Sunday, March 1, 2015

Isaiah Williams' return gives Iona renewed options and familiarity entering MAAC Tournament

With Isaiah Williams back in Iona's rotation, Gaels are able to not only get extra production, but also return to press defense many critics tend to forget about. (Photo courtesy of Brian Beyrer via Iona College Athletics)

For everyone involved in Iona's victory over their longtime adversary Manhattan, the 79-75 outcome Friday night signified the latest example of just how formidable the Gaels can be.

Another member of the roster saw things a different way, for good reason.

"I was happy, excited to help my team," Isaiah Williams said after seeing the floor for the first time since January 13, sidelined for twelve games due to a broken bone in his foot that required surgery to insert a screw into the fifth metatarsal. "I can't really describe it. I was just happy to be on the court again."

Williams, who posted 12 points and seven rebounds in his first 32 minutes following an injury from which he admittedly has not fully recovered, was not the only one expressing jubilation in a comeback that, at least around New Rochelle, could be considered overdue.

"In my opinion, I think David (Laury) and him are the better players on the team," A.J. English; arguably the most valuable component of the Iona roster from a box score perspective, remarked of Williams. "I'm just thankful that he's back on the court. We missed him a lot."

As anyone who has watched Williams can attest, the junior from Newark can beat an opponent in many ways, be it his lethal three-point shot that has connected at a 46 percent clip, putting the ball on the floor and taking efficient shots, or even by serving as a facilitator by spacing the floor for the likes of English, Laury, and Schadrac Casimir to contribute to the efforts on the scoreboard. But what many others do not see, and a lot of it is due to the nature of the offensive attack when the ball is in the Gaels' hands, is just how much he helps the defensive efforts, no matter how much every detractor of the wide-open, entertaining style of basketball Iona employs makes it a point to ignore them.

"We've always pressed here," head coach Tim Cluess reassured after a victory in which Iona played a defensive style that some thought mirrored the pressure defense Steve Masiello has installed at Iona's rival, Manhattan, but one that resembled the look of Cluess' teams featuring Mike Glover, Momo Jones and Scott Machado. "When Isaiah got hurt, we stopped doing it, out of lack of depth. Tonight, we just picked our spots and started reintroducing it a little bit. It's a fun style of play for our guys, and I think it gets you going on both ends of the court."

Williams' defensive ability; he averages over one blocked shot and nearly two steals per game for the Gaels, is a facet of game planning that is nearly impossible to account for given how he can both play and defend multiple positions, a true X-factor of sorts because he creates true mismatches, something a certain opposing head coach knows all too well in his experiences of trying to stop him.

"It's a tough problem," Steve Masiello assessed when asked whether the return of Williams would make Iona even more dangerous than they currently are as a postseason team. "I don't know what you do," he added, "and that's why Tim's a much better coach than I am, because he'll figure it out. There's too many options to have. It's like Baskin-Robbins."

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sacred Heart 90, FDU 85: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

Teaneck, NJ - There are games that are contested at a pedestrian pace, coaches putting their collective mark on the offense, and ultimately the game.

Sacred Heart 90, Fairleigh Dickinson 85. This was not one of those slower paced affairs. The tempo was more NASCAR pace. Teams got out and ran, attacked the basket and if stopped, simply pitched out to the perimeter for a three-pointer.

The game at FDU’s Rothman Center had little bearing in standing to the home standing Knights. They have not qualified for the Northeast Conference post season tournament. Visiting Sacred Heart is in and jockeying for seeding. Regardless, both teams put it all on the line.

The beauty of these late-season conference meetings is evident when both  teams are competing, putting it all on the line. Especially the team whose season will quietly end in another 48 hours. A young FDU team losing its 15th straight could give the home followers a hope for the future. Fans may revel in the knowledge coach Greg Herenda is brining more talent into the fold. It bodes well for the future. In this late season matchup they can take solace and pride in the work ethic. The realization the FDU players lamented the setback. No playing out the string. A foundation has been put in place.

In a scene of scheduling irony Sacred heart served a perfect example. A year ago coach Anthony Latina’s group suffered through a 20-something loss season. A young team learning the hard knocks of conference life. Today they are in the NEC playoffs. While the scoreboard showed a loss, the lessons afforded this night were not lost on the young FDU club.

Outside Rothman Center. The 24 degrees is balmy compared to recent evenings:
Sacred Heart coach Anthony Latina on the sidelines:
FDU's Stephan Jiggetts looking for room as Sacred Heart's Cane Broome defends:
Official Brian O'Connell in a dialogue with Anthony Latina:
Courtside neighbor Ray Curren of Big Apple Buckets and his trademark golden basketball:
A Sacred Heart ball handler on the move. Attacking the basket was a priority for both teams:
FDU coach Greg Herenda gives his postgame remarks courtside with play-by-play announcer Jon Lauder:

Sacred Heart 90, FDU 85: Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Analysis

Official Brian O'Connell during a timeout. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

Teaneck, NJ - A fast paced tempo. Eight ties and eleven lead changes. It all added up to a ‘typical’ Northeast Conference evening as Sacred Heart ‘survived’ FDU, 90-85 at the Rothman Center. The pace and possessions:

Pace: FDU 73 possessions, Sacred Heart 70
Offensive Efficiency: Sacred Heart 129, FDU 116

Four Factors:
eFG: Sacred Heart 66, FDU 53
FT Rate: Sacred Heart 39, FDU 23
OREB Pct.: Sacred Heart 50, FDU 18
TO Rate: FDU 4, Sacred Heart 21

What Sacred Heart did well: Shoot accurately. The Pioneers were 36-of-59 (61%) from the floor including 6-of-13 (46%) from three. It all added to an outstanding 66% eFG percentage. The fifteen offensive boards and 50% offensive rebounding percentage extended several possessions giving the Pioneers some outstanding inside opportunities to capitalize on.

What FDU did well: Take extremely good care of the ball. In a fast ’NASCAR’ paced tempo, the Knights had an amazing four turnovers, only one in the second half. Their TO rate of 4% is the best I have calculated on over five years of breaking down Four Factors. Just an amazing number in a fast paced transition contest.  

Leading scorers and OE: 
Sacred Heart: Evan Kelley 27 points, OE .810
FDU: Darian Anderson 27 points, OE .724.

Each team had four double-figure scorers in this wide open offensive affair. Evan Kelley (27) and Cane Broome (23) combined for fifty of Sacred heart’s points. On the other side, Darian Anderson (27 points) had 11 assists and one turnover. Even if every assist resulted in a two-point basket, Anderson was responsible for at least 49 of FDU’s point output.

Sacred Heart, aided by the offensive rebounding domination, outscored the Knights 48-34 in the paint. The Pioneers also led in points off the bench 35-9.

FDU forced Sacred Heart into 15 turnovers (21% rate as noted). They put those forced errors to good use with a 17-6 advantage in points off turnovers. 

Last note on OE….Tevin Falzon, Sacred Heart’s 6-7 junior forward, turned in a superb 1.000 OE. Talzon shot 6 of 11 from the floor, committed just one turnover while adding 6 offensive boards (out of his game high 19) to post that outstanding efficiency. 

Sacred Heart is 8-9 in conference, FDU fell to 2-15.

“I am not sending this tape to Springfield. This time of year you get by in a close game and that is enough. Credit FDU. They made some really difficult contested threes.” – Sacred Heart coach Anthony Latina

“It has been like that all year. We are up four with just under ten minutes to go and could not get stops. We have some talented kids but inexperienced. They have to learn how to close these type games out.” – FDU coach Greg Herenda

Iona 79, Manhattan 75: 5 Observations, Plus One

Isaiah Williams made his return for Iona Friday night, scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds in Gaels' 79-75 win over Manhattan. (Photo courtesy of Brian Beyrer via Iona College Athletics)

The traditional handful of observations and nuggets of note this time around, with five items of interest following Iona's 79-75 win over Manhattan, one that gave the Gaels a regular season sweep of the Jaspers and clinched an undefeated record at the Hynes Center:
  • Isaiah Williams.
Making his return to the lineup following a 12-game absence due to a foot injury, Williams did not disappoint in the least. The junior from Newark received a rousing ovation from the capacity crowd when his name was first mentioned by public address announcer Rich Leaf with 16:54 remaining in the first half, and in 32 minutes of action, he posted 12 points and seven rebounds in what Tim Cluess basically described as limited mobility. "I thought he gave us a lot more than we expected out of him tonight," Cluess said of Williams' production. "He's only had two practices, partial practices, and I think he was about 20-25 percent of himself. He's nowhere near what he is, and he made big plays today. A couple of plays he made, I didn't think he'd be ready to make those plays. He must have forgot he was injured."
  • With Williams' return, Iona was able to return to an old standby.
The pressure defense that always gets lost in the shuffle of the Gaels' identity because of their prolific offense was once again unveiled during Friday night's contest, and although Manhattan committed only 11 turnovers, Iona was able to convert the miscues into 19 points, and a great deal of the success was attributed to the return of Williams and his ability to space the floor. "The reality is, we've always pressed here," Cluess reiterated, "and when Isaiah got hurt, we stopped doing it out of lack of depth. Our whole entire way we played had changed. Tonight, we just picked our spots and started reintroducing it a little bit. It's a fun style of play for our guys, and I think it gets you going on both ends of the court."
  • David Laury battled, even if the box score says otherwise.
One might look at the 3-for-13 shooting night from the MAAC's Preseason Player of the Year and assume he was a non-factor, but Laury made his presence known by grabbing 13 points and 11 rebounds, more often than not getting the better of Ashton Pankey and Emmy Andujar under the rim. "I'm thankful to be able to play with a player like that," A.J. English, whose 26 points led all scorers, said of Laury. "I feel like he's been our best mismatch and our best player, and one of the best players that I've ever played around. He opens up stuff for me, and it's all from him. He causes mismatches, so I just try to get open and make shots."
  • Once again, Steve Masiello had glowing praise for Iona.
Masiello, who praised Tim Cluess following the Gaels' win over the Jaspers two weeks ago, was gracious in defeat once more when sizing up Iona's chances in the upcoming MAAC Tournament. "They can put five guys on the floor that can make shots at all times," Masiello forewarned, "and there's not many teams in the country that can do that, and that's what makes them dangerous."

"I thought they should have got in last year," he continued, reminding everyone of his belief that the Gaels were an NCAA Tournament-caliber team last season, "and I was a big advocate for that. They should have, because they were that good last year."

"A.J. English was grabbing me, saying 'I'm so happy to see you back on the sideline, Coach,' Masiello later added. "Their kids have such class, and I really respect that."
  • "We gave up the middle too much."
Admittedly, that was a factor in Manhattan's near-miss, as Iona exploited the opening in the Jaspers' defensive sets. "What we want to do is suffocate the court and dictate where you go," Masiello stated. "We want to force everything baseline, and step up and trap it. Now, give them (Iona) credit because of their speed, but we gave up the middle," the coach stated. "I thought we did a good job getting out, we held them to 36 percent from three, but it's a crapshoot with them, because then (Schadrac) Casimir starts making tough twos."

Bonus Observation: Reaction to a potential third Iona/Manhattan matchup:
"Just because we beat them now, it basically don't even matter now that the regular season's about to be over, and if we lose in the MAAC, (Tournament) it's over." - Isaiah Williams

"I mean, it's great, but like I said, every team in the MAAC has great coaches and great teams. We don't look by anybody. We try to worry about everybody." - A.J. English

"I don't really believe that if you beat a team two times, you can't beat them a third. I think whoever plays better that night, whoever makes their shots is going to win the game. Obviously, there's a little more motivation on the team that lost twice, they're going to be hungrier, they're going to make a lot of changes that may surprise you a little bit." - Tim Cluess

"I feel like we're going to see Iona again, and hopefully the third time's a charm. I would love to play them again. Obviously, I think everyone would want to see that matchup again. You know, we played them last year in the championship and we came out with a win, which is good for us, but if we end up seeing them again, I feel like we'll be ready, so I'm looking forward to that." - Ashton Pankey

"They're a great team, but I feel like they don't want to see us also, so it goes both ways, but like I said, they're a great team. I love playing against those guys, they're probably sending me text messages right now. It's hard to beat a team three times. I could backtrack on my career here at Manhattan, and it shows that you really can't beat a team three times, so I feel like we've got a great chance." - Emmy Andujar

"I'm not into the sizzle factor, I'm into winning games, and they're a good team. I like playing them because it's great for college basketball, it's great for our guys, but it's a tough out. That's what makes it fun." - Steve Masiello

Gaels sweep Manhattan, complete undefeated season at home

A.J. English was catalyst for Iona again, going for 26 points as Gaels capped off season sweep of archrival Manhattan with 79-75 win over Jaspers. (Photo courtesy of Brian Beyrer via Iona College Athletics)

A day that began with a debate over blue and black versus white and gold ended with two familiar colors reigning supreme once again, as they have for many an occasion at the Hynes Center.

Maroon and gold, and lots of it, too.

Two weeks removed from their first win at Draddy Gymnasium since 2012, Iona backed up their effort in their turn to host their local foe separated by just fifteen minutes and 9.3 miles, leading nearly the entire way and getting to the finish line four points ahead of Manhattan in a 79-75 victory over the Jaspers.

"We're really happy with the win tonight," head coach Tim Cluess assessed after his Gaels (24-6, 17-2 MAAC) not only swept Manhattan (15-13, 12-7) for the first time since his first season at the helm in 2010-11, but also clinched an undefeated 13-0 home record five days after Iona wrapped up its third regular season MAAC championship in four years. "They're turning into great games every time we face each other. Kudos to them for coming in and competing this hard, and kudos to my team for finding a way to win."

Behind a game-high 26 points from A.J. English, who connected on four three-pointers in the victory, Iona also relied on their transition game to get a second decision over Manhattan, forcing 19 points off 11 turnovers and outscoring the Jaspers 21-11 on fast breaks.

"I think Iona does things that no one else in the country does," Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello said of the Gaels; who saw Isaiah Williams score 12 points in his return from a foot injury. "That's why they're so dangerous in a tournament, one game, no preparation. If they get a good matchup, and they get a team that tries to go up and down and tries to space them and play them zone, that's going to play into Iona's hands, and they can make noise."

Iona took advantage of Manhattan's defense in the opening minutes. Following a Shane Richards three that put the Jaspers ahead 5-4, the Gaels went on a 14-4 run to go up 18-9, with an English dunk captivating a sellout crowd in New Rochelle. The Jaspers would draw close, but it was the Gaels who punched back throughout the opening stanza, taking a 41-35 cushion into the locker room.

Seven unanswered points to begin the second half, a run that culminated in an English three, boosted Iona's lead to 13 points with 16:03 remaining in regulation. Manhattan would never get within one possession the rest of the way, as every time the Jaspers scored, Iona followed suit; or every time a stop was forced on the defensive end, the Gaels came back with one of their own.

Schadrac Casimir, whose shooting helped guide Iona to a victory two weeks ago in the first matchup between the schools this season, added 15 points, and David Laury battled his way to a double-double, overcoming a 3-for-13 night from the floor to register 13 points and 11 rebounds. In the losing effort for Manhattan, Ashton Pankey led the way with 20 points, while Emmy Andujar added another solid performance in what could be his final game against a team who has been the victim of some of his greatest success stories, posting 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Manhattan heads into Sunday's matchup with Quinnipiac needing a win to secure the No. 3 seed in the MAAC Tournament, which would assure the Jaspers of avoiding Iona until a potential third straight championship game showdown. On the other bench, the Gaels left their home floor with a second celebration, this one highlighting just how much this program has not only grown, but maintained both prestige and support.

"It says a lot about the place and the fans here," Cluess remarked when asked about his team's perfect home record. "They're the best fans in college basketball, as far as I'm concerned. I love this place. What these people do, how they inspire our team, the way they support us, is phenomenal. Tonight, they were loud the entire night. It was great."

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free NEC Analysis

Heading into the final weekend, there is excitement on Remsen Street. St. Francis Brooklyn is set to close out the Northeast Conference as regular season champion. The Terriers will have home court advantage (providing they ‘survive and advance) through the tournament. But as St. Francis coach Glenn Braica knows, having the home floor through the event does not guarantee a title. Regardless, it is an edge coaches would not hesitate to have. The tempo free numbers are for conference games and courtesy of

Efficiency Margin: Record
1. St. Francis Brooklyn 14                  14-2
2. Robert Morris 8                  10-6
3. Mount St. Mary’s 8                  10-6
4. Bryant 2                  10-6
5. Saint Francis U             0                    8-8
6. Wagner         0                    8-8
7. Sacred Heart -1                    7-9
8. LIU Brooklyn                -5              8-8
9. FDU    -9                  2-14
10. CCSU   -18                  3-13

1. Sacred Heart 70
2. Wagner         70
3. LIU Brooklyn         69.4

-All three at a high octane tempo. 
Most deliberate:
1. Saint Francis U  63.8
2. St. Francis Brooklyn 63.9
-The two St. Francis schools prefer a more pedestrian tempo. 

NEC cares:
The turnover rate cutoff is 20%. As noted in the past, teams want their offense under 20 and the defense to force opponents into a miscue once every five possessions. The NEC is caring for the ball. Only one team, Central Connecticut, is over 20%. They are just above the mark at 20%. The lowest figure is the 17.3% of St. Francis(PA).  

Best Offenses:
1. St. Francis Brooklyn 110
2. Robert Morris 106
        Bryant 106

Best Defenses:
1. Mount St. Mary’s 92
2. St. Francis Brooklyn 96
3. Robert Morris 98

FDU has not won since January 5th and is in a 14 game tail spin. Opponents haven’t had it that easy facing Greg Herenda’s group. There have been a few close contests during that prolonged drought. Interestingly, FDU at 22.3% defensive turnover rate, disrupts opponents the most (by TO rate) in conference. The Knights downfall defensively is allowing a 51.7% eFG mark on defense. The highest mark in conference. 

Mount St. Mary’s holds opponents to 45.3% eFG shooting and forces 21.2% (TO Rate) second to FDU, on the opposition. Little wonder the Mountaineers pace the conference in defense and will be a tough ‘out’ in the NEC post season get together. 

Best shooting percentage is the 53.5 eFG percentage of Robert Morris. At the opposite end is Central Connecticut (45.4) at the bottom and LIU (45.1) in the middle of the pack. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Fordham 63, La Salle 48: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora's opening statement:
"Obviously, we're very pleased. You know, we talked about La Salle being a 'toughness' game, you know, they could just beat you up, and they did it to us down there. They jumped on us early down there, we turned around and boom, we were down 14 and chasing the rest of the night, but I think they really; we, as a team, responded. The job that Christian (Sengfelder) and Ryan Rhoomes did, and Eric (Paschall) defending Jerrell Wright in the post; he's a beast, man, and we held him to 11 points and five rebounds. We game planned a little bit getting doubles on him, things like that, a few different ways, and the guards responded, and for Christian to get a double-double and Rhoomesie gets 13 rebounds, and then to watch Bryan Smith play so well at home, in his second-to-last game, you know, next Wednesday's going to be emotional. So I said to them, you know, 29 percent, that's the best defense we've played all year against an opponent, and we outrebounded them 47-33. That's how you show toughness. The bizarre thing is, we only shot two free throws. There weren't a lot of whistles in the game, really good crew, a big-time crew, and I'm fine with it, the way it turned out. So, I think we send a message when people see these scores, and they see us winning not only at home, but by double digits. We're obviously making great progress, and now we've got to find a way to go get one at UMass, and really shake things up a little bit here, so you know, the way they're playing now, the way that they're maturing; and a lot has to do with Bryan and the job he's done as a senior, the lone senior, you know? Ryan Canty helps out as much as he can on the bench and in practice and things like that, but he'll be back next year to help as a fifth-year senior, but Bryan's done a great job; and because of the job Bryan has done, because of the work habits of Christian, and of Eric, that's why they've developed, and I think that's been a difference maker for us as the year progressed."

On progress and Fordham's surge being better late than never:
"Oh, yeah, without a doubt. It's never too late, I mean, you know, I'm looking at this like we've got seven games left, maybe eight, right? If we get on a run in that tournament, so I mean, I don't think anyone in the league's looking forward to playing anyone in the league. You look at the scores, I mean, Saint Louis beat them (La Salle) Sunday, we get them today, I mean, Duquesne wins a big game over the weekend, you know? So, I just think it's going to be a really interesting Atlantic 10 tournament, especially if we could geet our little momentum going in the beginning of it, but our goal is to jump into that, you know, 8, 9, 10 spot, and the way we do that is by continuing to win our last three regular season games."

Bryan Smith (15 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) on his performance:
"I mean, yeah, my teammates and my coaches, they always have confidence in me, they always tell me 'keep shooting,' even though, because they I know I can shoot the ball, and I just kept following, kept shooting."

Pecora following up:
"It's awesome. I'm showing my age...he made one in front of the bench that had a little stepback, he looked like Lloyd Free, the dude from my era who used to take that, jam you up with a little body and step back and drain it on you, so I knew he had his mojo going when he made that, and he's got that spot right in front of our bench, the corner that we ran a cut, and he had a great read on it, popped to an open area and got an open look and knocked it down, so it was good, and Christian had a big game without shooting threes, and you know, I was concerned that he was just becoming a three-point shooter on us, you know? But he did everything tonight, he really battled on the boards, and they're a big, physical basketball team. I mean, (Steve) Zack and Wright are two big, physical players, so I was pleased with that."

On Mandell Thomas' (career-high 10 assists) evolution at the point guard spot:
"Yeah, yeah, very much so, but at the end, he got a five-second call, you know? Little things like that, they're still little things, and I'm going to give him a hard time about it tomorrow, but yeah, I don't know the last time we had someone, I guess Branden Frazier might have done it a couple of times, get 10 assists and only two turnovers in a game, so, you know, that was outstanding."

On winning three straight at home for the first time since December 2013:
"Right, and those aren't A-10 games, so I mean, those are great wins back then, obviously wins we're very proud of, but when you can do it in this conference, in the seventh-ranked conference in the country, against these kind of opponents, it's very important, and I think it's impressive as to their grit, you know? They haven't quit a bit, man. Like I said, we had only two, maybe three, 'dud' practices all year, and today was practice No. 81. So, I mean, that goes to them, and that goes to their competitive nature. It goes to their spirit, it goes to the grit and toughness that they have, and their willingness to believe in themselves and in each other, and that's what this is all about."

On Jon Severe (15 points, 5 rebounds) and his resurgence:
"Yeah, he guarded tonight. I mean, he's getting up over the top of ball screens, he's doing a good job denying the ball to certain shooters, so he was, he played a complete game today, and that's very important to us. You know, he's instant offense coming off the bench, so I love him coming off as a sixth man right now, and you know, when he gets it going, we all know how dangerous he can be, and the opponent does, too, so he creates great space on the floor for everyone else, because they have to respect his ability to shoot the ball from deep."

On whether he sees improvement approaching the end of the regular season:
"Oh, very much so, very much so. And, you know, you can't control certain things, and obviously the conference schedule is one of them, so you just play it out the way it is, and they have confidence now. You can see that, both of these guys (Bryan Smith and Christian Sengfelder) and a lot of the other guys, and I don't think whether we're home or on the road, you know, we're going to be intimidated by anyone. We're going to go after people in whatever environment we go into, and you know, UMass is going to be a wild, wild setting, and then Bonnies (St. Bonaventure) the last weekend is going to be crazy, they sell out every time. I'm hoping next Wednesday we could sell this place out for him, (Smith) because he deserves it, you know? Bryan Smith had an opportunity to go to a lot of places, tonight's opponent was one of them, and a lot of other really good schools, and he chose to come here when it wasn't the popular thing to do, it was a hard thing to do, and his dad's an alum, and I'm so happy for him. I just said to him, 'man, your mom and dad, they've got to be so happy and proud of you,' and like I said, next Wednesday, I want to have a great crowd here because he deserves it, and it's going to be an emotional night for me, and for him."

On Fordham's backcourt rebounding effort:
"Yeah. Look, they've got to be complete players. We talk to the guards all the time. Our guards on the better teams we've coached over the years fill up box scores. Everything but turnovers, you know? That's the only thing, and they'll tell you, that's the only thing that drives me crazy, but there's no reason why guards can't get six, seven, eight rebounds a game. They're athletic, they're tough, they're in good shape, and it can be a difference maker."

Smith on his renewed confidence:
"I mean, definitely. It's always my teammates and my coaches, they always have confidence in me, always talk to me, I always talk to them. They always tell me to keep working on your shot and to stay confident, and that transpired to me. I want to win. That's the most important thing about me. I mean, of course, it's at the back of my mind, but in a game, I want to get the win first."

Pecora on playing well even though the regular season is drawing to a close:
"Hey, man, I'll take it. Winning's fun, and you know, it's fun for me, it's fun to walk in the locker room and see the smiles on their faces, to see how excited they are. That's what, that's what lights me up. My assistants, they deserve this, too. So winning is fun whenever you can do it. I think that, once again, when we looked at the league schedule, we thought it might be tough coming out of the gate; there were a couple that we could have had early, and we didn't get them due to, you know, just experience. I don't think that's going to be an issue as we move forward here now, but no. I mean, we're going to take these wins, and we're going to keep rolling, and you know, I'll be watching some UMass tonight, and start getting ourselves ready for them on Saturday, and they're a good club, especially at home."

Christian Sengfelder (14 points, 14 rebounds) on his efforts:
"I mean, I have to say to that, that every time I step foot on the basketball court, I just enjoy it, like, I just play, it fills me, I don't care. After that, it sucks, but while I'm playing, I just want to have fun out there. This is my passion, this is my life right now, and I'm playing in the States, playing in front of big crowds, big arenas, with big teams, against big teams. I'm just happy to be here. That's why I enjoy every second, and if I make a shot, I'm happy. If I miss one, I'm like, 'ah, damn, next one, I'll make it though.' If Bryan hits a shot, I'm happy for him. I just want to, like, win. That's why I'm trying to push everybody."

Sengfelder on his teammates' success:
"It's unbelievable, especially in the beginning, like close games when we were like, 'ah, man, I didn't have my best game, that's why we lost probably.' Now, we win games, everybody steps up his game, it's just amazing. Hard work pays off, I guess."

Pecora on Sengfelder's personality and Fordham feeding off it:
"Oh, very much so. He's fun, he's fun to be around. They both (Sengfelder and Smith) are. You know, that's the, and I've said this before. You look around the locker room, and the amazing thing about sport; and it's not just basketball, but that's the world I've lived in, it saved my life. But I mean, you look around the locker room, and you see the diversity and the number of kids from different backgrounds, and different walks of life and different family structures, all of these things, and sport is the thing that brings them together and unites them, and it's passion and enthusiasm like these guys and the other guys have that make it fun, man, you know? It's the best job in the world. I never get up in the morning and go 'damn, I gotta go to work today.'"

Nuggets of Note:
- The 48 points Fordham held La Salle to was the lowest point total the Rams have surrendered since their 79-48 victory over Furman at Rose Hill on December 4, 2013. The visiting Explorers were limited to an 18-for-61 (29.5 percent) effort from the field, and their rebounding efforts were so subpar to the point where both Christian Sengfelder and Ryan Rhoomes each outrebounded, on their own, La Salle's imposing pair of Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright, who only combined for 12 boards.

- With the win, this is the third consecutive season in which Fordham has won three straight home games, as La Salle joins Saint Louis and Saint Joseph's. However, unlike the 2012-13 and 2013-14 campaigns, the Rams have managed this winning streak in Atlantic 10 play, and will look for a fourth consecutive home win when Duquesne comes to Rose Hill a week from tonight.

- Since moving to the point guard position against La Salle on January 17, Mandell Thomas is averaging nearly 13 points and three assists per game. Of even greater significance is that tonight's 10-assist, two-turnover performance was the junior's best effort on his home floor as the Rams' floor general, and first game in which he had a positive assist to turnover ratio at Rose Hill since Fordham hosted Dayton on January 10.

- While improbable on paper, Fordham still has a chance to escape the bottom four of the Atlantic 10 standings, which would preclude the Rams from either of the two play-in games on Wednesday, March 11 at Barclays Center. At 4-11 on the season, Fordham is currently in the No. 12 spot, one game behind Duquesne for the No. 11 seed, and two games behind Saint Joseph's; with whom the Rams split their season series, for the tenth position.

- Finally, one could make the case that this was, arguably, the most complete and impressive game Fordham has played all season. The Saint Louis game might get more attention since the Rams scored 83 points, but tonight's score was much closer than the game let on, as La Salle looked disjointed and uncoordinated enough to suggest that the rebuilding job Dr. John Giannini is still in the midst of just two years removed from a Sweet 16 appearance remains a work in progress, as is a Fordham team that, at least for now, is proving the Tom Pecora naysayers wrong.

Seton Hall 64, Villanova 62: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

South Orange, NJ - Senior day is anticipated, and in some ways, is a day of mixed emotion. It can be bittersweet to an extent. An opportunity to honor departing seniors for their careers, contributions on and off the floor and memories of how they have grown. On the other side is a goodbye, the realization that we will not see those honored suit up for the home team again. The careers are winding down.

Sunday at Seton Hall was the senior day for the women. The Pirates were hosting Villanova. First order was the honors. In a manner of celebrating as one big family, so much the work of coach Tony Bozzella and his staff, the senior band members, cheerleaders, and Sapphires dance team were honored leading up to the Seton Hall players. Even Villanova seniors were given a small token tribute prior to the celebration of Seton Hall.

Festivities aside, there was an important Big East game to play. Villanova showed a nice perimeter touch and built an eight-point lead at the half.

The outside can be feast or famine. Rather than let the percentages catch up, Seton Hall grabbed the initiative by attacking the percentages catch up, Seton Hall grabbed the initiative by attacking the basket. The second half saw a different Seton Hall team. A different result. In the final seconds, a penetration by Daisha Simmons, one of those honored seniors, gave the Hall the lead, one they kept as a last-second Villanova try was closely guarded and missed. Seton Hall 64, Villanova 62.

Postgame, there was a lot to talk about. That strong second half by the Hall. Villanova’s dictating of tempo and problems caused on the perimeter, this Seton Hall team willing themselves to win this.

Before the postgame discussion, moments after the final buzzer, the four Seton Hall seniors went to the microphone and thanked the fans. Not just for today. For all season. For their true devotion. Being there and being supportive to the fullest degree.

On this wonderful day, we honored and said farewell to the four seniors: Chizoba Ekedigwe, Janee Johnson, Daisha Simmons and Ka-Deidre Simmons. They in turn, reciprocated the feelings, expressing gratitude and saying ‘thank you’ to all of us. We will miss each other, but the memories of the special moments the provided will always be treasured.

Seton Hall senior Chizoba Ekedigwe and her family on senior day:
Janee Johnson with her family, greeting the appreciative crowd:
A special young lady who energized the program with her contributions, Daisha Simmons:
Ka-Deidre Simmons reflects and says "thank you" to all for the memories:
Villanova coaches Harry Perretta and Joe Mullaney, a former coach himself, survey the action:
Ka-Deidre Simmons against the Villanova defense:
Caroline Coyer of Villanova with a penetration move:
Courtside neighbor John Fanta of WSOU and the Pirate Sports Network, hard at work:
The four Seton Hall seniors acknowledge the crowd postgame, as Ka-Deidre Simmons waves to the appreciative fans:

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Seton Hall 64, Villanova 62: Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Analysis

Senior cheerleaders and coach Jean Marie Romanella honored at center court by Seton Hall women's basketball coach Tony Bozzella. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

South Orange, NJ – Battling back from a late first half ten-point deficit, Seton Hall defeated Villanova 64-62 at Walsh Gym on Sunday. The Senior Day game saw the Pirates improve to 13-3 in the Big East, while Villanova dropped to 10-6. The pace and efficiency:

Possessions: Villanova 61, Seton Hall 60
Offensive Efficiency: Seton Hall 107, Villanova 102

The Four Factors:
eFG%: Seton Hall 48, Villanova 47
FT Rate: Seton Hall 25, Villanova 13
OREB%: Villanova 32, Seton Hall 31
TO Rate: Villanova 15, Seton Hall 10

What Villanova did well: Shoot from the perimeter. They shot 30 percent from three-point range, enough to keep the Pirates from pulling away down the latter part of the second half, when Seton Hall attempted to build on a five-point lead. The 15 percent turnover rate against the Pirates' pressure was another plus.

What Seton Hall did well: Maintain poise. As coach Tony Bozzella pointed out, being down ten (late first half) is like trailing another team by 25, given Villanova’s deliberate approach. The Pirates did not panic and gradually chipped away. A total six turnovers also lended to an outstanding 10 percent turnover rate.

Leading Scorers and Offensive Efficiency:
Villanova: Taylor Holeman, 25 points (OE .636)
Seton Hall: Daisha Simmons, 22 points (OE .550)

Points in the paint: 32-12, Seton Hall. Not a surprise, as perimeter-oriented Villanova had 24 field goals on the afternoon, eight from beyond the arc and six in the lane. Seton Hall produced most of their inside conversions on dribble penetration and guards getting in the paint.

A tale of two halves: At the break Villanova led 36-28. It was a 31-possession pace, with the tempo the only thing even.

Offensive Efficiency: Villanova 116, Seton Hall 90

The second half was a complete turnaround, with better defense and offense by the Pirates.

Possessions: Villanova 30, Seton Hall 29
Offensive Efficiency: Seton Hall 124, Villanova 87

Final Thoughts
“A great game. One team won, another didn’t, but I honestly do not think we could have played any better on the defensive end.” - Villanova coach Harry Perretta

“I am proud of our seniors, four great young ladies, but I am also proud of the whole team for finding a way to win today.” – Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella

Iona wipes out 16-point deficit, clinches regular season MAAC title

A.J. English's go-ahead three-point play in final minute ensured Iona of third regular season MAAC championship in four years, as Gaels defeated Monmouth 69-68 at Hynes Center. (Photo courtesy of Brian Beyrer via Iona College Athletics)

A day that began with celebration ended in much the same way, albeit with more than just a few plot twists in between.

On a doubleheader Sunday in New Rochelle that began with senior shooting guard Damika Martinez being recognized for becoming the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's all-time leading women's basketball scorer, Iona had a standard to live up to, even if the Lady Gaels suffered a narrow defeat to Quinnipiac. Fortunately for the home crowd, one of their other brethren in contention for Player of the Year honors took care of business.

For the second time in just over a week, A.J. English handled the final outcome, his go-ahead three-point play with 34 seconds remaining in regulation serving as the play that lifted Iona (23-6, 16-2 MAAC) past Monmouth (16-13, 12-6) by the final of 69-68, not only erasing a 16-point deficit; but also securing the Gaels' second straight regular season MAAC championship, and third time in the last four seasons.

"I was just trying to get contact," English said of what proved to be a game-winning shot that harkened back to his three-pointer to beat Manhattan nine days ago; only this one was a jumper from the left elbow in which he got Monmouth's Max DiLeo to lean into him as the ball left his hands, tying the game at 68 before draining the ensuing foul shot. 

"I really thought he was going to do what he did against Manhattan," a candid DiLeo remarked of the exchange. "He makes game-winning plays. That's a tough shot, and a dumb play by me."

The Hawks had a chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat after Iona knocked Justin Robinson's potential game-winning drive out of bounds with 2.8 seconds to go, but DiLeo's baseline jumper rimmed out just before the buzzer, setting off a raucous celebration just north of New York City.

"I tripped up a little bit," DiLeo said of his final attempt, "but I was still open. I was close, but it didn't go in."

For most of the night, though, it looked as though English's heroics would not even be necessary, as Monmouth jumped on Iona midway through the first half, seizing control of the game on a 22-4 run to end the opening stanza with a 40-26 cushion as David Laury was hampered by three fouls before the intermission. A layup from Robinson, whose 24 points tied Laury for the game high, gave the Hawks their largest lead, a 44-28 advantage just 80 seconds removed from the halftime break.

Iona did not go away from there, regaining the lead with a 27-6 spurt that blew the roof off the Hynes Center when Schadrac Casimir's three-pointer with 13:00 remaining in regulation gave the Gaels a 49-48 lead, an edge that was stretched out to five as Kelvin Amayo culminated the outburst with a putback of English's missed jumper just over two minutes later. Monmouth would answer back with a 9-3 stretch to regain the lead on an Andrew Nicholas layup with 6:50 on the clock, and two free throws from Robinson later in the half would position the Hawks with a 67-63 margin in their favor entering the final 2:53 of the game.

On the ensuing possession, Casimir's fourth and final three of the evening brought Iona within one before Deon Jones added a point to the Monmouth lead with the first of two free throws, his second grazing the front rim before bouncing off with a minute remaining, setting the stage for English's latest star turn as the Gaels assured themselves of a postseason appearance for the fifth consecutive year, continuing Tim Cluess' streak of playing deep into March in every season that he has patrolled the sidelines since replacing Kevin Willard in 2010.

"I'm really proud of my team tonight," a satisfied Cluess proclaimed. "They found a way to fight back in a game that looked like we would lose by 30. If we give our best effort every time out, more often than not, we'll get good results."