Rate: Binghamton 27, FDU 27

Leading scorers and EF:
Binghamton - Imani Watkins 25 points, EF 38 (1.00 per minute)
FDU - Kiana Brown 18 points, EF 28

What Binghamton did well: Stay focused and poised after FDU’s first half domination.

What FDU did well: Play outstanding basketball the first twenty minutes to take what appeared to be a commanding lead.

FDU scored 19 second half points. Most glaring was a three-point fourth quarter (Binghamton outscored them 22-3) where the Knights had twice as many turnovers (seven) as points.

Tale of two halves:
First half offensive efficiency: FDU 116, Binghamton 78
Second half offensive efficiency: Binghamton 115, FDU 48
Binghamton’s offense improved dramatically, but it was a case of the defense coming through, limiting FDU transition and forcing turnovers. Binghamton knocked down five threes in the second half. The Bearcat strength was tough inside, as they held a 36-24 edge in points in the paint. Turnovers again reared their ugly head for FDU. Both coaches lamented their respective teams turning the ball over too much. FDU actually held a 17-16 lead in points off turnovers. The second half saw Binghamton do a better job caring for the ball while the Knights saw a number of possessions wasted due to turning the ball over.

In a loss to Air Force the previous Saturday, FDU’s turnover rate was 34 percent. Two nights later in a one-sided setback at Army, the rate was 27 percent. Undoubtedly, the turnover situation is acute and needs remedy as soon as possible.

In the first half on Friday, Binghamton had a 31 percent turnover rate, FDU’s was at 20 percent. The second half saw Binghamton improve to 23 percent, still too high but better than the first. Those last two quarters, FDU self-destructed with a 33 percent turnover rate, or a turnover every three possessions.

Former FDU standout Erika Livermore was in attendance. She is hoping to play overseas soon. “I missed a few opportunities this summer,” Livermore said. “I contacted my agent and said I want to go and play now, I miss it so bad.” Livermore said she received a text from another former FDU star, Kelsey Cruz. Like Livermore, a graduate from last spring, Cruz wants to get back in action. “I told her I would put her in touch with my agent,” Livermore said. “Kelsey misses it as well.”

Cimino, an Adelphi alum, played for Kim Barnes Arico. Last year, Binghamton played Michigan at Ann Arbor. The teacher emerged victorious, as the Wolverines triumphed 90-62. Cimino said it was the first time Barnes Arico faced a former player on the sidelines. The Binghamton mentor did a nice job second half alternating Sina at the point and two guard. In the off guard position, she often cut through to the left corner, establishing herself as a three-point threat.  Sina finished with 13 points, as she canned three treys on the night.

Final thoughts:
“We never gave up. We zoned the first half and went to man the second, which was more effective. At halftime, the coaches were very calm and stressed what we had to do, mainly defend and stop their transition.” - Binghamton guard Jasmine Sina

“By far the best half we had this year. Fifty points in the first half. We moved and shared the ball. Second half, you have to give Binghamton a lot of credit. They came at us and really shut us down the fourth quarter. Depth was a factor. I didn’t go to the bench as much as I probably needed to. Beside that, it came down to taking care of the ball, something we must do better, as we are committed to the running and thre- point shooting game.” - FDU coach Pete Cinella

“At the half, we talked about defending to get back it in. We gave up fifty points at the half and sometimes we do not do that for a game. We wanted to slow them down and protect the rim. Our mood at the half was good. No yelling or cursing. I have changed my approach in coaching over the years.” - Binghamton coach Linda Cimino

“She is a co-captain as a redshirt sophomore, which tells you about her leadership. She is an incredible person as well as a talented player. Coming up to me assuring a win at halftime speaks volumes of her leadership.” - Cimino on Jasmine Sina  

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Iona's four-game win streak halted by Niagara in home opener

Matt Scott's 20 points led all scorers as Niagara recorded major upset to conclude opening weekend of MAAC play, dominating Iona on the road in a 74-58 win. (Photo by the Niagara Gazette)

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Although it does not usually get as much credit due to the attention-grabbing, high-octane offensive system employed by Tim Cluess, Iona's head coach has always stressed the importance of defensive execution.

For a period of time, it manifested itself in the Gaels' home opener, but ultimately not enough as Iona fell to Niagara; a team picked to finish last of eleven in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason poll, by the final of 74-58 at the Hynes Athletics Center.

The 58 points represent the lowest point total for the Gaels (4-3, 1-1 MAAC) at home in Cluess' seven-year tenure, and are tied with last season's opener at Valparaiso for the second-lowest output since Cluess assumed the reins in 2010, besting only the 57 points registered against Saint Peter's in the 2011 MAAC championship game.

"It's mostly our fault," said forward Taylor Bessick, whose 11 rebounds were a game-high. "We weren't prepared. We were taking it lightly when we should have been more focused and aggressive on defense."

After a 13-0 run in the early stages of the second half trimmed Iona's 17-point deficit to four with 13:35 remaining in regulation, the Gaels traded baskets with Niagara (2-6, 1-1 MAAC) for several minutes and stayed within earshot at the midway point of the final stanza. However, with the Purple Eagles still leading by a 54-48 margin, the visitors proceeded to rip off an 11-0 run that effectively closed out the game and provided head coach Chris Casey with arguably the biggest win of his career.

"We couldn't put the ball in the basket," Jon Severe assessed, lamenting an offensive effort that was atypical of Iona's uptempo style; as the Gaels shot only 34 percent (19-for-56) from the floor, including an anemic 7-for-26 showing from three-point range. "The defense was terrible. We dug ourselves a hole and we couldn't come out of it. It was a bad game for everybody."

Matt Scott led Niagara and all scorers with 20 points in the winning effort, and point guard Kahlil Dukes chipped in with 17 points and five assists against no turnovers. On the Gaels' end of the box score, Jordan Washington tallied 13 points and six rebounds, while Severe and EJ Crawford recorded a dozen points apiece.

Returning to familiar confines on the heels of a Great Alaska Shootout championship and a convincing road victory against Saint Peter's to open MAAC play, the Gaels seemed to rush their offense in the opening minutes before settling down for stretches, something their leader addressed following the game.

"I thought our effort level was not where it needed to be, in all fairness," Cluess bluntly stated. "I thought early in the game, we took contested shots too quickly, and it almost became a pattern. We took them and other guys got stationary out there, and it looked like 'I want to get mine right now.' I don't think we moved the ball particularly well and Niagara moved it really well, found the open guy and took advantage of it."

Iona continues a span of three games in seven days this Wednesday, heading across the Hudson River to take on Fairleigh Dickinson, but as stated by both players and coach following tonight's shocking defeat, much work remains to be completed.

"The reality is this: We're a small, tough team when we shoot well," said Cluess. "When we don't shoot well, we're a small team, and they took advantage of us being a small team today. We didn't battle as that small team. If we played like we defended Saint Peter's the other night, it would have been a game down to the wire."

"I think sometimes when you come home, guys think 'oh, it's at Iona, we're going to win because Iona always wins here,'" he elaborated. "This group of guys has not earned that. This is their first time playing together on an Iona home court and they have to realize the guys that came before them paid a price, and that's why we're so good here. These guys have to pay a price on a daily basis, and I think that's something; growth-wise, that's going to take a while."