Thursday, February 28, 2013

Big East Lives On In Magnificent 7


Madison Square Garden will continue to host Big East tournament, except Big East will include its seven basketball-only schools, plus Xavier and Butler.  (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)

While we were on location at St. Francis tonight for the Terriers' loss to Quinnipiac, the latest details in the Big East separation scenario emerged in this piece from ESPN's Brett McMurphy, Andy Katz and Dana O'Neil.  Long story short, the seven basketball schools in the Big East (St. John's, Seton Hall, Marquette, Villanova, Providence, DePaul and Georgetown) are likely to keep the Big East name and trademarks, as well as add Butler and Xavier to form a nine-team league that will expand to ten, and eventually twelve in the future.

Full details can be found here:

http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/9000502/catholic-7-schools-keep-big-east-name-new-league-next-season-according-sources

Happy 82nd Birthday, Dean Smith

Now 82 years young, no one has yet to touch college basketball the way Dean Smith has.  (Photo courtesy of Rivals.com)

He was one of the reasons I became a North Carolina fan.  From his desire to run a perennially clean program, to reinforcing the family concept in college basketball, to having a persona reminiscent of the grandfather I never got to know, Dean Edwards Smith seemed like the perfect man to lead such a tradition-rich program.

Today, Coach Smith turns 82 years old, and despite his bout with Alzheimer's disease; a tale that often becomes far more tragic when you consider Smith's long-standing reputation as a man who paid particular attention to detail and remembering everyone he came into contact with, and now realize that he sometimes forgets who he himself is and has no recollection of current North Carolina coach Roy Williams, he remains a legend.  With 879 career wins and a pair of national championships, not to mention developing a Who's Who of future NBA stars the likes of Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Brad Daugherty, Sam Perkins, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison before his retirement in 1997, one would be hard-pressed to find names outside of Mike Krzyzewski or maybe even Jim Boeheim that come close to matching the legacy and career that Smith carved out for himself over 36 years in Chapel Hill.

The proper tribute to Coach Smith is something that I may not be able to provide, as I feel that no amount of words I write will effectively give him the respect he deserves, but I hope this suffices: The 1993 national championship game, Smith's last of two titles, and the game that turned me into a North Carolina fan considering it was the first one I ever watched start to finish back when I was just six years old.

Happy birthday, Coach, and many, many more.

Orlando Sanchez Declared Eligible For St. John's

The wait is finally over for Orlando Sanchez, as Dominican forward was ruled eligible by NCAA to resume collegiate career at St. John's.  (Photo courtesy of Tim Dimas via Rumble In The Garden)

"Primo" has finally been freed.

After a four-month process that made St. John's fans wonder if, never mind when, Orlando Sanchez would be declared eligible for the Red Storm, the NCAA finally gave the Red Storm program a delayed Christmas present when it announced Sanchez was granted a waiver for one year of eligibility, which he will use in next season's 2013-14 campaign.

The decision, which St. John's confirmed moments ago after it was broken by Kieran Lynch; who covers the Red Storm for the school's student newspaper, The Torch, gives head coach Steve Lavin added frontcourt depth for next season, something that could loom very large should JaKarr Sampson, the likely Big East Rookie of the Year if the season ended today, forgo his remaining three years of eligibility and enter the NBA Draft.  If Sampson stays, Sanchez becomes the latest piece in a puzzle that figures to have the Johnnies as a potential Top 15 team in the nation in just a few months' time, and perhaps a favorite to win the school's first Big East championship since 2000.  "It's big news," Sanchez gushed when informed of the positive ruling.  "I'm going to tell them (my family) 'I'm free, I can play.'" 
Brought in by Lavin this summer as a transfer from Monroe College in New Rochelle, Sanchez was intended to help Sampson and Chris Obekpa on the St. John's front line while God'sgift Achiuwa redshirted, but was precluded from playing while the NCAA looked into a 2010 contest Sanchez participated in for the Dominican national team, only playing a mere three minutes and thirty-eight seconds, an investigation that ESPN color analyst and attorney in his own right Jay Bilas bemoaned on Twitter over the last week.

St. John's takes on Providence Saturday night at 9pm in a game the Red Storm need to win to keep their slim NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

The Slipper Now Fits At The Top


Redshirt junior Kelly Olynyk has come from out of seemingly nowhere, taking advantage of increased playing time to replace Robert Sacre and lead Gonzaga to likely No. 1 ranking if Bulldogs can win their two remaining games this week.  (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

They've been a part of exciting NCAA Tournament memories such as this one:



They've been on the other side of the fence too, like this instance:



Yet in their decade-and-a-half period of redefining the concept of a "Cinderella" team and proving that mid-major programs can in fact compete and win against the blue bloods, Gonzaga University has never held a No. 1 ranking in either of the two major weekly polls in the history of the Jesuit school's basketball program.

That could all change on Monday, assuming the Bulldogs take care of business in their remaining two games, starting tonight when Gonzaga travels to Provo, Utah for a pivotal West Coast Conference showdown with Brigham Young inside the Marriott Center before the Zags return home to conclude the regular season against Portland on Saturday.  After current No. 1 Indiana's upset loss to Minnesota Tuesday night, Gonzaga stands to inherit the top spot after winning ten straight following this defeat at the hands of Butler:



"It would be something that we haven't accomplished yet," Gonzaga coach Mark Few remarked when interviewed live on "SportsCenter" shortly after Minnesota's upset of Indiana.  "We've had a great run over these last fourteen years, and there really isn't much we haven't done. I  think what that shows is just how hard it is to win on the road, and we're prepared for an incredible environment down at BYU Thursday night."

Given their mid-major roots, there will almost certainly be some fraction of people who will be weary of anointing the Zags as the best team in the nation, despite Gonzaga receiving a performance from center Kelly Olynyk that hardly anyone could have expected.  After replacing fellow Canadian Robert Sacre this year after taking a redshirt last season, Olynyk has become the Bulldogs' leading scorer, averaging nearly eighteen points and seven rebounds per game while shooting an astounding 66 percent from the field, the fifth-best percentage in the nation.  Swingman Elias Harris has joined guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell as ancillary options for a Gonzaga team that shoots 51 percent from the field as a team, not to mention scores seemingly at will also; managing 79 points per game on average, but yielding just 60.

"I don't have any doubt we're worthy of it," Few said when asked about whether or not he believed his team deserved the top billing Gonzaga is expected to receive in the polls if they can win their next two games.  "We've been playing some great basketball on both ends of the floor."

In a college basketball season where the unexpected has become reality, maybe it is time for the number one to be placed alongside the team from Spokane, the one who has proven consistently that they belong among the nation's elite, regardless of what happens to conclude the regular season.

Monday, February 25, 2013

St. John's vs. Pittsburgh: A Photo Gallery

Yesterday provided us with another split doubleheader on the schedule, the first one of those we've had in a while.  Before heading to Hempstead in the evening to see Hofstra pick up their seventh win of the season in a 70-59 victory over Old Dominion, we were on hand for a Madison Square Garden matinee between St. John's and Pittsburgh, an affair in which the Panthers laid waste to St. John's NCAA Tournament hopes in a convincing 63-47 win, holding the Red Storm to their lowest point total of the season.  In that first game, we were fortunate enough to share press row with friend of the website and college basketball Renaissance man Ray Floriani, who was on hand to cover the game before heading off to one of his many other trades, refereeing in New Jersey.  As he usually does whenever we're in the same place at the same time, Ray was gracious enough to compile a photo essay of yesterday's transpirings at the "World's Most Famous Arena" for this site:


NEW YORK CITY – Noon in what is often called “the greatest city in the world.”  There is a game at Madison Square Garden. Even after decades, it never grows old. There is always an excitement around a Garden game.  
          The history, tradition, sights, sounds, and even the aroma of grilled hot dogs. Walking out onto the floor level area and looking up to see the Knick and Ranger banners in regal splendor. And don’t forget the one for Lou Carnesecca.
          Pitt guard Tray Woodall called the Garden, the “Mecca of basketball.” He is not the first, nor will he be the last to pay tribute with these words. Woodall was not just living in the moment of a game high 25 points in his team’s win over St. John’s. A product of prep power St. Anthony’s just across the river, Woodall knew of the significance of playing here even before he donned a Pitt uniform.
          For St. John’s, optimism of playing almost even for a half soon gave way. The final twenty minutes saw Pitt impose its will to post a 63-47 decision. Disappointment for St. John’s faithful. Still, there was the positive of taking in and being a part of, on this Sunday afternoon, the Garden experience.

Outside Madison Square Garden shortly before game time:
The first thing a player, coach, or media member sees when walking through the tunnel onto the Garden floor:
Madison Square Garden takes pride in honoring those who excel in areas beyond the court:
Travon Woodall of Pitt discussing the Panthers' performance:
Ray with Keriee, a Knicks City Dancer who was on the St. John's dance team last season, and was on hand to cheer her former teammates on:
After the St. John's game, Madison Square Garden gets ready for the New York Knicks:

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Richmond 72, Fordham 55: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Chris Gaston managed seven points and six rebounds on senior day in Fordham's 72-55 loss to Richmond.  (Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer)

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora's opening statement:
"This is the first time that I feel we laid an egg at home this season.  Obviously, we're struggling and the residue of the losses is accumulating.  I can see it in their body language.  We've had a couple of guys that kind of lost their way with the losses we've had."

Pecora's reflections on the season in general and the relative youth of the roster:
"When you can play a lot of veterans, it's helpful; but we don't have that, and that's why our margin for error is so small.  I've been down this road before, and no one is as frustrated as I am.  I'm tremendously frustrated and I know how frustrated they (the players) are."

On today's game:
"We fought ourselves back into it after they got some separation there.  I'm depending on freshmen to make big plays.  Ryan Rhoomes played hard, he plays hard all the time, but he's just not polished yet."

On Jeff Short (12 points) today:
"One man's ceiling is another man's floor.  He has to prove to us that he can play more minutes."

On assistant coach Tom Parrotta and his contribution to the program:
"He's very good with big men, and you saw that with (Ryan) Canty, and there's progress with (Ryan) Rhoomes and (Travion) Leonard.  It's also good that he's an alumnus, because it helps in recruiting.  A kid's parents can look at him and say 'That's a Fordham man.'"

On Chris Gaston and how he should be remembered in Fordham history:
"He's been very loyal, he came in and never flinched.  He and his family were loyal to Fordham because Fordham was loyal to him, particularly in the recruiting process, so that's been kind of reciprocal."

On Gaston's performance today and in recent games:
"We were all proud of what he did in the Butler game, but that energy hasn't been there since then."

On what to expect in the future:
"I believe this young group is going to make us relevant in this league and get to the middle of the pack.  I still think Mandell Thomas can be an elite player in this league...at the end of his freshman season, I had no idea Charles Jenkins (whom Pecora coached at Hofstra) was going to be an NBA player.  The maturation from this season into next will be a key.  Next year's schedule will be structured in a different way, and that's a positive.  If you come to Fordham for your academics, play a little ball and help us turn this around, you're a made man for the rest of your life because of our alumni base and our history."

Pecora's message to Fordham alumni and fans:
"I've been through this for three years.  Fordham fans have been through this for decades, so I understand why they are the way they are.  I have to tell them to keep the faith, because if you don't know the bad, then you can't revel in the good.  When we're good, we'll celebrate harder than anybody else.  We'll get there, it's just a matter of time."

Nuggets of Note:
- Four Richmond players scored in double figures, led by Deion Taylor's 12 points off the bench.  The Spiders, who came into today's game averaging just 29 rebounds as a result of their Princeton-inspired offense that predicates itself on back-door cuts and an increased tendency to shoot three-pointers, matched the Rams on the glass despite barely losing the battle of the boards by a count of 35-33.

- Richmond coach Chris Mooney has a deep and talented young team that could very easily be a contender in the Atlantic 10 next season, and maybe during next month's conference tournament at the Barclays Center.  With the exception of four walk-ons, ten Spiders saw considerable action this afternoon, with no Richmond player logging more than 28 minutes.

- The Spiders, who came into today's contest shooting 38 percent from three-point range, made ten of the 28 trifectas they attempted, accounting for more than half of their 51 shots.  Richmond's defense also did an impressive job keying in on Chris Gaston and Branden Frazier, who only managed 15 points combined and just four of those in the first half.  Richmond's transition game also won this afternoon's contest for the Spiders, who blanked Fordham to the tune of 14-0 on fast breaks and secured 21 points off fourteen Ram turnovers.

- Finally, Mandell Thomas was one of the few bright spots for Fordham, as was Jeff Short.  Thomas poured in 17 points for his twelfth double-figure scoring game in his last fifteen contests as the freshman from Rochester continues to gain some steam in the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year race, where his prime competition includes Xavier's Semaj Christon among others.  Short's 12-point outing was the fifth double-figure game of the season for the redshirt freshman, and first since January 23rd, when the Rams were massacred on the road against Dayton.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fordham/Richmond Preview

Fordham takes on Chris Mooney and Princeton-style offense of Richmond tomorrow at Rose Hill Gym in latest attempt to end Rams' losing streak, which now stands at seven.  (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

Losers of seven straight after their latest setback on the road this past Wednesday against George Washington, it appeared as though things could not get much worse for 6-21 Fordham.  Then, it was announced yesterday that sophomore shooting guard Bryan Smith would miss the remainder of the season with a broken hand; which if he played through the injury, would explain much of Smith's enigmatic second campaign in the Bronx, one marked by maddening inconsistency and unexpected slumps.  With Smith no longer around for Fordham's final four games, the Rams will still take the court tomorrow with an opportunity to get off the schneid against a 15-11 Richmond team in a 1pm tipoff from the Rose Hill Gym.

At 15-11, Chris Mooney's Spiders are in consideration for a trip to the NIT or even CBI; and if Richmond can go on a late surge, his team can play its way into the NCAA Tournament the same way they did in 2011, when they ended the regular season on the outside of the bubble before winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Atlantic City and ultimately reaching the Sweet Sixteen as a No. 12 seed, where the Spiders were eliminated by Kansas.  Richmond is presently the owner of the 60th-strongest schedule and has an RPI of 95, (numbers courtesy of RealTimeRPI.com) two numbers that may take a slight hit given Fordham's lackluster campaign this season.  The Spiders are also struggling, as they have gone 6-9 since winning nine of their first eleven to open the season.

Richmond shoots the ball very well from the three-point line, as the Spiders are averaging 38 percent combined from beyond the arc.  In fact, four of the regulars in Mooney's rotation shoot a 40 percent or better clip, including leading scorers Darien Brothers and Kendall Anthony, who come into the game with 44 and 43 percent marks, respectively.  After missing nine games recently due to injury, Derrick Williams will be competing in his fourth game since returning two weeks ago against Saint Louis, and is the Spiders' leading rebounder with an average of just under six caroms per game.  Point guard Cedrick Lindsay and swingman Greg Robbins will look to facilitate plays in transition for Richmond, and should draw Branden Frazier and Mandell Thomas in opening matchups.  The Rams also need to be mindful of Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, who leads the Spiders with 48 blocked shots.

A strength for Fordham on paper is their rebounding ability, as Richmond enters this contest averaging just 29 boards per game, an indirect byproduct of Mooney's Princeton-inspired offense, which relies heavily on back-door cuts and an open invitation to shoot from outside.  Richmond's rebounding inefficiency has also translated to a plus-7 rebounding margin in favor of their opponents, who amass 36 caroms on average against the Spiders this season.  Fordham will likely see a Richmond team intent on keeping the game in the high 60s to low 70s, as the Spiders have broken the 75-point plateau just three times in Atlantic 10 play.  Expect Chris Gaston to impose his will early and often against Richmond, particularly under the rim.  Do not be surprised to see Travion Leonard make an early impact as well with his ability to climb the ladder on the defensive glass, not to mention the clear size advantage he possesses against his likely matchup Williams, who played alongside Gaston under Bob Hurley at St. Anthony's High School in Jersey City.

Of Fordham's four remaining games, one can make a case that this is the most winnable for the Rams.  One can also expect Tom Pecora's team to want to play well for Chris Gaston, who will be honored on senior day tomorrow.  Richmond comes in with everything to lose, while the hometown Rams are looking to play the spoiler.  This should be an intriguing game that could very well go down to the wire like many others at Rose Hill this season, and hopefully you'll join us for the ride.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Seton Hall/Marquette: A Photo Gallery

Tuesday night at the Prudential Center provided us an opportunity to catch up with friend of the website and college basketball Renaissance man Ray Floriani, who was kind enough to send in another photo essay from the Golden Eagles' victory.  Without any further ado:


NEWARK, NJ - It starts in the morning with a walkthrough and shootaround. The game preparation continues through the day as coaches take a last look at film and review the scouting report. Even after pregame meal, about three hours before tipoff, there might be another brief meeting. Finally, at the game site, there is an extensive routine to get the muscles loosened and ready for action.
          At this time of the season, following all that preparation it boils down to intensity and will. Coaches still meticulously prepare but as Marquette’s Buzz Williams said following the win at Seton Hall, “following Valentine’s Day it’s about intensity and fight.”
          Marquette had plenty of that on Tuesday night at the Prudential Center. Tied at the half the Golden Eagles went on a final twenty minute 40-19 tear to defeat the struggling Pirates 67-46.
          It wasn’t about the Hall being in the wrong defense or not utilizing a specific offense. It was about not being able to respond or withstand when Marquette put their stamp on the game after halftime. 

Marquette going strong in warmups 45 minutes before tipoff:
Seton  Hall cheerleaders Alexandra (left) and Britt (right) have their own routine, greeting fans with programs:
Officials Mike Stuart and Brent Hampton discuss a few things before the start:
The "light show" introduction for Seton Hall:
Eugene Teague with the shooter's follow-through:
Finally, Marquette head coach Buzz Williams fields a postgame question:



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Marquette 67, Seton Hall 46: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Vander Blue continues recent hot streak, scoring 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting in Marquette's 67-46 win over Seton Hall.  (Photo courtesy of Paint Touches)

Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard's opening statement:
"They (Marquette) did a great job of getting after us and heating us up a bit, which we don't like."

On the state of his team and why the locker room was closed after the game:
"I have answers, but I have to wait until next year to deal with that.  I think the effect of all the injuries demoralized this team to where a 25-1 run happens, we don't have any fight in us.  We just have to make a couple of changes going into next year and go from there.  They (the players) are not in a very good mood to talk right now, and I don't want them to say anything they shouldn't be saying.  Sometimes, when you put a 19-to-20-year-old in front of a microphone, he doesn't know how to handle it, and I didn't think it was the right thing to do.  It's wearing down on us more mentally than physically.  Physically, we're getting outmatched."

Marquette head coach Buzz Williams on Kevin Willard:
"I think Kevin's a great coach, and I think any coach would have the same issues he's facing.  In five years, I don't think I've ever seen that rash of injuries on one team."

On his team's effort tonight:
"When we force our opponent to play against a set defense, at least we give ourselves a chance.  I thought we did a great job of getting the ball reversed, I thought we were much more consistent offensively.  I thought we had good spirit and good fight in the first half, but we just had poor execution.

On Vander Blue's efficiency and his role in Williams' "wardrobe malfunction:"
"I would be extremely shocked if he was an all-conference player, since we've only had three. (Jerel McNeal, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder) I think his last two games have been his best two games because of his efficiency.  Trent (Lockett) has continued to improve, Jamil (Wilson) has been consistent the last two games, and that has helped Vander.  He dove for a loose ball, and when I went to pick him up, he pulled down my tie; and when I went to go pull it back up, I noticed he pulled all the buttons off my shirt."

Nuggets of Note:
- Marquette's 25-1 run broke the game open early in the second half, turning a 33-32 Seton Hall lead into a 57-34 Golden Eagles rout.  In fact, the former Warriors (also #TBW, or Team Bubble Watch in Sports Illustrated's Andy Glockner's columns) outscored the Pirates 40-19 after going to the locker room at halftime tied at 27.

- Marquette shot 62 percent (16-for-26) from the field in the second half, and in addition to Vander Blue's 19 points, Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson contributed 18 and 10 points off the bench, respectively.  Together, those three players outscored Seton Hall by themselves.  Wilson (10 points, 9 rebounds) and Trent Lockett (9 points, 8 rebounds) both came close to posting double-doubles as the Golden Eagles outrebounded the home team 43-24.

- Two fouls in the final second of the first half allowed Seton Hall to go to the intermission on a 7-0 run.  The Pirates picked up five points thanks to Fuquan Edwin and a transition three from Aaron Cosby before Aaron Geramipoor came into the game to infuse offense on a pair of foul shots that tied the score at the end of the opening stanza.

- Seton Hall has now fallen under .500 with this loss, standing at 13-14 and 2-12 in the Big East.  The loss is the eighth straight for the Pirates and twelfth of the last thirteen, with a trip to the Yum! Center next on the schedule for a return match with Rick Pitino and Louisville.

- Finally, one can only wonder how much more Kevin Willard can handle.  Scores of fans, and even others in the college basketball community are now starting to wonder if the third-year head coach will be able to survive another season in the Big East after Seton Hall has gotten off to its worst conference start since the 1985-86 season, which was just a few months before this writer was born in August 1986.  Say what you want about former coach Bobby Gonzalez, but his teams fought, and they improved every year, going from 13 wins in his first season to 17 in each of the next two years before winning 19 games in his fourth and final season before his firing in March of 2010.  Willard does not have an experienced point guard and has been befallen by more injuries than any man can care to count, but more than a few of the natives in South Orange are getting just a tad restless as a long season gets even longer down the stretch.

Friars Biting Into Postseason Buffet

In just his second year at helm, Ed Cooley has turned Providence from Big East doormat to rising young upstart.  (Photo courtesy of The Sporting News)

Before the season started, Providence coach Ed Cooley turned heads with this bold guarantee of what to expect from a Friar team picked last in the conference's preseason poll:

"I like when people overlook us, because we're going to bite some asses.  Believe me when I tell you that." - Ed Cooley at Big East media day


Four months later, Cooley has guided Providence College to a 14-11 record with four consecutive wins to move the Friars to 6-7 in the Big East, and Providence still has three more winnable games against the likes of Rutgers, (Saturday) St. John's (March 2nd) and Seton Hall (March 5th) after their next contest at the Carrier Dome tomorrow night against Syracuse.  Not only that, but the Friars are in prime position to get to a place the program has not been since 2009: The postseason, when Keno Davis guided a team led by Geoff McDermott and MarShon Brooks into the NIT.

If Providence can win the aforementioned three games, plus steal one of their remaining two on the road against Syracuse and UConn, (March 9th at Gampel Pavilion) the Friars could be in position to possible secure the school's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2004.  However, with an RPI of 99 despite a strength of schedule rank of 49, (these numbers come courtesy of RealTimeRPI.com) Cooley's bunch will likely need at least one, maybe two, wins in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden to solidify their resume for the selection committee.  At the moment, resident NIT expert and friend of the website John Templon of Big Apple Buckets currently has the Friars as one of the four No. 7 seeds in the NIT in his most recent bracket projections, and has them traveling to the Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville to take on Mike Anderson and Arkansas in a game that would not be for the weak at heart, pitting Cooley's aggressive defense against the Razorbacks and head coach Mike Anderson's "40 Minutes of Hell."

Wins over likely tournament teams Villanova, (whom the Friars swept) Cincinnati and Notre Dame will almost certainly go a long way when the 68-team field is deliberated upon in the days leading up to March 17th, but Providence's record in close games should also be considered.  With ten of their losses coming by ten points or less, (six of those ten were defeats of four points or less, as the Friars' one true decisive loss was an 80-62 defeat to Louisville at the Yum! Center, arguably the toughest road environment in the Big East and possibly the nation) Providence has shown the ability to compete in almost every game this season, something that has been nonexistent in recent years.

Cooley's player development has been a significant contribution to Providence's sudden hot streak, with both Bryce Cotton (the Big East's leading scorer at 20.4 points per game) and Kadeem Batts (just outside the top ten in scoring at 14.9 points per game and ninth in the Big East with seven rebounds per contest) emerging as legitimate candidates for the conference's Most Improved Player award while sophomore LaDontae Henton enjoys yet another consistent campaign with averages of thirteen points and eight rebounds per game.  Having Vincent Council and Kris Dunn on the floor at the same time has given Cooley the luxury of having two point guards who can distribute equally to all others on the court while spearheading a drastic defensive improvement from last season, as the Friars have embraced their coach's ball control mantras by yielding just 64 points per game compared to 69 in a 15-17 campaign last year that saw Providence win just four conference games, a mark they have already improved by two thanks to four consecutive victories.

In addition to the headline-grabbing quote at Big East media day, Ed Cooley also had this to say:

"I love the 'us against the world' mentality.  I want guys that are edgy and pissed off.  Those are my kind of guys."

Ed Cooley's guys have already taken on some of the best the world has to offer and beaten them on multiple occasions, with an appetite for something bigger now clearly noticeable.  Save this team a table at this year's postseason buffet.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Butler 68, Fordham 63: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Rotnei Clarke's 22 points helped lift No. 11 Butler to a 68-63 road victory over Fordham at Rose Hill Gym.  (Photo courtesy of Butler University Athletics)

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora's opening statement:
"I told them (our players) that we just played to the wire with No. 9, or No. 11, whatever they are.  This team's getting better, but it just doesn't show in our record.  We're trying to change the culture here, and the foundation for that is defending and rebounding."

On his technical foul and the intentional foul called against Fordham's Ryan Rhoomes:
"I got a technical, and I wanted one.  I wanted us to get a whistle we deserved.  I wanted them (the officials) to know that we were good enough to win this game."

On today's sellout crowd:
"I can't wait to sit down in another ten years and really enjoy myself up there."

On today's effort:
"Our game plan was 'inside-out.'  We thought we needed to go full strength inside, I mean, look at them, (Butler's frontcourt) they've got a lot of big guys.  I told our guys 'after the performance we had today, why can't we win our next five games?'"

On Butler guard Rotnei Clarke:
"He's a special player.  The little bugger didn't stop, he's like the Energizer bunny with a 'J.'"

Fordham forward Chris Gaston (21 points, 6 rebounds) on his mindset:
"I was just trying to go out there and get a win.  I feel it was a game we should have won."

On Butler's defense:
"They weren't doubling me as much.  Most of the other teams in the A-10 double me, so I tried to take advantage of that."

Fordham forward Ryan Rhoomes (8 points, 8 rebounds) on his intentional foul call:
"I thought it was pretty crazy.  I thought it was a bad call because I was playing hard and they were playing hard."

Butler head coach Brad Stevens' opening statement:
"I'm really excited about getting a win here.  I love Rose Hill Gym, I think it's one of the neatest places I've ever coached in, it's straight out of 'Hoosiers.'  I'm a huge fan."  

On Rose Hill Gym and its tradition:
"When we played Penn at the Palestra, instead of our guys watching the scout tape, we had them watch the documentary on the Palestra, so this is right up my alley."

On winning yet another close game on the road:
"We live this, that's the bottom line.  It's easy to say one team's going to win, but winning's really hard.  Fordham has one of the best freshman guards in the league in Thomas, and they have a lot of big, big bodies."

On having center Andrew Smith available for 30 minutes:
"It was huge.  I was shocked that he was able to play so much."

On Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham:
"They really stemmed the tide for us.  Kellen made big ones when we needed him to, and Rotnei's just a game-changer with his ability to make shots, (there's) no doubt about that."

On Khyle Marshall and the intentional foul call against Ryan Rhoomes:
"You have to call it.  It wasn't a dirty play by any means, but you have to call it.  I had one of our kids almost not able to walk a month ago because of an intentional foul. (Rotnei Clarke against Dayton)  Khyle's fine, and I wouldn't have put him back in there if he wasn't."

On the Atlantic 10 and its strength:
"It's really unique.  The biggest thing, at least for me, is that we've played eleven games against eleven different teams.  If you told me we were going to be 8-3, I'd say 'hey, that's great.'  Now I'm just disappointed about Wednesday night." (Butler lost to Charlotte at Hinkle Fieldhouse)

Nuggets of Note:
- Chris Gaston came off the bench in his first game since Fordham's road loss to Charlotte on January 16th, and it was the decision of Tom Pecora and the Ram coaching staff, who wanted the crowd to react to Gaston's arrival and shake things up just a little more for Butler.  The preclusion from the starting lineup seemed not to faze the senior forward, as he still collected 21 points and six rebounds on 9-of-17 shooting over 27 minutes.

- Gaston was a huge part of Fordham staying in this game, as the Ram front line picked up 41 of the 63 Fordham points on the day.  Butler's defense pressured the Ram guards from the opening tip to the final buzzer, as the backcourt shot a combined 6-of-34 from the field and only managed four points from Branden Frazier.  Mandell Thomas led the way for the Fordham guards, scoring all twelve of his points in the second half.

- Freshmen Travion Leonard and Ryan Rhoomes may have had two of their better games this afternoon, as the duo combined for 18 points and 17 rebounds, nine of which came on the offensive glass despite Fordham being outrebounded 42-38.  However, Ryan Canty's four fouls helped put Butler on the free throw line 34 times over the course of the day; and even though the Bulldogs only made 22 of those foul shots, it helped decide the game considering Fordham had several opportunities through the second half to come back at Butler, but to no avail.

- I'm not sure if I'm the only one who thinks this, but for all the great things that Branden Frazier has done this season, it seems as though the junior guard is not always able to hit clutch foul shots.  Frazier had his chance with 6:46 remaining and the Rams trailing 53-48, but missed the front end of a one-and-one that would have turned a five-point deficit into a one-possession game and arguably changed the complexion of the stretch run with a sellout crowd that included Fordham alums Mike Breen and Michael Kay seemingly willing their alma mater to a valiant effort.

- Finally, there is no question that the intentional foul charged to Ryan Rhoomes with 14:37 remaining; as well as the subsequent technical foul assessed to Tom Pecora 24 seconds later, was what galvanized Butler and helped the Bulldogs control the remainder of the second half.  Fordham had come out of the intermission on a 9-0 run to take a 35-30 lead, and Butler had managed five unanswered points to tie it at 35 before the Rhoomes foul.  From that moment on, the Bulldogs scored eleven of the next thirteen points for an overall 16-2 run that put them ahead 46-37 before Travion Leonard ended Fordham's dry spell.

Manhattan Now Hitting Their Best Stride

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Manhattan students rush the Draddy Gym court after Jaspers' 74-73 win over archrival Iona in double overtime last night.  (Photo courtesy of the New York Post's Anthony Sulla-Heffinger)

When trying to make sense of what has now become the most intriguing conference race of the season four months ago, we picked Manhattan to emerge as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion after much debate in a loaded field that also included reigning champion Loyola and regular season titleholder Iona, not to mention up-and-coming Niagara and Canisius squads and a perennially formidable Fairfield program.  Less than a month into the season, it looked as if our selection of the Jaspers would be a bigger bust than Ryan Leaf's NFL career, especially after Maryland transfer Ashton Pankey was declared ineligible and star senior swingman George Beamon battled recurring ankle injuries that forced him to take a medical redshirt and return next year.  Just a few weeks later, Manhattan College is slowly proving us to be of a somewhat stable frame of mind thanks to a four-game winning streak and victories in five of the Jaspers' last six, the most recent of which being a thrilling 74-73 decision over bitter adversary Iona that took two overtimes and a Herculean effort from junior forward Rhamel Brown to push the Gaels over the cliff and reach the summit.

"I thought we were lucky to get a win," Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello remarked after the game.  "I'm so proud of our resiliency, we just didn't quit.  I told the guys before the game that all I cared about was that they played with a lot of emotion."

Emotion, along with an eye-popping 50 rebounds, came in an abundance for Manhattan, most notably on the Jaspers' final offensive possession.  After point guard Michael Alvarado, an 83 percent free throw shooter entering the game, missed the second of two foul shots, Brown grabbed his tenth offensive rebound on a night in which the Brooklyn native lit up the boxscore for 21 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocked shots.  Brown immediately tipped it to sophomore Emmy Andujar, who converted a layup to give Manhattan the lead that ultimately became the final score.  For Andujar, it was the second consecutive year in which his last-second heroics helped defeat the Gaels; as he banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer in January of 2012 to help the Jaspers erase an 18-point deficit and defeat Iona at the Hynes Center, but it all started with Brown, a serious candidate for first team all-MAAC honors even before last night's career outing.

"He's going to be one of the greatest players to ever put on a Manhattan uniform," Masiello gushed.  "I couldn't get him to talk or lead for half the year.  He's in (the huddle for) timeouts now.  He's such a joy to coach, he's what the 'student-athlete' is all about."

Manhattan's 50-rebound effort was characteristic of the Jaspers' style of play throughout the season, never mind their recent surge.  In addition to a plus-16 margin on the boards, the Jaspers doubled up Iona to the tune of 22-11 on the offensive glass.  "Our mindset is that we're a defensive team," Masiello said.  "Let's get on the backboards and create some havoc."

The win moved Manhattan to 8-7 in MAAC play after starting 3-6, and was the Jaspers' fifth in their last six games for a program who has been through more adversity this season alone than most programs have in school history, from injuries to having to scramble to find practice facilities in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which left the Manhattan campus without power for eleven days, to the recent winter storm that postponed an eventual win over Fairfield on two separate occasions.

"This team has been through so much," Masiello intimated, "starting in September, and then with Hurricane Sandy and all that, not having George and A.P.  I always tell them I'm more proud of everything they do off the court than what they do on the court."

Next up for Manhattan is a Niagara team that leads the MAAC standings with an 11-4 conference record following the Purple Eagles' win at Marist last night, which snapped a three-game losing streak that ended a run of ten straight conference wins.  Now only three games out of first place and even closer to a logjam in which just one game separates third from seventh, Niagara is walking into Draddy Gym tomorrow to face arguably the hottest team in the conference.

"I think what's happening now is that this team is figuring out how to win," Steve Masiello said, breaking into a smile.

Maybe good things really do come to those who wait after all.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fordham/Butler Preview

Brad Stevens makes first visit to Rose Hill tomorrow night as Butler meets Fordham.  (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Fordham returns home following an uneventful two-game road trip, taking on Butler University at Rose Hill Gym tomorrow in what is by far the Rams' biggest home game since their upset of St. John's in 2010.  A sellout crowd is expected in the Bronx tomorrow as the Rams entertain a Bulldog team that is of course known for their consecutive national championship game appearances before last year's trip to the CBI in what was Butler's final season in the Horizon League before joining the Atlantic 10 last summer.

For 6-19 Fordham, who comes in on a five-game losing streak after their January 23rd victory against Rhode Island, the game is more about proving they can still compete rather than a must-win for Tom Pecora's Rams.  Chris Gaston is expected to make his return tomorrow following a seven-game absence from lingering knee problems stemming from his November arthroscopic surgery, a plus considering the unknown status of Butler's Andrew Smith, who is a gametime decision according to head coach Brad Stevens as he recuperates from an abdominal injury that held him out of the Bulldogs' loss to Charlotte this past Wednesday.

In addition to potentially holding a frontcourt advantage that becomes magnified should Smith miss his second straight game, the Rams are getting much-needed contributions from their backcourt.  Branden Frazier has now gotten back on track following a handful of lackluster games since his 24-point effort against Saint Joseph's in January 30th, while freshman guard Mandell Thomas has scored in double figures over nine of Fordham's last twelve games, the most recent of which being a career-high 23 in a losing effort to Xavier Wednesday night.  Ryan Canty and Travion Leonard also loom large up front for Fordham, who will need all the help they can get on the boards against a physical and offensively gifted Butler squad that yields an average of just 29 rebounds per game to their opponents.

Five Bulldogs average ten or more points per game, led by sharpshooting guard Rotnei Clarke, he of this buzzer-beater to beat Marquette in the Maui Invitational:



The aforementioned Andrew Smith is Butler's second-leading scorer, and Roosevelt Jones backs him up with an average of 10.6 points per game.  In addition, Khyle Marshall and sixth man Kellen Dunham also average ten points per night for a nine-man Butler rotation.

Before the season, we had the chance to ask Stevens about Rose Hill and the homecourt advantage it presents, and the coach believes his first time in the Bronx will be a similar experience to his past Horizon League battles in smaller gyms at schools like Loyola (Illinois) and Valparaiso.  He gets to live it for himself for the first time tomorrow.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Marist Hosts Niagara, Looks To Slay Third Straight Giant

Adam Kemp looks for third straight double-double as reigning MAAC Player of the Week leads Marist into nationally televised home game against conference leader Niagara.  (Photo courtesy of Marist College Athletics)

If John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman were MAAC basketball announcers, there would be hundreds of instances over the past two months wherein the words "you can't predict basketball" would be sprinkled into almost every broadcast, particularly at Marist College over the past week.

After a lackluster 5-18 start that saw the Red Foxes lose ten of their first twelve conference games, Chuck Martin's team has bounced back in impressive fashion, returning home to the McCann Center to upend reigning MAAC champion Loyola just three days after a thrilling double-overtime win at Iona that is still on the short list for national game of the year even after the five-overtime epic between Notre Dame and Louisville.

Tomorrow night, Marist comes back onto the court in Poughkeepsie with their giant killer image very much intact, as standing in their way is a conference-leading Niagara team that has been a pleasant surprise under veteran head coach Joe Mihalich, potentially the favorite for MAAC Coach of the Year honors.  After going on a ten-game conference winning streak earlier in the season, the Purple Eagles have hit the skids as of late; dropping three straight to fall back to the field as their lead has been reduced to just one game over the triumvirate of Loyola, Iona and archrival Canisius, who handed Niagara their most recent loss in a 77-70 decision at the Gallagher Center this past Sunday.

The Purple Eagle backcourt, led by sophomores Antoine Mason; whose brother Anthony Jr. starred for St. John's several years ago, and reigning MAAC Rookie of the Year Juan'ya Green, are the focal points in this matchup, averaging over 35 points per game for a 14-11  Niagara team that has relied on Mason and Green in much the same way Iona has leaned on Momo Jones and Sean Armand to produce most of their offense.  Marist is prepared, however; as Adam Kemp looks for his third consecutive double-double in an attempt to improve his conference averages of 11 points and 10 rebounds per game, while Chavaughn Lewis tries to build on a 42 percent shooting clip from three-point range that includes his dramatic buzzer-beater at the end of the first overtime against Iona.  Kemp and Lewis combined for 44 of the Red Foxes' 69 points in Sunday's win over Loyola, while point guard Isaiah Morton added nine points, six rebounds and four assists to the cause.

It has been said that the third time is the proverbial charm.  Marist has already knocked off the reigning MAAC regular season and tournament champions in consecutive games, both of whom eventually made the NCAA Tournament, and now sets their sights on doing the same to the conference leader tomorrow night.  For those unable to make it into Dutchess County, ESPN3 will stream the game at 7pm with WFAN update anchor and friend of the website Bob Heussler on the call.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Gaston To Return Saturday For Fordham

Fordham forward Chris Gaston will make his return Saturday, sources tell A Daly Dose Of Hoops.  (Photo courtesy of WFUV)

Fordham continues their two-game road trip Wednesday night against Xavier, but for a Ram team coming off a 36-point drubbing at the hands of La Salle Saturday afternoon, help is on the way.

Forward Chris Gaston, who has missed Fordham's last six games with lingering effects from the November knee surgery that held him out of the lineup for six additional contests for the 6-18 Rams earlier in the season, will return for Fordham's homecoming Saturday, according to the New York Post's Anthony Sulla-Heffinger, who spoke with Gaston earlier today and informed A Daly Dose Of Hoops soon after.  Gaston's return comes just hours after Butler announced that center Andrew Smith would miss the Bulldogs' next two games with an abdominal injury, keeping the 6-11 big man out of action at Rose Hill after Butler tips off Wednesday night against Charlotte.

In twelve games this season, Gaston is Fordham's second-leading scorer behind Branden Frazier, averaging 14 points per game, and is the team's leading rebounder with an average of 8.1 boards per contest.  More details will be posted when they become available.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Marist Returns To Court For First Time Since Double OT Win, Hosts Loyola

The last time the world saw Marist College, this happened: (Video courtesy of Mike Ferraro and Marist Athletics by way of the fine people of Iona Mass Comm, led by Mike Damergis)



Now three days removed from their dramatic 105-104 double overtime victory at Iona that will almost certainly be featured on this website when we review the best of the 2012-13 campaign, the 6-18 Red Foxes return home this afternoon, hosting reigning conference champion Loyola in a 2pm matinee at the McCann Center in Poughkeepsie.

"It's a shame more people couldn't watch this game," Marist head coach Chuck Martin proclaimed after Thursday night's thriller; which included a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Chavaughn Lewis from the Iona bench to send the game to a second overtime period, went final.  "It's one of the best games I've ever been a part of.  It was a fun game to coach, and it was a fun game to play."

Not only did the comeback victory lift Marist's spirits and confidence, it gives them hope to slay another MAAC giant.  Having just regained the services of Jay Bowie Thursday night, a return that looms even larger considering second-leading scorer Devin Price has missed three of the Red Foxes' last six games while nursing an ankle injury.  It is unknown whether or not Price will be available this afternoon, as Marist hosts a 17-8 Loyola team that comes in with a 9-4 record in MAAC play and a hot streak against the Red Foxes, having won nine of the Greyhounds' previous eleven meetings with Marist.  Fortunately for Marist fans, the two wins in that stretch came on their home court, including a 72-54 victory one year ago in which four Marist players scored in double figures, led by Adam Kemp's stellar 17-points, 11-rebound, 8-block outing.

Sitting in sole possession of second place in the MAAC just one game behind Niagara, Jimmy Patsos' Greyhounds enter this afternoon's contest with a decided rebounding and defensive edge over Marist.  Three players average twelve or more points per game, led by starting guards Dylon Cormier and Robert Olson; the latter of whom is Loyola's most dangerous three-point weapon, while former Northeastern transfer and conference Player of the Year candidate Erik Etherly anchors the paint for the Greyhounds with support from 6-7 swingman Anthony Winbush.  After two losses to Iona and Canisius that appeared to have a significant effect on Loyola's MAAC Tournament seeding, the Greyhounds salvaged their trip to Buffalo with a double-overtime win of their own against Niagara before a 63-51 victory on their home court against Siena Friday night.

With first-place Niagara hosting Canisius in what is sure to be the highlight game of the day in the MAAC, Loyola stands to have much more to gain on paper, as the win that most experts and fans expect the Greyhounds to get could very well vault them into a tie for the conference lead if the Purple Eagles do not come away with a victory of their own.  However, as Marist demonstrated Thursday night at Iona, anything can happen on any given day, and it will no doubt be interesting to see how this underrated showdown plays out in Dutchess County.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Villanova Quickly Becoming Archie's Place



Like Corey Fisher, Scottie Reynolds and Maalik Wayns before him, Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono is upholding Main Line tradition of having a young point guard whose ability belies his years.  (Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Inquirer)

In Jay Wright's twelve years at Villanova, a tenure on the Main Line highlighted by a 2009 Final Four appearance that was the program's first since their miracle run to a national championship in 1985, one constant has always come to the forefront: Continuity at the point guard position, a spot in the lineup that is usually filled by a four-year player.

Since Wright first unveiled his patented "four quick" lineup with guards Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Mike Nardi and Kyle Lowry, there has been a competent floor general in each of the six seasons that followed the Wildcats' run to the Elite Eight in 2006.  Lowry.  Nardi.  Scottie Reynolds.  Corey Fisher.  Maalik Wayns.

Enter Ryan Arcidiacono.

Arcidiacono, (pronounced Arch-ee-dee-ACK-oh-no) an 18-year-old son of two Villanova alumni; one of whom is a former Wildcat football player, is the latest name to hold the keys to Wright's offense, and the second consecutive homegrown talent to do so.  At 6-3, Arcidiacono may be somewhat taller than most collegiate point guards, but his height only enhances his abilities rather than hinders them.  Through 23 games of his freshman campaign, the most recent of which a 94-71 rout of DePaul Tuesday night in which the native of Philadelphia suburb Langhorne erupted for 23 points and five three-pointers, Arcidiacono is averaging close to twelve points per game, (11.6 to be exact) shooting 32 percent from beyond the arc and complementing his lethal marksmanship with an average of over three assists per game.  These numbers may not set the world on fire, but what is most impressive about Arcidiacono is the fact that he is making such an immediate and noticeable contribution after a year off following back surgery that cost him his senior season in high school one year after averaging 20.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists as a junior at Neshaminy High in the Keystone State.

"I just wanted to play basketball again," Arcidiacono told the Philadelphia Daily News earlier this season.  "I knew it was going to be a learning process, and I'm finding that out right now about so many things."

Arcidiacono's learning process has already included twelve games in double figures, including three 20-point games; one of which is his career-high 32 in Villanova's overtime win against St. John's on January 2nd, not to mention a clutch three-pointer against Syracuse that sent the Orange into overtime before the Wildcats emerged victorious.



"I wasn't planning on this kid being out there 30-some minutes in the Big East," Jay Wright remarked earlier in the year.  However, the transfer of Ty Johnson to South Carolina and adjustment process for Wake Forest expatriate Tony Chennault left Wright with a void at the helm of his backcourt that was created when Wayns left the program after his junior season for a professional career, a hole that the former Hofstra head man plugged with the local boy who is becoming for Wright what he had years ago with Speedy Claxton on Long Island, a point guard who was equal parts aggressor and facilitator on offense despite not having seen a court in over a year.

"I think about it all the time," said Wright in regard to Arcidiacono's minutes, which currently average 34 per game.  "He's in a difficult spot.  We've played freshmen like that before, but they've always been surrounded by veteran guys."  Villanova is still maturing as a unit, with forwards Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton being the only seniors on the roster.  Despite the youth around him, Arcidiacono plays the game like he has been around for years; and although most of his statistics trail St. John's forward JaKarr Sampson, his primary competition for Big East Rookie of the Year honors, the Philadelphia area's native son has Sampson beat where it counts, as Arcidiacono has made a far greater impact on his team by becoming a true leader on both ends of the ball, while Sampson is by all accounts the second option for the Red Storm behind sophomore D'Angelo Harrison.

With just eight games left in the regular season, Villanova stands at 5-5 in Big East play; and Arcidiacono is a significant reason why, with his Scottie Reynolds-esque playmaking ability and offensive talent, not to mention having already demonstrated his willingness and knack to take and hit the big shot in a big spot.

Villanova next takes the court Saturday when they welcome South Florida into The Pavilion, and if you haven't seen Ryan Arcidiacono yet, try to get a good look at him during the next month.  His name may be hard to pronounce for some, but his game is easy for all to love.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

St. John's/UConn: A Photo Gallery

Here's another photo gallery from college basketball Renaissance man Ray Floriani:

Pregame warmups at Madison Square Garden:
Former UConn coach and Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun takes in the action: (Side note here: I caught up with Calhoun before the game, and was elated to see that he remembered me from our past encounters over the years. He's still one of the classiest and nicest guys I've ever known.)
St. John's is introduced:
College basketball Renaissance man Ray Floriani with Red Storm cheerleaders Jenn and Jess:
UConn players in the huddle during a timeout:
Finally, St. John's head coach Steve Lavin fields a postgame question:

NEW YORK CITY -After all the analyzing, watching teams making their runs, weathering those runs and assorted adjustments (or non-adjustments) it all came down to this. “You are grateful,” in the words of St. John's coach Steve Lavin, “whenever you get a win in the Big East.”
St. John's defeated UCONN 71-65 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. The Garden was not sold out but the 8,000 plus were treated to the type of contest that has defined this conference for several decades. The fanfare and pageantry. More notable, the type of game coming down to the last few minutes. With the winner being the one able to make the plays at the end.
UCONN-St. John's. No Lou Carnesecca and Jim Calhoun on opposite sidelines (though the former Husky mentor was behind the UCONN bench). Instead it was Lavin matching wits with Kevin Ollie. Times have changed. Regardless, we had that intensity that has become expected on those Winter nights in the conference.
That, is a constant, that hasn't been altered.

St. John's gets 6th win in 7th, overcomes UConn surge

By Jason Schott - Daly Dose of Hoops contributor- @JESchott19
The St. John's Red Storm dominated early and withstood a UConn second-half run to win 71-65 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. This is their sixth win in seven games. St. John's is now 7-4 in Big East play and 15-8 overall.
St. John's led by as much as 15 in the first half, and led 31-20 at halftime. JaKarr Sampson had 10 points, and Marco Bourgault hit three 3-pointers to contribute nine points in the first half.

UConn's legendary Head Coach Jim Calhoun (first row, left) was in attendance, as first-year Head coach Kevin Ollie looks on. Photo by @JESchott19.
 UConn had just two players score in the first half, as Omar Calhoun had 13, and DeAndre Daniels had 7.
St. John's came out strong in the second half, and led by 15, at 39-24, on a Sampson layup four minutes in.
Over the next six minutes, UConn went on a 20-5 run, led by Shabazz Napier who drained three 3-pointers. The Huskies tied the game at 44 on a Niels Giffey three-point play with 9:37 left.
St. John's was quick to respond, as forward Chris Obekpa hit two free throws and then a jumper to give them a 48-44 lead.
UConn had one more run in them, and a Ryan Boatright three-pointer tied the game at 51 with 4:57 remaining.
St. John's needed D'Angelo Harrison to step up, and he hit a three-pointer with 2:55 left to make it 58-53 St. John's. He then hit a jumper and had two free throws in the final minute to open up a 68-62 lead and ice the game.
St. John's was led by Sampson, who had 18 points on 7-for-15 shooting, with 6 rebounds and 2 assists. Harrison and Bourgault had 11 each. Phil Greene IV had 10 points and 6 assists. Chris Obekpa was limited to 13 minutes due to foul trouble, and had 6 points with 4 rebounds and 2 blocks.
UConn was led by Omar Calhoun, a native of Brooklyn who played at Christ the King. Calhoun had 21 points on  8-for-21 shooting with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Shabazz Napier had 14 points, all in the second half, with 5 assists. DeAndre Daniels had 12 points, and Niels Giffey had 9 points and 10 rebounds.
WATCH St. John's Head Coach Steve Lavin Postgame Video:

Saint Louis 90, Fordham 73: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets



Despite 90-73 loss to Saint Louis, Branden Frazier provided highlight for Fordham, becoming Rams' 35th 1,000-point scorer with his 11-point outing last night.  (Photo courtesy of The Ram)

Although I was personally not on hand, covering St. John's and Connecticut from Madison Square Garden, friend of the website and colleague Anthony Sulla-Heffinger of the New York Post (who covers Fordham even better than people have said this site does) was gracious enough to provide the usual quotes and highlights.  You can also read Anthony's game story by clicking the following:

http://www.nypost.com/p/sports/college/basketball/st_louis_makes_things_look_asy_against_3zlYdAqTGEBeY0jyh5Ir7I

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora’s opening statement:
“I had concerns coming into this game because of [St. Louis’] style of play, physicality and experience,” “I thought it was men against boys. I thought that they executed the heck out of it. We had it at nine a bunch of times but we weren’t able to get it over the top. I think the physicality [was too much.] It’s the second game in a row that Branden Frazier has struggled with people getting into him and being physical. Mandell Thomas was a bright spot, offensively anyway, but even he can’t play that many minutes and not rebound the basketball. It’s just a bad matchup. Their bigs are just skilled and crafty and our bigs are young and big. Chasing guys around the perimeter is not their cup of tea and this team is so good at shooting the ball. We’re going to have a spirited practice tomorrow. I assure you of that.”

On team’s effort:

“I’m going to play guys who continue to compete and that’s the way that we’re going to move forward.”

On Luka Zivkovic:

“Bright spot. He made shots, that’s why we brought Luka here. I’ll play Luka if he’s going to make shots. He’s not a great post defender but if these other guys aren’t going to defend, we might as well get some points on the other end. He’s a great kid, he works hard. Maybe we’ll [get him some minutes] Saturday [against La Salle]. Him and Travion [Leonard] could be the four and five.”

On Cody Ellis:

“It’s the second game in a row that we’ve earmarked shooters. We talked about not letting Ellis get good looks. He’s a really good player, he’s a perfect stretch four-man. He had his way with us tonight.”

On Dwayne Evans:

“Evans just killed us in the post. What Evans does is he takes [the bigs] away from the basket if you try and play him big. It was a very difficult matchup on the baseline.”

On Branden Frazier’s struggles:

“That’s part of maturing. With greatness comes responsibility and with greatness comes being a marked man. He has got to learn to respond if he is going to make that step and become a great player.”

On Bryan Smith’s struggles:

“This has been Bryan’s career and what I have talked to him about is being consistent. He’s still only a sophomore, but being consistent is part of being a good player. He has to make that step from being inconsistent to being good. Branden has to make the step from being good to great, they’re at different stages.”

On Travion Leonard:

“Chris [Gaston] not playing is expediting his maturation process, and that’s a good thing. I think Travion has done a good job. His skill set is good, he’s working hard. He’s got to protect the ball better, his assist to turnover ratio is poor, but he’s a freshman. If and when Chris does come back they’re going to be splitting minutes because Chris hasn’t practiced in a month.”

On Fordham's upcoming schedule:

“We gave away two games that we had a chance to win at home and that will bite us in the tail at the end of the season, unless something special happens here. If you can’t run with the big dogs, don’t get off the porch. That’s life in the A-10.”

Nuggets of Note:

- Fordham, usually a strong rebounding team, was outrebounded for the second time in its past three games. Thomas, Smith, Zivkovic, Jeff Short and Jermaine Myers combined for five boards in 97 combined minutes.

- With his 11 points, Branden Frazier became the 35th member of Fordham’s 1,000-point club, making him and Chris Gaston the team’s two active members in the special club.

- A little further on Luka Zivkovic: The forward, who had played very sparingly up until Wednesday’s game, was a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc and what was even more impressive was that he was able to keep Cody Ellis off the scoresheet for the majority of the second half. Zivkovic will likely see more minutes as we wind down this season and with a short bench due to Gaston’s injury.

- St. Louis guards Mike McCall Jr. and Kwamain Mitchell shot a combined 3-of-13 from the field. The rest of the Billikens were 30-of-45 (66.7 percent), which would have been a higher mark than they were from the charity stripe. St. Louis did not hit a free throw until there was 4:47 left in the first half and finished the game 17-of-27 overall.