Saturday, November 30, 2013

Arizona Holds Off Duke To Win Preseason NIT

Note: This article was written for A Daly Dose Of Hoops by Patrick McCormack, who was on hand at Madison Square Garden and offered to lend his services to us for the night. Patrick covers St. Francis College for SFC Today, and is also a student assistant in the Terriers' office of athletic communications. You can follow Patrick on Twitter at @PMac1594.

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The fourth-ranked Arizona Wildcats beat the No. 6 Duke Blue Devils 72-66, in front of 13,266 fans, in the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship Game at Madison Square Garden.

“I tell you, I'm really ecstatic that we were able to win this tournament here in the Garden. Everybody here knows what a special place this is. We talk to our players a lot about it. You can see our fans, how many fans we have, being from the West,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s monstrous two handed dunk gave Arizona their first double-digit lead of the contest, 61-51, which put an exclamation point on any hopes of a Duke comeback.

Nick Johnson led the Wildcats, who had all five starters in double figures, with 15 points en route to being named the tournament's most outstanding player, prompting Miller to talk about Johnson being a go-to player for his team.

“Nick's become that for us," (a go to player) Miller said. "He's taken big shots. He's made them. Part of being a go-to guy is what I described earlier. There's a lot of go-to guys that are doing well when things are going well for them and their team. True go-to guys are the ones that dig their team out of a gutter or are able to put three or four bad plays behind them and make the next big play," he commented. “It's great to see Nick developing into that, because he's experienced -- I coached Solomon Hill who was the first pick of the Indiana Pacers this year, and Nick reminds me a lot of Solomon's track, where each year, the attitude is a roll to his game. I don't know if there are more complete guards in the country than Nick, when you just look at what he means to our team and the value, the way he plays both ends of the floor. He's really turned into a terrific guard.”

Johnson said the win showed the nation the Wildcats are a good team.

“We're an all-around team. Really, you could see it in the box score. It was pretty even all the way around. We're a good team. Duke's going to win a lot of games this year. I mean, they have been struggling a little bit as of late, but they will get it together. Coach K always does. We're a good team and we can play with anybody.”

Arizona jumped out to an early 6-4 lead, but Duke responded with a 7-0 run to go up 11-6. The Wildcats the answered with a 7-0 run of their own, led by five points from Brandon Ashley, to take a 13-11 advantage. The Blue Devils then went on an 8-2 rally, with four points apiece for Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook to jump back ahead 19-15. Arizona scored the next six points of the contest to regain the lead.

With the score 23-22 Wildcats, Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon would hit three straight free throws to give his team the slight edge, but Arizona big men Aaron Gordon and Brandon Ashley scored back-to-back buckets to regain the lead for the Wildcats.

Freshman sensation Jabari Parker, who finished with 19 points, scored four of the next five Blue Devil Points to give his squad a 30-27 advantage. The Wildcats knotted the game again on a layup from Hollis-Jefferson, only for Duke to regain the lead on a dunk by Parker.

Going into the halftime, Duke held a 36-33 edge over Arizona, a half that was tied 11 times and had the lead changed eight times. The Blue Devils opened up their lead to five on a jumper from Hood, who led all scorers with 21 points. Kaleb Tarczewski scored Arizona’s next four points from the foul line to make it a one point game, 38-37.

With the score at 43-39, Gordon hit a three to make it a one point game again. Then at 45-42, Johnson knocked down a three for the last tie of the contest, 45-45. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski saw these as the biggest shots of the contest.

“I thought one of the biggest shots of the game was Gordon’s three, we were up by four, and then Johnson hit one right after. They had two threes that wiped out our lead. It seemed to give them a little more life. Then we had one rim out. Sometimes the game is just as simple as that.”

Then 2:21 later, Brandon Ashley hit a jumper to give Arizona a 47-45 lead with left, part of a 19-point rally that gave the Wildcats control of the contest. Duke cut the Arizona lead to 63-58 on a three point play from Parker, but Arizona was able to hold on.

The win was appreciated by the Arizona fans, who filled the Garden with a “U of A” chant. This was Duke’s second loss to a top five team, the first coming to Kansas in the Champions Classic. Krzyzewski thought his team played better in tonight’s contest.


“I thought we played a lot better tonight then we did against Kansas," Coach K said. "I think my team is improved. When you play, there is no shame in losing to a Kansas or an Arizona. We play a big time schedule, when you lose, you congratulate the other guy. We just need to figure out how to get better.”

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Saints Show Fight Despite 27-Point Setback

Jimmy Patsos and Siena may be 2-5, but an underlying subplot in Saints' 87-60 loss to Memphis was resolve of team throughout night despite playing entire second half with no timeouts. (Photo courtesy of the Albany Times Union)

Just over five years ago, Jimmy Patsos came under fire for essentially playing on the short end of a 4-on-3 situation when he, then in his fifth season as the head coach at Loyola University, decided to double-team future No. 7 overall NBA Draft pick Stephen Curry in a 78-48 loss to Davidson. What was lost on most critics that night was that despite a 30-point defeat to a team that came within a basket of reaching the Final Four the previous season was that Patsos' constant double-team rendered Curry ineffective and shut the superstar guard out, marking the first and only game in which he had failed to register a single point.

A similar occurrence happened tonight, as Patsos, now the coach at Siena, guided his young Saints roster into arguably their stiffest test of the season against No. 21 Memphis in the quarterfinals of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. Siena was ultimately defeated by the final of 87-60 against a talented Tigers squad that could be the best team Josh Pastner has had in the city of Elvis' death since replacing John Calipari, and the first thing anyone who watched or followed tonight's game will point out is that Patsos used all his timeouts in the first half, calling his final respite with 1:55 remaining before the intermission.

However, another underlying stat lies in the box score of tonight's game, and that is that Siena, for all the times that Patsos needed to talk things over with his up-and-coming team, outrebounded Memphis 47-41, including dominating the Tigers to the tune of 29-18 on the offensive glass. Of Brett Bisping's 12 rebounds in the forward's double-double, (he also scored 11 points to lead the Saints) nine of them came on the offensive end. 

Say what you want about Siena being inexperienced or overmatched, but this team knows how to fight, a characteristic typical of Patsos' teams through his decade as a head coach both in Loudonville and at Loyola for the past nine years, where he turned a one-win Greyhound program into an NCAA Tournament and MAAC championship team.

"This isn't 'Hoosiers' or 'Miracle,' Patsos said after the game when surmising his roster's latest effort. "We knew this was going to be very difficult. Memphis is going far this year."

It may not yet be Siena's time, but with efforts like this one even in a result that appears one-sided, the Saints are going to go out there and take their opportunities sooner or later.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pitt makes Brooklyn another 'second home'

By Jason Schott - A Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor

The Pitt Panthers won the Legends Classic with another dominant performance, as they beat the Stanford Cardinal 88-67 on Tuesday night. Pitt considers that arena in Manhattan a "second home," so maybe with this tournament win, Barclays Center can be another second home for them.

Pitt Head Coach Jamie Dixon said of their time in Brooklyn, "Well, we were in good hands, Barry Rohrssen knew where to take us in Brooklyn. It's great, we want to play, we've asked to be in New York whenever we can, in any events that we have. We're in Jimmy V this year a bit later on, I asked to be in next year, and they said that I'm greedy and that we have to sit a year out.

Pitt Head Coach Jamie Dixon. Photo by Jason Schott
"This is a great event, and to play in this kind of an arena, I told our guys before the game yesterday, do you understand we're playing in an NBA arena, NBA locker rooms, and practicing in the Brooklyn Nets practice facility? It's great; hotel accommodations were terrific, can't say enough about it. We've got a lot of people from around here, a lot of fans, a lot of alumni. New York, along with Pennsylvania, has the second most alumni from a state. It fits in every way, and we're just thankful to be invited and be a part of it."

Pitt Assistant Coach Barry Rohrssen, who grew up in Park Slope and went to Xaverian High School and St. Francis College, said of playing at Barclays Center, "Two very big wins against good teams in the home borough, the borough where it all started for me." On what most impressed him about Pitt's performance, he said, "The way our team shared the basketball. We got some good leadership from Lamar Patterson, our senior, won MVP who played very well. We just have a group of guys who like each other and play for each other. 

"There's three types of teams: teams that don't play together and they don't have much success. There's teams that play with each other and they have some success. There's teams that play for each other, and they generally have the most success, and it looks like we have a group of guys that play for each other."
At halftime of Tuesday night's win, Rohrssen caught up with Chris Mullin, a Hall of Famer who also went to Xaverian, and he said of Mullin, "One of my closest friends, we've known each other since he was in grammar school, and congratulated him on his new position with Sacramento."

On being the de facto tour guide for Pitt's visit here, Rohrssen said, "Just float some recommendations, just passed along some recommendations, show them the better things of Brooklyn...I think a few of our people went to spots downtown and in Brooklyn Heights."

Pitt's Derrick Randall gaining position on the offensive end.
Derrick Randall also is a Brooklyn native who was happy to play in his home borough. Randall went to Adelphi Academy in Bay Ridge before moving to Paterson Catholic and South Kent Prep in Connecticut. He played two years at Rutgers before transferring to Pitt for this season. On playing at Barclays Center, Randall said, "I felt overwhelmed, I was thinking too much in the game, but I loved it." On his feelings when he first saw the game on the schedule, he said, "I get to go home, get to see my family."

On playing at Pitt, Randall said, "I love my team, everything's going great. We all connect, like one person, we are just all in sync with one another. It (defense) was stressed from day one. The first day I got out there was 'defense, defense, defense.' So, we had to make sure we cut down all the post players down low, so have no inside scoring, make them shoot long jump shots." On the mood of the team, "We have something to prove, nobody has us as ranked, but we're actually a real good team, so we just want to prove everybody wrong."

Lamar Patterson, the tournament MVP, led the way with 24 points on 6-for-10 shooting, 6 assists, and 3 rebounds. Durand Johnson and Talib Zanna had 14 each, Cameron Wright had 13 on 6-for-9 shooting, and James Robinson had 10.

Patterson said, "We're on a mission as a team. We have things that we are going to accomplish throughout the whole year. When you see people writing us off, we've got a chip on our shoulder."

Pitt won this game in much the same way they did Monday night against Texas Tech, with a methodical run in the latter part of the first half. They led 12-11 at the 11:56 mark, and over the next nine minutes, went on a 25-11 run capped by a Durand Johnson three-pointer. The Panthers led 43-28 at halftime.
In the second half, Pitt did an excellent job maintaining their lead, but Stanford had some life after a Josh Huestis put-back off a miss brought them to within 11, at 66-55, with 9:06 remaining in the game. Pitt responded with a 10-3 run capped by a Johnson three-point play gave them a 76-58 lead that ultimately turned into as much as a 24-point lead near the end of the 88-67 victory.

Pitt's lineup being announced.
Stanford Head Coach Johnny Dawkins was asked if it felt like they were down as many as 15 at halftime, considering Pitt's grinding style of play. "Basically, even though we were making runs, they were able to sustain it and keep it right around there. We cut it, got it as low as 11, they were able to sustain that. When you look at our numbers, we shot 50 percent from the field, and 33 percent from three, on most nights, we take that. To shoot that and lose the way we lost is difficult, you know, but like I said, give them credit, we ran into a buzzsaw, those guys were hitting shots from everywhere, and a lot of different guys. Look how they managed the basketball, 15 assists, 5 turnovers, that's hard to do if no one's out there guarding you....What's different from what I had expected from this Pitt team and I saw it on film, so it was not a surprise for me going into the game, is this Pitt team is one of the best-scoring Pitt teams I've seen in a long time. Not only do they play the D that they typically play, they're able to score a lot easier. You have a more potent offensive team that's still a very stingy defensive team."

In the consolation game, Texas Tech beat Houston 76-64. They had a balanced scoring attack, with Toddrick Gotcher and Jaye Crockett scoring 16 points each, Robert Turner with 15, and Jordan Tolbert with 14.

Texas Tech Head Coach Tubby Smith said of the win, "I thought our guys did some good things. We dominated the boards and that is something we have been struggling with. I thought we were doing a good job of taking care of the ball in the first half, and then in the second half, we started to cough it up.  You have to give credit to Houston because they are a pretty talented and athletic team. We are looking to build on tonight's game and I was glad to see our guys defensively step up. That was the key, holding them to .350 shooting. We really did some good things defensively and that is how we have to play."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fordham 79, Manhattan 75: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Jon Severe, Tom Pecora and Branden Frazier meet the media after Fordham's 79-75 win over Manhattan, one of Rams' biggest victories in recent years. (Photo courtesy of Jaden Daly)

Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello's opening statement:
"Tough loss for Manhattan. Any questions?"

Masiello on Michael Alvarado's three-point shot in the final minute:
"They went under on a pick and roll. I would have liked to have seen us go off the bounce and attack the rim. It's a good shot, he's wide open, I'll take that every day of the week."

On Jon Severe (30 points):
"He's a talented young man who could really play. There's a reason he's Mr. Basketball, he's a terrific young player who I have a lot of respect for."

On attacking the glass against an undersized Fordham team:
"I would have liked to have seen our guys be able to play, that's what I would have liked to see. I like to see our guys be able to play and allow us to play physical and show our front line, that's what I would have liked, but it's tough to do that apparently, but we'll adjust to that and we'll go from there. I thought Rhamel (Brown) did a terrific job tonight, I thought he gave us a lot of effort, a lot of good things."

When asked if he disagreed with a foul call:
"I don't get into officiating, it's not my job. I coach my team, good, bad, or indifferent. I don't comment on officiating, I just worry about my team and coach it."

On new emphasis on rule enforcement:
"Tom Izzo said it best. I believe his quote, I don't want to misquote him, but he said after the Barclays Center games that he's going to just tell his players to drive in, create contact, throw the basketball up and worry about foul shooting, because it's taking away defensive advantages for schemes and scouting purposes. I have to learn the rules better and try to do a better job, and I'll do that. If you ask me how I feel, just take Tom Izzo's article, whatever he said, I agree. Steve Masiello agrees with Coach Izzo."

On the first month of the season:
"It's been fun, I've had fun coaching the team. It's been exciting, we've been in some good games, been in some bad games. The good thing for us is it's not conference play. We've just got to get better, and I think we will. I like our pieces, our talent, I like our kids. I'm having a good time, win or lose, I love what I do. It's a good group to be around, they want it, they're in it for the right reasons."

On signs of growth:
"I think we're getting better, we held them to 26 percent in the second half. The problem is you gave a good team 53 percent, it gave them confidence to play with you. That's going to happen, they come in and they shoot 81 percent from the free throw line in the second half, they get to the free throw line 22 times to our six, it's tough. You look at our field goals, and they took 40 two-point shots and we took, I believe, 41 two-point shots. (actually 39)"

On George Beamon (24 points, 11 rebounds):
"He was good. Listen, we didn't shoot the ball particularly well tonight, 6-of-32 is not who we are from three, but I think when we want referees to adjust to the whistle, we as players and coaches have to adjust to the whistle. They call it that way, go to a bounce and force them to make a call, but George Beamon and Rhamel Brown were terrific tonight, really, really good. He (Beamon) shot a low percentage, give Fordham credit for that. I thought they came in and did a really good job on him defensively, I thought their zone slowed us down a little bit, and it's tough."

On offensive parity after no one else scored more than 10 points in Manhattan's loss to George Washington ten days ago:
"I think we have three guys averaging double figures, so I don't really subscribe to that. It's predicated on the defense. If you want to come out and stop George, great, Rhamel will hurt you. You want to stop Rhamel? Mike (Alvarado) will hurt you. You want to stop him, Shane Richards will hurt you even though he didn't shoot it great tonight. We have a lot of weapons that can hurt you, it's just a matter of us understanding how to get to them and where to go to them."

On how integral Beamon is to Manhattan's success:
"He's important. How integral is LeBron to his team, Kobe to his team? How integral is any best player to their team? Can we win without him? Yeah, we showed that last year. Did we struggle to do it? Yes, we did. Am I a better coach with George Beamon? Much better."

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora's opening statement:
"Well, obviously, I'm very proud of these guys. We came in, (and) I knew how good Manhattan was. I talked to my assistants after I watched all their games and I said they reminded me a lot of our good teams we coached when we were at Hofstra in the mid-2000s because they're veterans, they're tough, they've been through the wars, and, you know, we were able to contain them tonight and these guys really competed for 40 minutes, including Mandell Thomas getting 10 rebounds, and I told Branden, (Frazier) Jon (Severe) and Mandell 'we need 60 a night from you three guys,' because that's the only way we can win with Bryan Smith down. We're a little light, so our bench isn't as deep as it was. We got great minutes from Chris Whitehead early, I think we did a good job in the zones, we played multiple defenses and the guys did a good job competing in those. They really did a great job on the offensive glass in the first half, and that's what kept them in the game. We couldn't make free throws and they were banging us on the boards, they had 71 field goal attempts, we only had 58 and we still found a way to win the game. Shooting from beyond the stripe and competing, I thought we did a great job on the offensive glass in the second half too."

On Fordham being able to close out the game:
"We talk a lot about in-game situations, we do time and score in practice. The advantage of playing three guards over the years, and now four guards, is that at the end of the game, you're in pretty good shape because guys can't pressure you, you've got good ball handlers on the floor, you can spread the floor and not turn the ball over. I think that helped us a great deal at the end there, and I was kidding with Branden and said it took him two times to finally free himself after the one went out of bounds there, but those were big plays and we were able to close out the game and make those free throws, we missed a couple down the stretch there. I was watching the game and I said 'win or lose, this is a hell of a college basketball game.' It was a really good, fun game to coach, and to watch the guys go out and compete for two different kind of styles, and (George) Beamon's becoming a heck of a player, you know? He had a rough night and he has 24 and 11, you know? He's a good one, as these guys are. I can't say enough about my senior (Frazier) and my freshman (Severe) here."

On Fordham's game plan against Beamon:
"Well, you've got to know where he is all the time on the floor, I coached a kid (named) Loren Stokes who was a lot like him, Everyone in the gym knew he was driving the ball right and he drove it right, and he still scored. Then, when you got into him, he'd step back and make a mid-range jumper, wide open three. Not the perfect form, but it goes down all the time. He's the focal point of everything we do, and they have another couple of guys, (Emmy) Andujar is a good stretch four man, (Michael) Alvarado beat us last year in the last minute of the game coming off ball screens and just toughing his way to the rim. They have great balance, (Rhamel) Brown is a force in the middle. That's a good basketball team, guys. If they win the MAAC and go to the tournament, they're the kind of team that'll beat somebody in the tournament because of their experience and their balance."

On Manhattan's size being a concern:
"You're giving up something to get something. What I was worried about was depth. If we got into real deep foul trouble and we had to go deep into the bench, we were going to have a hard time tonight. Mandell, once again, he should be sitting here too; he was playing with the flu, he was sick Saturday and he's still struggling, but he went and got 10 rebounds and he's up there chasing rebounds with the big boys. That's always going to be a concern for us, but then we've got to try and drag those people away from the basket, and they have to guard us on the other end too. It kind of gives us good spacing offensively by playing Mandell at the four."

On Jon Severe playing with two fouls in the first half and whether he would bench him:
"Not for a second. I just said 'don't foul anybody,' and the way he guards, it's not going to happen a whole lot anyway. Now, there's not much choice to it, you know? You could lose games in the first five minutes too, so I just figured 'hey, we're going to run with you,' and it worked out."

On playing Frazier, Severe and Thomas more than 30 minutes per game:
"We'll get Bryan Smith back, I think Bryan will be back next week, and some of the younger guys will develop. We're still waiting, as crazy as it sounds, on Manny Suarez and Antwoine Anderson, who were both going to be a big part of our bench rotation, and we're still in the appeal process with the NCAA with them. It's opportunities for people. I watched a lot of teams over my youth at St. John's and South Carolina when Coach (Frank) McGuire was there, and Coach (Lou) Carnesecca played six, seven guys a night, so it can be done. My concern at the end was the veterans that were on the floor. A Bronx guy told me a long time ago, Bobby Cremins always said 'seniors are worth three points, juniors are worth two, sophomores are worth one and freshmen are worth zero,' and at the end of the game, he said 'you add up what they have on the floor in a close game and then add up what you have, and it will tell you who's going to win.' Well, that formula went out the window tonight because we've got a special freshman and we have a senior who made the plays we needed him to make late in the game."

Branden Frazier (21 points) on his growth as a true point guard:
"It took time. I think right now as a senior, it's probably my biggest focus, when to shoot the ball. Last year, I probably forced a lot of shots and things like that, but bringing Jon in and having Mandell make shots and being that scorer for us as well, you just know that you don't have to do everything out there, and that makes me feel good. I used to feel like, when I was a sophomore and junior, that I had to do everything, but now I just feel like it's just lifted off my shoulders and I can rely on other people."

Frazier on what it means to win a rivalry game at Manhattan:
"It means a lot, just knowing the history that was before it, before me. This game has been going on way before my time, so just knowing that we could just get a win under our belt at Manhattan for Fordham is a good thing. They beat us the last two years, so we just wanted to come in here, and just play our hardest and get a win. That's what happened."

Pecora on how big a win this was for the Fordham program:
"You know what I liked about this game? I talked to my assistants about it, it's a bunch of New York kids playing against each other, you know? You look at both of our rosters, they're basically 75-80 percent New Yorkers, so the kids know each other and that adds to it. It was like an old school, I was talking to (assistant coach) Tommy Parrotta before the game about when he was at Fordham and they played Manhattan, a lot of guys from the Catholic League, a lot of guys from the New York Public League, played against each other, summers, all of that. In that sense, it was cool, but hey, it's a good win. It's a solid win, a nonconference win, it's a bigger win for us because we played poorly on Saturday against a good Sacred Heart team. Losing at home makes me sick, so until we find another win, it would not have been a happy Thanksgiving. I would have smiled, put on a happy face and made believe, but that's just coaching. You're just searching for the next one. We've just got to get consistent now. The effort that we put forth tonight for 40 minutes, if we do that consistently every night, we're going to win some basketball games this year."

Jon Severe on his first Battle of the Bronx experience:
"I'm kind of used to it from going to high school and playing against, like, Loughlin, so I expected it was going to be a fight."

Pecora on playing a zone defense:
"We've got to get better at it. It's early in the season, but it's a good weapon to have and you're going to see a lot more people playing it just because of this hand check rule too. It's something we feel comfortable with, our scouting reports dictate what we're going to do defensively, but I was pleased with it tonight."

Nuggets of Note:
- The beginning of the first half was the "Jon and Mandell Show," as Jon Severe and Mandell Thomas scored the Rams' first 25 points before Branden Frazier got on the board. All told, the three guards accounted for 86 percent of Fordham's offense on a night where the Rams ended the game with an offensive efficiency rating of 113, or 1.13 points per possession. Frazier and Severe also accounted for 26 of Fordham's 37 free throw attempts as the Rams forced Rhamel Brown to foul out, as well as drawing four fouls each on George Beamon and Michael Alvarado.

- For the second time in three games, Mandell Thomas emerged with a double-double. After racking up his first career double-figure point and rebound efforts with 18 points and 13 boards in the win against Lehigh, the rising star of a sophomore had an understated 17 points and 10 caroms against a bigger and much more physical Jasper front line, putting him squarely in the race for all-conference honors if he keeps this pace up in Atlantic 10 play.

- Many people were concerned about Fordham's two big men fouling out, each one played smart when they got into foul trouble. Ryan Rhoomes and Travion Leonard each ended the night with four fouls, but both asserted themselves once they were called for their third and fourth infractions, and were able to get into position to establish lane presence against Rhamel Brown, whose 12-point, 7-rebound, 9-block near-triple-double was minimized due to the Ram frontcourt playing what was, by far, one of their more impressive games in recent memory.

- The Rams hung tough on the boards as Pecora mentioned after the game, only surrendering three more rebounds than Manhattan, with everyone contributing at least two individual boards and limiting Manhattan's reserves to just 12 individual rebounds. Many of the caroms came on long bounces from missed three-pointers by Manhattan, who shot just 6-of-32 (19 percent) from beyond the arc.

- Finally, from a program standpoint, this victory, just the fourth true road win for Pecora since arriving on Rose Hill in 2010, is the biggest for the Rams since their 2010 upset and court storm against St. John's, where Brenton Butler turned a four-foul first half around into one of the greatest second halves of a lifetime. However, as Pecora mentioned in his press conference, the key is consistency, and the Rams will need to keep themselves on the accelerator next week against Furman, and also in the Holiday Festival against St. John's at Madison Square Garden after that.

Rams Win Rumble In The Bronx Behind Severe's 30

Jon Severe had yet another night to remember tonight, as freshman scores 30 points in Fordham's 79-75 win over Manhattan in Battle of the Bronx. (Photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

When Tom Pecora previewed Fordham's annual showdown against Manhattan this offseason, the head coach said "records are thrown out the window that night."

Nothing could be further from the truth at Draddy Gym on this night, as Pecora's Rams, restricted to a seven-man rotation due to a lack of frontcourt depth, improved to 3-2 with a stunning 79-75 upset over the Jaspers, (3-2) a team predicted by many to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference this season after narrowly missing a conference championship last year against bitter adversary Iona.

"Obviously, I'm very proud of these guys," Pecora said after his backcourt trio of Jon Severe, (30 points) Branden Frazier (21 points) and Mandell Thomas (17 points, 10 rebounds) accounted for 68 of Fordham's 79 points. "I told Jon, Branden and Mandell that we need 60 points a night out of them."

Severe, the freshman sensation who came to Rose Hill with New York State Mr. Basketball honors already on his resume, was the star of the 106th Battle of the Bronx, erupting with 10 points in the first 5:17 and ending the first half with 22. The Brooklyn native got off to a quiet start after the intermission, but regained his stride with two three-pointers late in the second half to pull Fordham even with the Jaspers at 70 with 4:39 remaining in regulation after it appeared as if Manhattan was on the verge of pulling away to a convincing victory.

Manhattan regained the lead on a three-point play by George Beamon, who posted a double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds in the losing effort, but it was the last advantage the Jaspers would enjoy after Severe tied the game on a pair of free throws with 1:39 left in the second half.

Following the foul shots, Beamon missed a three-pointer, allowing Fordham to grind out the shot clock and give Frazier an opening to the basket in the final minute. With his back to the net, Frazier found his seam and converted a spinning layup to give the Rams a 75-73 lead they would never relinquish. Manhattan had a chance to regain the advantage, but Michael Alvarado missed a questionable three-pointer from beyond NBA range, forcing the Jaspers to foul Frazier, who put his clutch free throw shooting struggles to rest by making both of his two shots to turn the Rams' cushion into a two-possession edge.

A Beamon layup pulled the Jaspers within two with just twelve seconds to go, but Manhattan's full court press attempt backfired as Jermaine Myers found a streaking Travion Leonard for a breakaway dunk that sealed the win for Fordham, arguably the biggest victory for the program since defeating St. John's at Rose Hill Gym in 2010.

The Rams take a brief hiatus before their next contest one week from tomorrow against Furman, while Manhattan resumes play this Saturday against Joe Mihalich and Hofstra.

King Rice Has Hawks Flying High

Now in third season, King Rice has Monmouth overachieving just two weeks into Hawks' first MAAC season. (Photo courtesy of the Syracuse Post-Standard)

The old cliche states that it is not the size of dog in the fight that matters, but rather the size of fight in the dog.

At 1-3 through their first four games, Monmouth University has not been projected to do much, picked last of eleven in the preseason poll before officially starting their maiden voyage in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with a comeback win over Hofstra two weeks ago. With a roster that does not feature a senior in its rotation, and is relying on a cast of freshmen and sophomores to support junior swingman Andrew Nicholas, favorable predictions may still be a year or two away for the Hawks.

Just don't say that to their leader, a calm and optimistic guide to his precocious pupils amid choppy waters, anytime soon.

"I told the guys 'there's nothing to hang your head on today,'" third-year head coach King Rice told us after we caught up with him in the wake of Monmouth's 82-66 loss to Seton Hall last Monday, a game in which the Hawks remained close despite the Pirates' experience and skill advantages, and then followed up with a close 64-54 setback against St. John's that saw Monmouth hold a brief second half lead and keep pace with Steve Lavin's athletic Red Storm roster deep into the final minutes. "I've tried to be known as a guy whose teams try hard. You've got to get your kids to play hard."

Playing hard is seemingly all Monmouth has known through their opening stretch of the schedule, overcoming a double-digit deficit to defeat Hofstra in the Hawks' season opener, then keeping the final outcome in doubt for most of the second half against Penn before their valiant efforts against two Big East opponents in Seton Hall and St. John's. Rice sends his young charges into battle once again tonight when the Hawks face Penn State in their third consecutive game against a high-major opponent, but the battle-tested coach, a former point guard under Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith at North Carolina, has tapped a gold mine with Deon Jones, a transfer from Towson who became eligible this season and is already Monmouth's leading scorer, averaging 18 points per game while also leading the team in offensive rebounds.

"Deon is a player," Rice told us during the offseason. "He averaged ten points at Towson. He wasn't just another guy on the team." Along with Nicholas, the pair is averaging a combined 31 points per game, accounting for nearly half of Monmouth's 70 points per game as a team. "When I get Deon and Red (Nicholas) clicking together, we'll be a hard matchup," Rice said.

Behind every good team is a good point guard, and the Hawks have found a young floor general who will eventually grow into one of the best at his position in the MAAC. At just 18 years old, Justin Robinson has displayed some freshman moments through his first four contests, but the lightning quick 5-8 dynamo has outplayed his tender age for the most part, racking up 11.3 points and 4.5 assists per game.

"When he gets more comfortable and more understanding, he'll be even better," Rice said of his freshman facilitator, speaking with a wide smile on his face to express his overall satisfaction with Robinson's initial impressions.

Despite the early dismissals of his team's chances, Rice's optimism is among the biggest reasons why Monmouth is overachieving so often so soon. After all, a team is reflective of its coach, and Rice was the epitome of a scrappy player who did whatever it took to get the job done on a North Carolina team that included future NBA stars the likes of George Lynch, Rick Fox and Eric Montross during his four years in Chapel Hill.

"Every game for our team this year is going to be encouraging," Rice said, "because we're so youthful."

So far, he has lived up to his word.

Monday, November 25, 2013

New York, New York: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

New York City- Maybe this should read New York City and Brooklyn. Last Friday gave one of those scheduling oddities allowing stops at two venues. Over the course of the night, we were treated with differing and interesting story lines.
First was the consolation at the ‘World’s Most Famous Arena.’ The five o’clock start allowed a half of Boston College-Washington in the 2K Sports Classic. At halftime, it was off to Barclays Center. Catching the 2 train was easy, as was the trip, putting yours truly on Atlantic Avenue 30 minutes before game time.
          Not surprised to hear BC knocked off Washington, as the Huskies had defensive issues both nights in New York. Seton Hall versus Oklahoma in the Coaches vs. Cancer semis gave us another situation regarding numbers, 38 > 2. That is a given in mathematics classrooms. It was not the case on the Barclays hardwood. Seton Hall played well enough for 38 minutes to knock off the Sooners. The final two minutes of mistakes, turnovers and ineptitude proved their 86-85 undoing.

          In game two, Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans proved too much on both ends of the floor for Virginia Tech. Michigan State is top ranked for a reason. Not the least of which is Izzo, one of the best coaches in America, one demanding excellence in effort and execution of his club. Watching the Spartans under his watch, you have to truly admire the results. 

A look outside the Madison Square Garden press room at 4:45 p.m., while commuters, shoppers and visitors all make their way through midtown Manhattan:
Boston College and Washington in the 2K Sports Classic consolation game:
At last, the Atlantic Avenue station on the 2 train:
A panoramic view of the Barclays Center during Seton Hall/Oklahoma:
Virginia Tech heads out for warmups:
The ubiquitous Ronnie Weintraub congratulates Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger following the win over Seton Hall:



Battle Of The Bronx Preview: Manhattan vs. Fordham

Off to his second 3-1 start, Steve Masiello returns home for annual renewal of Manhattan's longtime rivalry with Fordham in this year's "Battle of the Bronx." (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)

While most college basketball fans are fixated on the in-season tournaments such as the Maui Invitational and Battle 4 Atlantis this week, one of the game's oldest rivalries is renewed just across the street from Van Cortlandt Park, just a few blocks from the Westchester County border, with the annual "Battle of the Bronx" being contested once again between Manhattan and Fordham, this time returning to Draddy Gym in Riverdale.

The 106th edition of the war for bragging rights in New York's northernmost borough returns to the home of the Jaspers for the first time since Manhattan imparted an 81-47 thrashing upon the Rams in December of 2011, with the two teams playing a much closer 65-58 decision at Rose Hill Gym last November that also went to Manhattan. This season, although the combined winning percentage of the two programs is the highest since Bobby Gonzalez and Dereck Whittenburg paced the benches in 2004, the two schools could not be any further apart in states of their teams. However, as Fordham head coach Tom Pecora told us, "records are thrown out the window on that night."

Fordham enters one of their showcase games of the nonconference schedule at 2-2 on the young season, with the Rams' latest effort being a disappointing 85-73 setback at home against a previously 0-4 Sacred Heart team that outrebounded the Rams down the stretch to give head coach Anthony Latina his first career win. Pecora's roster has also battled injuries and a lack of frontcourt depth, forcing Bryan Smith to play out of position up front as a fourth guard until he was injured before the Sacred Heart game, where he was replaced by Jermaine Myers. The Rams have struggled inside the paint as both Ryan Rhoomes and Travion Leonard have been unable to stay out of foul trouble through the first four games, relying on their stellar backcourt of Branden Frazier, Mandell Thomas and freshman sensation Jon Severe to carry them through 40 minutes. The departure of Ryan Canty (personal reasons) and ineligibility of Manny Suarez (redshirting after being ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA) has also thrust freshman wing Jake Fay into arguably more action than Pecora may have initially wanted to give him this early in the season.

Across the court, Manhattan comes into their second home game of the season with a 3-0 road record, as the Jaspers' lone loss came at Draddy nine days ago to George Washington despite a 34-point explosion from George Beamon. Head coach Steve Masiello has by far his most talented and depth-laden roster in this, his third season since leaving his former post as Rick Pitino's top lieutenant at Louisville to replace Barry Rohrssen, and enters tomorrow night's matchup looking for his first 4-1 start at the helm. Having Beamon, his dynamic senior shooting guard, back at 100 percent after he was limited to just four games a year ago, has been a godsend to the Manhattan roster, giving the Jaspers a player at each position that can burn their opposition. Masiello has taken advantage of his depth by starting three guards and playing former point man Michael Alvarado off the ball with either Tyler Wilson or CJ Jones at the point, with a bench headlined by a pair of forwards in Ashton Pankey and Shane Richards that would start on any other roster in the MAAC.

Without any further ado, here is the "tale of the tape," as Manhattan and Fordham take the court in the biggest game in the Bronx for the next few months until the Yankees take the field again next season:

Point Guard: Tyler Wilson (Fr., 0.0 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0.8 APG) vs. Branden Frazier (Sr., 22.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 4.3 APG)
Wilson is still looking for his first career points as he enters his fifth career game, but has been lauded by his teammates as a floor general who is mature beyond his years. A Bronx native himself, having played at Cardinal Hayes High School, Wilson will look to shut down the Rams' leading scorer, who already has a career-high 33-point outburst at Syracuse under his belt in a game that Fordham only lost by 15 points two weeks ago. Although he has a tendency to force up a couple of bad shots every game and miss a clutch free throw every once in a while, Frazier's refuse-to-lose mantra and will to win every time he steps on the floor gives him the edge against a freshman still improving every night. Edge: Fordham


Shooting Guard #1: Michael Alvarado (Sr., 11.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.0 APG) vs. Mandell Thomas (So., 13.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 4.8 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG)
This may turn out to be the best matchup of the night, as the Bronx product Alvarado; the MVP of last year's Battle of the Bronx, locks horns with arguably the most underrated player in the Atlantic 10, the freakishly athletic Thomas, whose all-around ability would be impossible to put a price tag on, even at a high-major program like North Carolina. Alvarado "took the game over" according to Tom Pecora last season, and always seems to shine in big games, while Thomas is a star in the making after his first career double-double last week against Lehigh elevated him to even greater heights. However, the sophomore has reportedly been battling illness through the last several days, and if Manhattan gets him at less than 100 percent, the Jaspers can consider themselves fortunate. Edge: Push

Shooting Guard #2: George Beamon (Sr., 27.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 49% FG, 42% 3pt) vs. Jon Severe (Fr., 21.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 38% 3pt)
Present will meet future in this showcase of the stars, as one of the nation's most dynamic scorers in Beamon goes up against the reigning New York State Mr. Basketball in Severe, who is Tom Pecora's biggest recruit since arriving at Rose Hill, at least until Eric Paschall suits up for the Rams next season. Beamon has gone for at least 24 points in each of Manhattan's four games, which will force Severe; who is already much more valuable on the defensive end than almost anyone may realize, into more of a lockdown role when the ball is in Beamon's hands. Expect each guard to go all out in trying to one-up the other, with experience most likely prevailing over youth. Edge: Manhattan

Forward #1: Emmy Andujar (Jr., 7.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.8 SPG) vs. Bryan Smith (Jr., 8.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 43% 3pt)
Andujar, best known for his buzzer-beating three-pointer that erased an 18-point deficit and pushed Manhattan past Iona in January of 2012 for Masiello's first signature win as head coach, holds the key to the biggest mismatch of the evening, as his brute strength and physicality will be able to wear down the quicker and smaller Smith if he is able to start. Smith has also battled foul trouble through his first three games, sometimes committing fouls in inopportune situations, but his knack for outside shots is rivaled by very few. Should Smith be unable to go, sophomore Jermaine Myers will likely get the start and play point guard, which may push Frazier into guarding Beamon and Severe up to battle Andujar. Either way, the Jasper size wins out here. Edge: Manhattan

Forward #2: Rhamel Brown (Sr., 8.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.0 BPG) vs. Ryan Rhoomes (So., 6.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.0 BPG)
Brown has been waiting all season to impose his will and go off for a big game, and he may have his chance tomorrow night against Rhoomes, who; much like Bryan Smith and his frontcourt partner Travion Leonard, has been unable to stay out of foul trouble despite being a force on the offensive glass. The senior from Brooklyn, who is also the best shot blocker in the New York metropolitan area, should be able to establish a presence in the lane against Rhoomes on both ends of the ball, not to mention his unparalleled ability to track down any rebound within an 18-inch radius of him. Edge: Manhattan

Benches
Manhattan has a cast of reserves that would be greatly welcomed in the starting five for Fordham at this stage of the game, with Ashton Pankey and Shane Richards leading the charge while RaShawn Stores and CJ Jones add to the mounds of backcourt depth that is also augmented by junior wing Donovan Kates. It is not uncommon for Manhattan to play ten or eleven players a night, whereas Tom Pecora has more of a set eight-man rotation now that Ryan Canty has left the team, going to Travion Leonard, Jake Fay and junior college transfer guard Chris Whitehead as his main reserves. If Fordham is able to stay out of foul trouble, the Rams can extend their life a little longer, but the Jasper talent may be just too much to overcome. Edge: Manhattan

Coaching
In just his third season, Steve Masiello has already been mentioned as a potential candidate for the next high-major coaching vacancy, as the 36-year-old has restored the winning tradition to Manhattan that was cultivated when he was the top assistant to Bobby Gonzalez during a seven-year stretch that saw the Jaspers win two MAAC championships and make two NIT appearances as well. On the other side of the court, Pecora is still trying to turn the corner in his fourth season at Fordham after a decade of success at Hofstra, earning mixed results in the process. A staunch three-guard advocate who is now playing smaller out of necessity, Pecora's system has worked against smaller teams in the Rams' victories against Saint Francis and Lehigh, but has had difficulty against bigger and more physical front lines, which tips the scales further into Manhattan's favor. Edge: Manhattan


Manhattan's pregame stats, courtesy of Jasper legend Ronnie Weintraub:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Homecoming for Pitt Coach at Legends Classic

By Jason Schott - Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor The Pitt Panthers will be coming to Barclays Center for the Legends Classic on Monday and Tuesday nights, and it will be a homecoming for one of their coaches.

Pitt Assistant Coach Barry Rohrssen is a Brooklyn native, growing up in Park Slope. He is very excited to return to his hometown and said, "In a way, it's like life coming full circle. I have been in there for some Nets games and I was actually at their first preseason game last year...It's a bit of a different feeling in there, but they put together a tremendous venue...It will be exciting to be participating in that building and certainly special for someone like myself who is from the borough of Brooklyn."

"It's literally a neighborhood where I was born and raised. I was born in Park Slope on 8th Street. You can walk from the arena to the hospital I was born in, Methodist Hospital on 7th Avenue and 7th Street. All you have to do is walk down 7th Avenue. It's a piece of cake, it's enjoyable, especially in New York. There are times it's quicker to walk than it is to drive," said Rohrssen.

He went to Xaverian High School. He could recount memories from his youth in Bay Ridge, "How many times I passed there (Fort Hamilton High School) when I was running cross country and playing summer leagues in the park behind Fort Hamilton High School and I used to live on Shore Road when I used to coach at St. Francis College."

Rohrssen played for St. Francis College from 1981-83. He returned to St. Francis to be an assistant coach from 1993-95. He arrived at Pitt in 1999 and was there for seven years as an assistant coach, on Ben Howland's staff for four years and three years under Jamie Dixon, who was promoted to Head Coach when Howland left for UCLA. In 2006, Rohrssen accepted the head coaching job at Manhattan, and he had a successful run as every one of his four-year players graduated, and his recruits went on to a 21-win season and a postseason berth in 2011-12 after he was dismissed. Last season, he worked in the Portland Trail Blazers organization for their D-League team, the Idaho Stampede. There was a recent story in Basketball Times about Rohrssen, "and my quote to them is 'what's old is new again.' I'm back in a place where I'm very familiar. Having the opportunity to coach in a new conference is exciting."

On the changes in Park Slope from when he was a kid, Rohrssen said, "Unbelievable, I know what that word means, gentrification, don't know if I can spell it. The gentrification of the neighborhood is overwhelming, and Brooklyn in general, in its entirety, for someone who loves Brooklyn as much as myself, it's so wonderful to see the gentrification in the borough."

The Nets and Barclays Center have changed the attitude of Brooklyn, and Rohrssen says, "It's not just a big-league city, it's a major-league borough now. The Barclays Center provides a great venue to all the local teams in and around New York, but also has opened up the possibility for great programs around the country to come into the borough of Brooklyn and play, like when you look at all the teams that have come in there right, Kentucky, is Michigan State coming in this weekend? (for the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic), Connecticut opened up a game there this year with Maryland. What that arena does is help promote the local basketball in New York and also brings some of the marquee programs from around the country into the great borough of Brooklyn." When told that last year's Legends Classic at Barclays Center featured UCLA, Rohrssen said, "Think about it, a program with as many national championships as UCLA, and they are accepting and flattered to play in the borough of Brooklyn."

Pitt will play Texas Tech in the opening game of the Legends Classic on Monday night. Texas Tech is coached by Tubby Smith, who Rohrssen respects a lot. "A coach with a national championship under his belt. We've crossed paths, he's a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, of which I'm a proud member of. He's not just a good coach...As good a coach he is, he's an even better person, which is as high a complement as you want to give someone. He's a championship coach and a championship person as well." Pitt will then face the winner of Houston-Stanford on Tuesday night.

This is Pitt's first season in the ACC, moving from the Big East. "It's synonymous with the best basketball in the country. There have been times where people have said, 'oh, the Big East is the best team in the country this year or the ACC,' you know it's been debated which is the better of the conferences, whether it's the ACC or the Big East, but now it isn't a debate which is the best conference. To think of what the ACC had, and now you add Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Notre Dame to that." The coaches of those teams are quite impressive, with Dixon at Pitt, Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, and Mike Brey at Notre Dame. "You have two guys that have been National Coaches of the Year and another guy that's a National Championship coach.That's just coming in to a conference that already has two Hall of Famers. Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) is a Hall of Famer, Roy Williams (North Carolina) is a Hall of Famer, and now you're adding another Hall of Famer in Jim Boeheim."

On reuniting with Dixon, Rohrssen said, "Jamie Dixon has the most or as many wins as anybody has coaching their first ten years in the NCAA, and New York has been a second home to Pitt. We have had tremendous success at Madison Square Garden. Players like playing here because we try to epitomize what a team should look like, and this is a program built on 'we' guys, not 'me' guys." Rohrssen said something distinguishes Pitt from other schools. "One of the things about our team is that there is a mutual respect amongst all the guys and sounds kind of cliche-ish, but we don't put any I's in the word 'team.' You're looking at a group of guys that are unselfish and that play together." "I brought two Brooklynites to Pitt, Chris Taft and Levance Fields, (both Xaverian grads), and we also have a player that's on our roster right now from Brooklyn, Derrick Randall."

On recruiting players to Pittsburgh and features that make it like Brooklyn, Rohrssen said, "You have similarities in that you do have neighborhoods. It's a place that our recruits, kids from metropolitan areas, feel comfortable because there is concrete under their feet. In Brooklyn, there are a lot more pizzerias on each block, but there are enough here to keep you happy. Now if only we can get a Totonno's out here...My buddy owns the place, Larry Ciminieri and his mom Cookie. It's right in Coney Island." Totonno's is located on Neptune Avenue, and re-opened in May after suffering damage from Hurricane Sandy.

This turned the conversation, as it naturally does with most Brooklynites, to dining, and Rohrssen talked about his favorite spots. "You got the roast beef sandwiches at Brennan and Carr's on Avenue U and Nostrand, been around forever, my buddy Eddie Sullivan owns that place, it's kind of an institution there. Then you got Skinflints Pub on 79th Street in Bay Ridge for hamburgers. Gerard Bell, he owns that place there. Then you go to Williamsburg, Greenpoint, you got Bamonte's restaurant, great Italian place, Anthony Bamonte owns that place. Then, of course, of course, Peter Luger's Steakhouse. Those are some of my local stops when I'm back."

"Those are without a doubt some of the better places. Bamonte's has been around forever; it is the oldest family-owned Italian restaurant in New York City. Peter Luger's is the oldest steakhouse. These places have withstood the test of time." For dessert, "L&B Spumoni Gardens, for their spumoni."

Michigan State Wins Coaches vs. Cancer Classic

Keith Appling took control in second half of Michigan State's Coaches vs. Cancer Classic win, going for 27 points and earning tournament MVP honors as Spartans defeated Oklahoma 87-76. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

It may not have been the most beautiful victory, but a win is still a win.

Surviving a late really from a valiant Oklahoma (4-1) team that took the court 24 hours after a come-from-behind win against Seton Hall, the No. 1 team in the nation pulled out all the stops when it mattered most, as Michigan State (6-0) outlasted the Sooners 87-76, taking the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic championship at Brooklyn's Barclays Center.

"It shows a little character that you can figure out a way to win a game," Spartans head coach Tom Izzo remarked after the game. "We're not a 'pretty boy' team. I don't want to be a white-collar team."

Michigan State, who put up 96 points against Virginia Tech Friday night, was anything but white-collar, allowing Oklahoma to take an early first half lead and then drawing them back into the game midway through the second half before Keith Appling took matters into his own hands, willing his team to victory in much the same way his predecessor Kalin Lucas did for the Spartans at the point guard position for four years in East Lansing.

"What I liked about him was that he took over under control," Izzo said of Appling, whose 27 points led the Spartans and helped earn him tournament Most Valuable Player honors to go with a 13-point, 7-assist, no-turnover line against Virginia Tech. Gary Harris chipped in with 21 points for Michigan State, while Branden Dawson; deemed an unsung hero by Izzo after the game, posted his second consecutive double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Earlier in the evening, Seton Hall held off Virginia Tech in the consolation game of the tournament, defeating the Hokies 68-67 after Fuquan Edwin atoned for his mental error against Oklahoma with a three-pointer in the final minute to lift Kevin Willard and the Pirates to victory, but the night clearly belonged to Michigan State, whose win added to a day-long celebration of the Spartan football team clinching a spot in the Big Ten championship game against undefeated Ohio State.

"What I'm most proud of today," Izzo; sporting a Big Ten Legends Division championship hat sent to him by Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio, opened his postgame press conference by saying, "(is that) two revenue sports at Michigan State won a championship."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sacred Heart 76, Saint Peter's 73: Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Recap

Rookie head coach Jessica Mannetti improved to 2-2 this season after Sacred Heart's overtime victory over Saint Peter's. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

JERSEY CITY, NJ – Sacred Heart took another session. The Pioneers defeated Saint Peter’s 76-­73 in a women’s basketball contest at the Yanitelli Center.

Entering the game, Sacred Heart was averaging 71 possessions, and Saint Peter’s 65. A difference of six possessions may not seem like many, but getting to game pace at those numbers, you have distinctive styles of play. Averaging 70-­plus possessions puts you in an uptempo category. The mid-­sixties, on the deliberate side with a hint you will push the ball if so inclined. The efficiencies entering the matchup:

Sacred Heart                            93

St.Peter’s                                72

              Saint Peter’s entered decidedly subpar on offense, while Sacred Heart also had an offensive metric on the lower side. Given Sacred Heart’s defensive efficiency of an excellent 91, one can accept the 93 on offense. Saint Peter’s, on the other hand, showed a defensive efficiency of 103 for a 31 efficiency margin, therefore it was no surprise they were 0­-3. Sacred Heart entered the Yanitelli Center at 1-­2, with overtime losses to St. John’s and Villanova of the Big East. The final numbers:

Possessions:

Sacred Heart                            83

St. Peter’s                               82

Offensive efficiency:

Sacred Heart                            92

St. Peter’s                               89

              Sacred Heart coach Jessica Mannetti was surprised to hear her club played good defense. The defensive metric did not lie. Mannetti, though, remembers the defensive breakdowns that stood out, (especially in containing St. Peter’s guards) and what needs fixing.

              For Saint Peter’s, it was a decided improvement on offense and defense as they get better each time out. Antonia Smith, a junior guard for Saint Peter’s, paced all scorers with 22 points.

Armand's 30 Leads Iona Past George Mason

Sean Armand lit up scoreboard again, going for 30 in Iona's 89-73 win over George Mason. (Photo courtesy of Iona College)

Following a 1-2 start to the season and a 20-point loss to Kansas, criticism arose as to whether Iona could play a complete game.

The doubts, at least today, have been temporarily silenced.

Taking control with an authoritative 34-5 run to start the game, the Gaels (2-2) never eased off the accelerator, drawing away to an 89-73 win over previously undefeated George Mason (4-1) in a matchup of two of the more successful mid-majors of recent years, with five Iona players ending the afternoon in double figures before a crowd of 1,738 at the Hynes Center.

"We came back ready to work from our last loss," said Sean Armand, who led the Gaels with 30 points on a day where the senior from Brooklyn broke the school record for career three-point field goals, passing Iona legend Steve Burtt. "Everybody doubts our team, but we've got a lot to prove. We've got a chip on our shoulder day in and day out."

David Laury also contributed 14 points and nine rebounds for the Gaels, who got 11 points from Tre Bowman and 10 from Rutgers transfer Mike Poole. In addition, sophomore guard A.J. English had a career game with 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

"I think we found our point guard," Tim Cluess said of English, who missed Iona's run to a MAAC championship after breaking his hand in January. "He's done a great job at that position the last three games."

The Iona offense fired on all cylinders this afternoon, scoring the first 14 points of the game before Mount Vernon product Sherrod Wright put George Mason on the board with a free throw over four minutes into the contest. Wright and teammate Marko Gujanicic led the Patriots with 12 points each.

Iona heads to "Dunk City" one week from Sunday to face another upstart mid-major in Florida Gulf Coast, with the Gaels' MAAC opener taking place three days later against Marist.

Spartans Turn Brooklyn Into House Of Payne

Adreian Payne uses career-high 29-point night to propel Michigan State to convincing 96-77 win over Virginia Tech at Barclays Center. (Photo courtesy of the Detroit Free Press)

The No. 1 team in the country lived up to the hype, and then some, taking over Brooklyn's Barclays Center with a commanding performance that; especially on recent nights, would probably be good enough to defeat the arena's permanent residents.

Fueled by a career night from senior forward Adreian Payne, Michigan State (5-0) made short work of their first of three appearances in the Big Apple, convincingly knocking off Virginia Tech in a 96-77 rout whose final score was much closer than the game, a Coaches vs. Cancer Classic semifinal in which the Hokies trailed by 30 at one point, let on. The Spartans will face Oklahoma in tonight's championship game after the Sooners' dramatic comeback win guided them past Seton Hall in the front end of last night's twin bill.

"I'm getting real proud of this kid," Tom Izzo said of Payne after his 29-point, 10-rebound performance in which his 6-10 big man set a career high scoring total, "because he's starting to play within himself. He's really efficient now."

Payne was not the only efficient Spartan, as his fellow senior classmate Keith Appling was as well, finishing with 13 points and seven assists on a night where the point guard did not commit a single turnover. Adam Smith led Virginia Tech with 27 points, while Jarell Eddie chipped in with 23 of his own. Two more Michigan State players joined Payne and Appling in double figures, as Gary Harris poured in 19 points while Branden Dawson posted a quiet 12-point, 10-rebound double-double.

The star of the evening, however, was Payne, the projected lottery pick from a team who; if last night was any indication, could end up in the national championship game next April.

"He's the perfect example of it being okay to stay in school and get better," Izzo said with regard to Payne's continued development over his career in East Lansing. "I know we appreciate freshmen, but we should start to appreciate guys that stay around and get better."

Payne and Appling, along with walk-on Dan Chapman, are playing with somewhat of a chip on their shoulder as it relates to the Michigan State program. Since replacing Jud Heathcote at the helm of the Spartans in 1995, Izzo has never had a four-year player of his not play in a Final Four. This year's senior class has yet to get there, having lost to UCLA in the round of 64 three years ago before consecutive Sweet 16 exits to Louisville and Duke, respectively.

Despite last night's comfortable margin of victory, the man who brought his program its second national championship in school history gave an honest appraisal of his situation after it was over.

"We're still a team in the process of growing," Izzo said. "We show some flashes of greatness and some flashes of inadequacies."

One would be hard pressed to find the latter last night.