Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Rodriguez leads Seton Hall as Pirates dig deep to outlast Georgetown

Desi Rodriguez led Seton Hall with 27 points as Pirates survived Georgetown to preserve status on strong side of bubble heading into Saturday's regular season finale at Butler. (Photo by SHUHoops.com)

NEWARK, NJ -- Just as it was in Seton Hall's last two games following a 22-point loss to Villanova, the message in the team huddles remained the same: This is our season, let's keep it alive.

Trailing by five with just over eight minutes to go against a Georgetown team that would have almost certainly burst the Pirates' bubble barring a second straight Big East championship, The Hall took matters into its own hands and exhibited what has become a recurring motif around the program, picking themselves up and asserting themselves in a businesslike tone.

The Pirates tightened the screws on defense after falling behind by a 54-49 count with 8:44 remaining in regulation, holding visiting Georgetown to just one field goal for the remainder of the game while closing the final minutes on a 13-5 run, enabling them to defeat the Hoyas by the final of 62-59 and exhale just a little deeper after yet another hard-fought victory.

"I just wanted to come out aggressive," said Desi Rodriguez, whose 27 points led all scorers as he rode a hot hand through a 17-point first half to give Seton Hall (19-10, 9-8 Big East) its third straight win and added momentum traveling to Butler for Saturday's regular season finale. "Everybody on the team knew how important this win was, Coach told us how important this win was, so we definitely wanted to leave it out on the floor, play our hardest and get a W."

The junior wing exploded out of the blocks in the opening stanza, shooting 7-of-10 from the field as Seton Hall weathered an early storm from Georgetown (14-16, 5-12 Big East) before a 12-3 run leading up to the buzzer played a role in the hosts taking a 38-30 lead into the intermission. The Hoyas slowly chipped away, however, trading blows through the first several minutes after halftime before a brief 8-2 spurt put the visitors up by five and set up the Pirates' latest extrication from a precarious situation.

Back-to-back layups from Khadeen Carrington and Rodriguez pulled The Hall within one point before a Georgetown basket stemmed the tide, then Rodriguez managed to get a conventional three-point play after a late blocking foul was assessed to L.J. Peak, tying the score at 56 apiece with his free throw. The Hoyas went up again inside the final two minutes, this time by three, before Peak fouled Rodriguez behind the three-point line to send the Bronx native to the charity stripe in an attempt to forge another tie with 1:53 to play. Rodriguez hit two of three, and got a clutch offensive rebound on their next possession, which resulted in Angel Delgado's go-ahead layup with 72 seconds on the clock. A pair of Carrington free throws provided the final margin on the scoreboard, as Seton Hall scored the game's final six points, but Georgetown still had one last chance to force overtime.

With 14.6 seconds remaining, the Hoyas saw their attempt break down as Rodney Pryor came up empty-handed on a contested three-pointer from the left corner, adding to the frustration in the nation's capital as Seton Hall pulled themselves out of the fire once more.

"They made plays, we didn't," a subdued John Thompson III lamented. "There was a whole series of things that happened down there, you could rattle them all off. At the end of the day, they made plays, we didn't."

Peak and Pryor were the visitors' lone double-figure scorers, with 15 and 11 points, respectively. For the Pirates, Rodriguez was aided by Delgado, whose 11th-straight and nation-leading 24th double-double of the year included 12 points and 13 rebounds, setting a new Big East single-season record for rebounds and pulling down his 1,000th career board in the process. But in typical Delgado fashion, he cared more about the end result on the scoreboard than he did the accolades on his personal ledger.

"Everybody played tough today," Delgado confidently stated. "At the end of the game, the toughest team wins. We were just a little bit tougher than them, so we got the win."

Seton Hall 62, Georgetown 59: 5 Thoughts

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

Well, that was close.

Thanks to a late spurt and some great defense and toughness down the stretch, Seton Hall survived Georgetown 62-59 and kept their NCAA hopes alive again on a night where Angel Delgado set records and the Pirates moved over .500 in Big East play (9-8) for the first time since they were 2-1.

Here are the 5 Thoughts:

1. Two-Man Game

Seton Hall would have been sunk without their starting frontcourt of Desi Rodriguez and Delgado, who carried the entire team on their shoulders tonight. Rodriguez scored 17 of his game-high 27 points in the first half when the Pirates played their best ball, hitting shots from all over the place, some tough, some open. Delgado, meanwhile, got his usual double-double of 12 points and 13 rebounds, but in the process became the fourth player in Seton Hall history with 1,000 career rebounds (and first since Glenn Mosley in 1977), not to mention the Big East's all-time single-season rebound leader. He also passed the legendary Patrick Ewing in career boards. 

On a night where pretty much the whole rest of the team struggled to get anything going on the offensive end, and with the Pirates missing an effective Ish Sanogo, both performances were needed to stem a strong second half by the Hoyas as well as overcome a poor-shooting (9-30) second half themselves.

2. Peak-ed Early

Seton Hall led this game 38-30 at the break, but watched as the Hoyas surged after halftime, eventually taking a five-point lead with 6:24 remaining and a three-point edge, 59-56, on a layup by LJ Peak at the 2:28 mark. Peak led the Hoyas with 15 points, but it was three colossal errors by him that kept the door open for the Pirates to kick down in the final minutes.

The first was not only a cardinal sin of basketball (fouling a jump-shooter), it was one of the worst fouls I've seen in years. With the shot clock winding down inside five seconds, Rodriguez had the ball well beyond the three-point line. With no choice but to pull up from beyond NBA three-point range, Peak did the unthinkable and fouled Rodriguez on his shot, with Desi making two of three free throws to get within one. Up by 3, on the road inside two minutes remaining with the shot clock winding down and the man with the ball attempting a shot that only Stephen Curry hits with any regularity, it was just an awful, awful foul if you're a basketball purist (like me).

On the next two Hoyas possessions, Peak turned the ball over both times, compounding his previous mistake and allowing the Pirates to take the lead and then win the game. Which brings me to....

3. Toughing It Out

There haven't been too many Seton Hall games this year that have been very pretty, but this team continues to find ways to get it done. Players have transferred, leaving the Pirates' bench thin. Various key players have had off nights. Their backs have been against the bubble for about a month or so, amping up the pressure to perform. And they still soldier onward. 

Case in point- Ish Sanogo even somehow played seven minutes despite dealing with a sprained ankle, something head coach Kevin Willard called "a miracle." But that's just the latest example of the Pirates' incredible grit. "Toughness" was the word that Willard used when asked to describe his team this year in one word, and he's right. Without it, Seton Hall would have faded under the hot lights of the Big East schedule.

4. Closeness

The Pirates has now won seven one-possession games this season, and tonight, down five with 6:24 remaining, the defense clamped down and held the Hoyas to just one basket (Peak's aforementioned layup at the 2:28 mark) the rest of the way. That's been a refrain this year, and certainly the above toughness has a large part to do with it.

But when it gets to "winning time," Seton Hall has responded. Maybe it's having a core of upperclassmen who are driven by a desire to win and their own closeness with each other off the floor, maybe they've just been fortunate to make plays when they absolutely need to. Either way, the "clutch gene" is hard to find and even harder to adequately put into words, but the numbers don't lie- the Hall has had it on their side.

5. Bubble Talk

We said heading down the home stretch that the Pirates could not afford to lose against Xavier, DePaul or Georgetown, and Seton Hall won all three games. With their resume, that puts them on a favorable side of the bubble by most projections (Joe Lunardi's last bracket had the Pirates in the "Last 4 In" category). They've done what many folks said they needed to do when they sat at 3-6 in the league- take care of business against the teams they "should" beat, and snatch big RPI home games against Creighton and Xavier. Their last regular season game is at Butler, and while no one expects them to do it, a win over the ranked Bulldogs on the road would likely seal the deal for the Hall.

Recent history means that I will be a little gun-shy about it, but at the very least, the fact that Seton Hall seems to be trending upward and is on the right side of that bubble picture means that I have a better feeling about it this time around than, say, 2012, when it was a near-miss thanks to a late-season swoon. We'll talk to you next from Madison Square Garden when the Pirates will look to defend their conference title.

Kevin Willard quotebook: Georgetown postgame

On Seton Hall's performance in last two games against DePaul and Georgetown:
"We were 3-6 and people were giving us our last rites, and this team has found a way and grinded and fought to get to be 9-8. They did the same thing tonight. We didn't have our best energy or our best A-game, but I think you have to give Georgetown a lot of credit for that. I thought they really battled and did some good things defensively, but I'm awfully proud of how hard we've fought all season."

On whether Tuesday's game was symbolic of Seton Hall's season:
"We're just not a pretty team sometimes, especially when we're not making -- I think Myles (Powell) had four really good looks in the second half. Sometimes when we struggle to shoot, teams load up the lane on us and it's gotten harder for us to score, but I think good teams find a way to win and that's kind of what these guys are doing."

On junior class willing Seton Hall to a potential second straight NCAA Tournament:
"You look at what they've kind of gone through, I think their freshman year, getting off to a great start and really kind of finding out what the Big East is all about; last year, maturing a little bit as the season went on and this year, really battling a very tough conference schedule. At times, it's been a little tough on us. It just shows they've got a lot of heart, they want to win, they want to get there and I'm proud of them."

On having a different member of the junior class step up in each of last three wins:
"I don't know the last time that three juniors have had 1,000 points, and I think Isaiah was only 200 points away. You would have had four guys with that class be 1,000-point scorers. I think they recognize who has a hot hand, they recognized Desi was going, and at times when guys are struggling, they all pick each other up and I think Desi did a great job of picking us up tonight."

On Angel Delgado:
"I think his numbers are a little crazy. He's really battled, I think it shows his dedication to his body. He's become such a physical player. He doesn't out-jump people, he doesn't out-quick people, he's playing extremely physical and I think that it's a great league for him, because it's a physical league."

"I thought he had the motor. He had the work ethic and the motor, and for kids to become successful, they don't want to hear it and most kids don't want to listen to you, but 99 percent of the time, if you outwork your opponent and you work hard, good things are going to happen to you. And this junior class has worked extremely hard, not only him, but Khadeen, Desi, Ish. I thought Mike Nzei was phenomenal, I thought he won us the game, to be honest with you. His stat line doesn't show it, but Michael was phenomenal. Mike's part of that junior class, technically, so you look at that group, that group works really, really hard, so I think that's why they've got some good opportunities."

On team mindset going into Saturday's game at Butler:
"I'm going to be really happy to see (Andrew) Chrabascz go out and get his jersey. I might hand him his jersey for him, to be perfectly honest with you. No, they're a fantastic team. Chris (Holtmann) has done an unbelievable job. I think it's one of the best places to watch a college game, the fans are into the game, they're knowledgeable about the game. It's going to be a great atmosphere, it's going to be a great opportunity. We've had some really good battles with them, I don't think we've beaten them since, like, 1997 when P.J. was here, but it's an opportunity for us against a really good basketball team."

On describing the season in one word:

On using last year's Big East Tournament run for inspiration:
"This team doesn't need any inspiration. When you're playing in the Big East Tournament, there's no rah-rah. You respect the tournament, you respect Madison Square Garden, you understand the legacy that's there, you understand we're a big part of that legacy, then you see who you play and you get ready to play. We're a little bit older, we're past that. You just gotta go out and play."

On Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado's contributions:
"Desi and Angel have been huge parts. Not only have they been big parts as players, but I think they've been great ambassadors to the program. They're great with the fans, they're great with the student base, they're great in the community and I think sometimes; obviously on the basketball court, they've been phenomenal, but I think for the overall program, they've just been huge."

On Ismael Sanogo and his availability Saturday:
"Ish, I'll be honest with you: I don't know how he played. It's a miracle. We got off the plane, we got home, our flight landed -- I think we got home at 11 from DePaul, we got back to campus and by the time we got the bags at 12:15, he went right to treatment. He woke up Sunday and went to treatment three times, went to treatment three times yesterday. He came up to my office and said 'I'll give you everything I have, but I want to play,' so the kid's got a lot of heart."

"I will see how he feels on Friday when we land. Sometimes with an ankle when you fly, that's what happened coming back, it could swell up, so I will see how he feels. If he feels -- I'm sure he's gonna feel better than he did today -- if he feels better, then I'll play him."

On seniors Michael Dowdy Jr. and Madison Jones:
"Mike Dowdy was going to walk on as a freshman, but he's a chemical engineer, he wants to be like a CSI guy, and so he couldn't get his class schedule, and then his classes for that major were right around our practice time. But he came around his sophomore year and really decided that he wanted to do it, and I said, 'sure.' It's hard for us to get walk-ons, we don't have a huge male population. He came into the office and said, 'I can only be here on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays,' and I said that's fine. He has such a great work ethic and such a great attitude that obviously next year, I'm going to have to get him a job. He is a phenomenal young man with a great work ethic, and he's been a big part of what we've done here, he just doesn't get the recognition. And then Madison, I've called him the rudder, he's just been a great blessing. I think this has given him a chance to show who he is as a person. He's fought back from some tough times and he's matured, and he's helped us. Not only is he a very good player, he's a phenomenal young man and it's helped us. I've been very blessed to have those two guys in our program."

Monday, February 27, 2017

Fordham 62, Davidson 54: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

BRONX, NY - Postseason conference tournaments come in different formats.

Some do not include all the conference membership. Others are contested at a neutral site. There are the type at the higher seed’s court. Variety is not lacking. Regardless of the format, the idea is to win. Survive and advance. Keep winning to advance and stay alive in the hunt for the coveted prize.
On Sunday, Fordham hosted Davidson in the opening round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The A-10 women’s format changed this season, with first-round games at campus sites. Quarterfinals, semis and the final then converge on Richmond to decide the champion.
Fordham was facing a team that upset them on the road a dozen days earlier, somewhat of a curious situation, but neither of the respective coaches; Michele Savage of Davidson and Fordham’s Stephanie Gaitley, bought into it as a huge factor. After all, this was a second season, where slates were wiped clean and both teams had an opportunity in front of them.
On this afternoon, Fordham weathered an early challenge to regroup and post a workmanlike 62-54 victory over the Wildcats. The victory set up a quarterfinal meeting between the Rams and Saint Louis on Friday, a significant time for both teams to prepare, and time to address what needs correcting as well as establish a game plan, all a part of this phenomena called March Madness that captivates us to a significant degree.

Official Brandon Enterline checks the scorebook before the game:
Fordham's dance team, ready for action:
Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley, in deep thought:
The Rams in the open floor, beginning the attack:
During a free throw, Hannah Missry of Fordham gives a defensive signal:
Davidson coach Michele Savage reacts to a play:
Davidson's Justine Lyon displays her free throw form:
Hannah Missry, pulling up for a shot:

Fordham 62, Davidson 54: Tempo-Free Recap

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

BRONX, NY - Higher seed Fordham hosted Davidson in an opening round Atlantic 10 Tournament game. The meeting at Rose Hill Gym ironically placed the fifth-seeded Rams against a No. 12 seed who defeated them 52-51 at Davidson just a dozen days earlier.  

Davidson started strong and presented a challenge. In the end, Fordham rode the momentum of a strong second half start to defeat the Wildcats, 62-54. The victory improved Fordham to 21-10, while Davidson closes their campaign at 6-23. Fordham will move on to face Saint Louis in an A-10 quarterfinal Friday afternoon in Richmond.

First five possessions
Davidson: Missed FG, FG, missed FGA, two free throws, FG
Fordham: Missed FG, missed FG, missed FGA, FG, turnover

The 6-2 Davidson lead at the 6:19 mark helped the Wildcats establish a half court tempo and get the good start they needed playing on the road.

Davidson began in a man defense and switched to zone following the first quarter media timeout. Early on, it is apparent that the battle of the boards will be a key factor. Fordham has had success on the offensive glass, extending several possessions. Davidson quickly goes back to a man defense soon after, as they are having difficulty matching up with Fordham’s G’mrice Davis inside. Fordham has their own concerns as Justine Lyon, a 22-point scorer in the team’s other meeting, is getting free and scoring off guard isolations. Davidson threatened to get some separation, but Fordham answered with a few threes late in the half. At the break, the Rams trailed 31-29 and given the first half, they are fortunate it is a two-possession contest.

In the first four minutes of the second half, the Rams were a different team, employing an 11-0 run to open a 40-31 lead. Kate Kreslina buried two threes and Hannah Missry added one. The offensive surge carried over to the defensive end as Davidson became unrattled. The Wildcats struggled to run their offense, were guilty of a shot clock violation and threw the ball away several times in those first four minutes. Arguably, that stretch was a game-changer. The remainder of the third quarter was relatively even, as Davidson settled down after going almost five minutes without scoring. Fordham took a 46-37 lead into the final quarter. Obviously, those opening four minutes after halftime proved to be huge.

Fordham went into an early fourth quarter scoring drought and entering the stretch, was in a two-possession game. Davidson started to pick up in three-quarter court, but the Rams are not bothered by pressure. They did, however, struggle in executing half court offense. Luckily, Danielle Burns came up big with two finishes inside and on the free throw line to give Fordham  breathing room. Burns’ field goal is the Rams’ only one for the fourth quarter. Defense and free throw shooting, especially in the final minutes, were instrumental in closing out the victory.

Possessions: Davidson 63, Fordham 64
Offensive efficiency: Davidson 86, Fordham 97

Four Factors:
Effective field goal percentage: Davidson 44, Fordham 39
Free throw rate: Davidson 26, Fordham 41
Offensive rebound percentage: Davidson 19, Fordham 32
Turnover rate: Davidson 19, Fordham 14

Leading scorers/effectiveness factors:
Davidson: Mackenzie Latt 15 points, EF 26
Fordham: G’Mrice Davis 17 points, EF 32

What Davidson did well: Get off to a good start. The first few possessions were important, and the Wildcats carried that momentum through the first half.

What Fordham did well: Hit the boards. In raw numbers, Fordham pulled down 14 offensive rebounds to just six for Davidson. Many of those extended possessions, ending in scores for the Rams.

Davidson led 18-16 on points in the paint. Fordham enjoyed a significant 14-5 edge in second chance points. Davis pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds, six on the offensive end.

Ball Control Index:
Davidson: 1.58
Fordham: 1.67

Three keys:
1) Fordham weathered Davidson’s fast start and made the defensive adjustments at halftime.
2) The outstanding start of the second half. The 11-0 run turned the tide in Fordham’s favor.
3) Slowing down Justine Lyon. The sophomore guard finished with 13 points, but was forced into a 4-for-14 shooting day from the floor thanks to Fordham’s defense.  

Final thoughts:
“Congratulate my team and Fordham. We played hard and stayed in it. Playing Fordham every time, you do not get high numbers or get a good shot every time down. We talked about offensive boards at the half. A lot of times, they got the offensive rebounds, they got a three, or were fouled. I thought they adjusted on Justine and double-teamed her the second half. She was definitely a go-to player in conference play and stepped up from her freshman year. Happy to play anybody in conference, but don’t know if it was an advantage. The way we beat them on a wide-open layup had to be on their mind. Last year, we did not do a good job staying together. This year, we did. Our seniors helped keep everyone on the same page.” - Davidson coach Michele Savage

“We’ve always played tough games against Davidson, they beat us down there. They were fully loaded today. The first four minutes of the second half were huge. At first, we couldn’t score, then got up those four minutes. Great to get one in the books, the first one is toughest, especially when you are expected to win. G (Davis) had six rebounds, Mary (Goulding) had three. Offensive possessions extended are important, especially when you are not scoring. We’re frustrated, because we did not take Davidson out of what they do. We adjusted second half. We doubled on Lyon and forced someone else to shoot it second half. We wanted the ball out of her hand. At halftime, our concern was defense, not offense. We wanted to set the tone and force them to play defense. Can’t thank everybody enough: Fans, band, dance and cheer squads, for supporting us. Can’t thank them enough. Last time, (against Saint Louis, the Rams’ next opponent) we got away from what we do as a program. We have to stay focused to what we do. The last time playing them was a learning experience.” -  Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley

MAAC Monday, Part II: MBB award and tournament predictions, final power rankings

The second of today's two-part MAAC Monday is also one in which predictions are the first orders of business, much as they were on the women's side. Before the Men's and Women's Basketball Championships tip off in Albany on Thursday, we offer our predictions of both the award winners; to be announced Friday, as well as the matchups inside the tournament bracket before revealing our final power rankings of the 2016-17 season:

Player of the Year
Who Should Win: Justin Robinson, Monmouth (19.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.5 SPG)
Who Will Win: Robinson

And it should be unanimous. A month ago, it looked like there would be a slew of challengers to Monmouth's floor general before he found another gear in the early stages of what became a 16-game win streak for the Hawks. Now the MAAC scoring leader at just under 20 points per game, Robinson has elevated his game to an even higher level, and is head and shoulders above the competition as he prepares to become just the fourth player in conference history to win two or more Player of the Year awards, and first since Luis Flores captured the hardware while leading Manhattan to back-to-back MAAC championships in 2003 and 2004.

Rookie of the Year
Who Should Win: Mikey Dixon, Quinnipiac (16.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.2 APG)
Who Will Win: Dixon

This was a two-horse race until Rider's Stevie Jordan was suspended four games for a violation of team rules. Jordan will certainly garner All-Rookie honors, as well he should, but Dixon blossomed from his insertion into the Bobcats' starting lineup all the way through the end of the season, becoming the brightest star on a roster that shapes up to be a potent one for Tom Moore in 2017-18 as the rebuilding process reaches its apex in Hamden. Rookie classmate Peter Kiss was also an integral part in Quinnipiac's success, but Dixon's scoring prowess, the sixth-best in the MAAC this season, wins out.

Sixth Man of the Year
Who Should Win: Austin Tilghman, Monmouth (6.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.3 APG)
Who Will Win: Nico Clareth, Siena (13.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.2 SPG)

Tilghman may not have the gaudy stat line to prove his value, but there was more than one occasion this season in which he picked Monmouth up, including his career-high 21 points against Marist in January. Both head coach King Rice and Justin Robinson praise the indispensability of Tilghman as an energy guy off the bench, and his knack for setting the tone among the Hawks' reserves cannot be overlooked. Iona's Deyshonee Much could get consideration here even after missing nine games, and Saint Peter's Cavon Baker is a viable option as well. However, Clareth displayed the same explosive flair upon his return that won him this distinction as a freshman last year over Manhattan's Rich Williams, making his 11-game absence in Siena's rotation a period in which the Saints missed his contributions more than numbers and quotes may realize, and his impact will be what wins him over with MAAC coaches on the ballot.

Defensive Player of the Year
Who Should Win: Chazz Patterson, Saint Peter's (5.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.8 SPG)
Who Will Win: Chris Brady, Monmouth (9.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.7 BPG)

John Dunne has spent the past two years attempting to educate everyone on Patterson's lockdown defense, which has limited the likes of Justin Robinson, A.J. English, Shane Richards and Marquis Wright among others. No one in the MAAC possesses the glove-like suffocation on the defensive end that Patterson does, which makes the senior guard so deserving of this honor. However, the sad fact is that this award is almost always handed to a frontcourt player simply because of the greater ability to influence a game through blocked shots, and in some cases, rebounding. Siena's Javion Ogunyemi, who won this award last year, will be in consideration again; as will Rider's Kahlil Thomas, who may be the best all-around defender in the league based on his stat-filling numbers. At the end of the day, though, without Brady down low, Monmouth is greatly compromised in the paint and perhaps not the third-best scoring defense in the league as it is going into Albany. That tips the scales heavily into Brady's favor, and will most likely make up for the senior big missing the cut on All-MAAC recognition.

Coach of the Year
Who Should Win: John Dunne, Saint Peter's
Who Will Win: King Rice, Monmouth

Coaches always like to reward winning among their peers, so Rice will get this award for a second consecutive season, in large part for guiding the Hawks to 16 consecutive wins and becoming the first coach in MAAC history to win 18 league games. With that said, though, what Dunne has accomplished in Jersey City this season must not be completely ignored. The Peacocks were picked fourth in the preseason poll, but hardly anyone could have seen an already stout defense become as strong as it did, not to mention the transformation on the offensive end that is largely attributable to three incoming transfers who sat out last season. The popular pick among media is Dunne for what he has been able to do with very little in the way of resources, and as much as he deserves the call here, Rice's record will likely be the bigger influence.

First Team All-MAAC
Justin Robinson, Monmouth (Player of the Year)

Tyler Nelson, Fairfield
Jordan Washington, Iona
Quadir Welton, Saint Peter's
Marquis Wright, Siena

Second Team All-MAAC
Brett Bisping, Siena

Khallid Hart, Marist
Kassius Robertson, Canisius
Micah Seaborn, Monmouth
Kahlil Thomas, Rider

Third Team All-MAAC
Jermaine Crumpton, Canisius
Mikey Dixon, Quinnipiac
Lavon Long, Siena
Matt Scott, Niagara
Jimmie Taylor, Rider

Honorable Mention All-MAAC
Kahlil Dukes, Niagara
Je'lon Hornbeak, Monmouth
Zavier Turner, Manhattan
Phil Valenti, Canisius
Zane Waterman, Manhattan
Trevis Wyche, Saint Peter's

MAAC All-Rookie Team
Mikey Dixon, Quinnipiac (Rookie of the Year)
E.J. Crawford, Iona

Stevie Jordan, Rider
Peter Kiss, Quinnipiac
Aaron Walker Jr., Manhattan

MAAC Tournament Predictions (bracket graphic courtesy of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference)

Opening Round
Quinnipiac over Niagara
Canisius over Marist
Rider over Manhattan

Monmouth over Quinnipiac
Saint Peter's over Canisius
Iona over Rider
Siena over Fairfield

Monmouth over Siena
Iona over Saint Peter's

Monmouth over Iona

Most Valuable Player: Justin Robinson, Monmouth

Power Rankings
1) Monmouth (26-5, 18-2 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 2/26 at Iona (W 79-73)
Next Game: Friday 3/3 vs. Quinnipiac or Niagara, 7 p.m.

2) Saint Peter's (18-12, 14-6 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 2/26 at Canisius (W 72-65)
Next Game: Friday 3/3 vs. Canisius or Marist, 9:30 p.m.

3) Iona (19-12, 12-8 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 2/26 vs. Monmouth (L 79-73)
Next Game: Saturday 3/4 vs. Rider or Manhattan, 7 p.m.

4) Siena (15-16, 12-8 MAAC)
Last Week: 4
Last Game: Sunday 2/26 vs. Marist (W 80-64)
Next Game: Saturday 3/4 vs. Fairfield, 9:30 p.m.

5) Fairfield (16-13, 11-9 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 2/26 at Niagara (W 62-58)
Next Game: Saturday 3/4 vs. Siena, 9:30 p.m.

6) Rider (17-14, 10-10 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 2/26 at Quinnipiac (W 99-82)
Next Game: Thursday 3/2 vs. Manhattan, approx. 10 p.m.

7) Canisius (17-14, 10-10 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 2/26 vs. Saint Peter's (L 72-65)
Next Game: Thursday 3/2 vs. Marist, approx. 7:30 p.m.

8) Quinnipiac (10-20, 7-13 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 2/26 vs. Rider (L 99-82)
Next Game: Thursday 3/2 vs. Niagara, 5 p.m.

9) Niagara (9-22, 6-14 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 2/26 vs. Fairfield (L 62-58)
Next Game: Thursday 3/2 vs. Quinnipiac, 5 p.m.

10) Marist (8-23, 5-15 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 2/26 at Siena (L 80-64)
Next Game: Thursday 3/2 vs. Canisius, approx. 7:30 p.m.

11) Manhattan (10-21, 5-15 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Friday 2/24 at Iona (L 72-51)
Next Game: Thursday 3/2 vs. Rider, approx. 10 p.m.

MAAC Monday, Part I: WBB award and tournament predictions

The final edition of MAAC Monday for the 2016-17 regular season is a special two-part incarnation that offers a preview of what to expect at the Times Union Center in both the Men's and Women's Basketball Championships, which begin in full stride Thursday morning. Before we take a closer look at the matchups on both sides of the bracket, we offer predictions on who will take home the hardware at Friday's award show:

Player of the Year
Who Should Win: Alexis Lewis, Iona (16.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.8 SPG)
Who Will Win: Lewis

Quinnipiac's success is largely team-driven, and with the Bobcats' two leading scorers just barely averaging ten points per game, their stats will most likely be a red flag here. Robin Perkins is having an excellent season for a resurgent Rider squad, but Lewis has put together a much stronger sophomore campaign after splitting Sixth Player of the Year honors as a freshman a year ago, and has done so in the company of preseason Player of the Year Marina Lizarazu. Lewis' dominance has been an integral part in the Gaels proving that last season's championship run was no fluke, and deserves to be recognized on a larger scale.

Rookie of the Year
Who Should Win: Stella Johnson, Rider (10.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.3 APG, 2.8 SPG, 51% FG)
Who Will Win: Rebekah Hand, Marist (13.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.0 SPG)

Johnson has been arguably the biggest difference between Rider's No. 7 seed finish last year and a runner-up placing this season, as her arrival has given the Broncs the guard they needed to set Perkins and Julia Duggan up for success. But while she has made the biggest impact, Hand has put up the more impressive numbers on a Marist roster limited to just seven players due to injuries and incoming transfers. Along with her twin sister, Hannah, Rebekah has become the latest result in a line of Brian Giorgis development projects, and MAAC coaches traditionally show their longtime dean a great deal of respect in award voting, so Hand will most likely be the choice here.

Sixth Player of the Year
Who Should Win: Tyese Purvis, Monmouth (10.2 PPG)
Who Will WIn: Purvis

This award is a two-player race between Purvis and Canisius' Maria Welch, and Purvis' superior stat line for a team with a better record wins out. MAAC rules state that players need to start ten games or less to be eligible for this honor, and Purvis makes the cut on the wire with ten starts on her ledger. That qualification will unfortunately cost Quinnipiac's Sarah Shewan an honor she is deserving of, as she started 11 games for the Bobcats.

Defensive Player of the Year
Who Should Win: Aryn McClure, Quinnipiac (8.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.7 BPG)
Who Will Win: McClure

Iona's Karynda DuPree will merit consideration here for her 7.7 rebounds per game and 50 blocked shots, but with Alexis Lewis already receiving Player of the Year honors, MAAC coaches will likely look to spread the wealth, as well they should. Look no further than last season's Rookie of the Year for this honor, though. Blossoming into an interior force for Tricia Fabbri, McClure has become to the Bobcats what Ousmane Drame was to the men's program in Hamden, a defensive monster who can; and will, alter any shot in her path. And what she possesses in rejections, she supplements with her aggressiveness on the defensive end, as noted by her 48 steals, a total seldom registered among forwards. Fellow Quinnipiac sophomore Paula Strautmane would also be a solid choice here, but McClure is simply the class of the field.

Coach of the Year
Who Should Win: Lynn Milligan, Rider (22-7, 16-4 MAAC)
Who Will Win: Milligan

With all due respect to Tricia Fabbri, who has Quinnipiac positioned for a fourth straight championship game appearance while upping her all-time MAAC record to 75-14; including tournament games, this award is no contest. Picked tenth at the start of the season and rumored to perhaps be on the hot seat, Milligan has turned Rider back into a force in the MAAC behind a quartet of double-figure scorers and a defense that yields a scant 60.2 points per game on average. Brian Giorgis would get consideration in any other year as well for riding a seven-player rotation into a winning conference record, but Milligan's turnaround in Lawrenceville outweighs all other candidates this season.

First Team All-MAAC
Alexis Lewis, Iona (Player of the Year)
Jackie Benitez, Siena
Julia Duggan, Rider
Marina Lizarazu, Iona
Victoria Rampado, Niagara

Second Team All-MAAC
Kelsey Carey, Fairfield
Samantha Cooper, Fairfield
Karynda DuPree, Iona
Jen Fay, Quinnipiac
Robin Perkins, Rider

Third Team All-MAAC
Kayla Grimme, Manhattan
Kamila Hoskova, Rider
Adily Martucci, Quinnipiac
Kollyns Scarbrough, Siena
Casey Smith, Fairfield

MAAC All-Rookie Team
Rebekah Hand, Marist (Rookie of the Year)
Morgan Baughman, Niagara

Hannah Hand, Marist
Stella Johnson, Rider
Kayla Shaw, Monmouth

MAAC Tournament Predictions (bracket graphic courtesy of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference)

Opening Round 
Niagara over Canisius
Monmouth over Manhattan
Marist over Saint Peter's

Quinnipiac over Niagara
Rider over Monmouth
Marist over Fairfield
Iona over Siena

Quinnipiac over Iona
Marist over Rider

Quinnipiac over Marist

Most Valuable Player: Paula Strautmane, Quinnipiac

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Monmouth wins 16th straight to end regular season, completes sweep of Iona

Je'lon Hornbeak led all scorers with 25 points as Monmouth closed regular season by sweeping Iona, entering MAAC Tournament with 16-game win streak. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Last March, Monmouth saw its NCAA Tournament aspirations end with A.J. English securing a loose ball in the final seconds to send Iona into the field of 68 and relegate the Hawks to the National Invitation Tournament.

Since then, the 79-76 loss has burned in the minds of the Hawks, and continued to do so even after a convincing victory last month in West Long Branch. In the regular season finale for both teams, Monmouth sought an additional measure of retribution, and held on just long enough to gain one.

Je'lon Hornbeak's 25 points led all scorers as Monmouth overcame a slow start to grind the Gaels out and earn a 79-73 road victory at a sold-out Hynes Athletics Center, in the process becoming the first team to sweep a regular-season series from head coach Tim Cluess in his seven-year tenure on the bench.

"Three years ago, they were beating the skin off of us," head coach King Rice remarked as the Hawks (26-5, 18-2 MAAC) took care of business one last time in their final tuneup before the conference tournament, which begins for Monmouth on Friday night in Albany, where they will face either Quinnipiac or Niagara. "I remember playing them, and their kids were always respectful, but we weren't up to their level."

"We're an older group now, and senior-laden teams usually play well," he elaborated. "We have a lot of seniors, a lot of older guys. We are a very confident group. We wanted to win the regular season after losing those first two (conference games), but now a new season starts. You have to ramp up a lot more."

The Hawks came out somewhat flat at the start, as Iona (19-12, 12-8 MAAC) was able to feel out the opening minutes a little easier than their counterparts, opening up a 12-5 lead through the first seven minutes. But Monmouth responded with a 9-1 run to get right back into the game, and kept the margin at one possession for almost the duration of the opening stanza, going to the locker room with a 35-32 lead when Austin Tilghman drained a three-pointer from the left arc just before the buzzer sounded.

Monmouth scored the first four points after the intermission to open a seven-point lead, but the Gaels gradually stormed back within earshot. Iona never led in the second half, they did eventually tie the score at 61 apiece on a Sam Cassell Jr. layup with 6:56 remaining in regulation. But just as he did in the MAAC championship game last March, Josh James stepped up to provide a veteran answer.

Playing within shouting distance of his hometown, the Greenburgh native calmly buried a three in the right corner on the ensuing possession to give the Hawks the lead for good, then stripped Rickey McGill in the open floor finished himself for the lay-in to put Monmouth ahead by five. An E.J. Crawford triple narrowed the gap to two, but a 9-3 Monmouth spurt slammed the door on any potential Iona comeback.

With the win, Monmouth carries a 16-game win streak; the second-longest in the nation, into the Times Union Center for the final step in its quest for destiny. But when asked if the team is firing on all cylinders, the Hawks' leader and likely MAAC Player of the Year was brutally honest in his assessment.

"Absolutely not," said Justin Robinson, who fought his way to 16 points in the victory. "We've got a lot of work to do. We got a tough win, but nobody played the way they're capable of through the whole entire stretch of the game. We had defensive lapses, we had offensive lapses, little small breakdowns here and there, so in order for us to win this next game coming up on Friday night, we're going to have to cut those out."

Regardless, a win is a win, and Rice attributed Iona's formidable nature as a major piece behind heading back to West Long Branch victorious.

"We didn't play our best because Iona made us not play our best," he stated. "That's a big-time win because they made us play differently and we were able to get it done down the stretch. Iona made us be off tonight. Hopefully if we have to play them again, we'll play better the next time." 

Updated MAAC Tournament seeding scenarios: February 26, 2017

Updated after victories by Fairfield, Rider and Saint Peter's on Sunday, here are the latest Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference clinching scenarios leading up to next week's 2017 MAAC Men's and Women's Basketball Championships at the Times Union Center in Albany:

Monmouth: Has already clinched regular season MAAC championship and automatic bid to National Invitation Tournament. Hawks will be #1 seed in MAAC Tournament, and will face winner of #8/#9 game on Friday, March 3 at 7 p.m.

Saint Peter's: Has clinched #2 seed in MAAC Tournament, and will face winner of #7/#10 game on Friday, March 3 at 9:30 p.m.

Iona: Has clinched #3 seed in MAAC Tournament, and will face winner of #6/#11 game on Saturday, March 4 at 7 p.m.

Siena: Has clinched #4 seed in MAAC Tournament and will face #5 Fairfield on Saturday, March 4 at 9:30 p.m.

Fairfield: Has clinched #5 seed in MAAC Tournament and will face #4 Siena on Saturday, March 4 at 9:30 p.m.

Rider: Has clinched #6 seed in MAAC Tournament and will face #11 Manhattan on Thursday, March 2 at approximately 10 p.m.

Canisius: Has clinched #7 seed in MAAC Tournament and will face #10 Marist on Thursday, March 2 at approximately 7:30 p.m.

Quinnipiac: Has clinched #8 seed in MAAC Tournament and will face #9 Niagara on Thursday, March 2 at 5 p.m.

Niagara: Has clinched #9 seed in MAAC Tournament and will face #8 Quinnipiac on Thursday, March 2 at 5 p.m.

Marist: Has clinched #10 seed in MAAC Tournament by virtue of winning coin flip with Manhattan, and will face #7 Canisius on Thursday, March 2 at approximately 7:30 p.m.

Manhattan: Has clinched #11 seed in MAAC Tournament and will face either #6 Rider on Thursday, March 2 at approximately 10 p.m.

MSG crowd, Ponds' 24 aid Red Storm in taking down Hoyas

Shamorie Ponds' 24 points not only led all scorers, but included two late free throws to help put St. John's over the top against Georgetown in next-to-last regular season home game. (Photo by Newsday)

NEW YORK -- Though I cannot forget from where it is that I come from, I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town, and the people let me be just what I wanna be
- John Mellencamp, "Small Town"

Madison Square Garden, and even Carnesecca Arena, take on the feel of exclusive suburban communities on game days. You have the hometown faithful, a great majority of whom live and die with their native team, and those just passing through. Ideally, the more intimate your surroundings are, the stronger the bond; and, in the case of St. John's, the more committed they are to defending their little slice of paradise.

An announced crowd of 11,277 patrons were able to bear witness to and engage in that small-town pride Saturday afternoon, cheering their Johnnies at every turn, even after giving up a 17-0 run to offset the exact same spurt they uncorked in the first half to establish a 14-point lead that soon wilted faster than a lettuce leaf in the desert. But the Red Storm (13-16, 7-9 Big East) regrouped, not letting visiting Georgetown (14-15, 5-11 Big East) take the lead in the second half, and dug deep when the Hoyas pulled within one on several occasions, producing an 86-80 victory as the end result.

"We've got a lot more confidence," Shamorie Ponds assessed when justifying the disparity between St. John's brilliance at home versus their struggles on the road through a season that has remained positive and upbeat following last year's eight-win slog. "The fans are rooting for us. Them on our side, it just boosts our confidence a lot."

If there is one thing the St. John's fan base possesses in droves, it is passion, and an intense one that gets largely overlooked in a market that boasts nine professional sports franchises among its own. But both old and new guard alike has been reunited again in Chris Mullin's return to his alma mater and quest to return the program to the status in which he left it over three decades ago, and the second-year coach referenced their role in a similar vein to how Ponds did just minutes before when facing the media.

"I think these guys feed off the crowd for sure," he confirmed. "I think they're very comfortable playing here now, which wasn't always the case. I thought our first few games here, they were not, but now they are."

St. John's has one more road game, coming next week at Omaha's CenturyLink Center against Creighton, but before they take to the air for the final time this season, we wrap up a couple of the prevailing narratives from the matinee at the Garden:

1) This is officially Shamorie Ponds' team.
Not that there needed to be any official declaration, but Ponds was trusted to win the game after Georgetown drew within a 78-77 margin in the final 80 seconds of regulation. The rookie sensation calmly hit two free throws after drawing a foul, beginning an 8-3 run to close the game.

"When the team believes in you, they want you to do what you do," Ponds said of the level of faith placed in his ability. "I believe I was built for the moment."

"He's been pretty amazing all year long," Mullin surmised, "so good that if you watched him, you would forget that he's a freshman. Early on, he exceeded my expectations, and has been consistent; maybe even better, as the season has gone along. We've got confidence in him, he's got confidence in himself and more importantly, his teammates has confidence in him. He's as dangerous scoring as he is making the pass."

In addition to the flair for the dramatic and the take-charge mentality, Ponds' 24 points pushed him over the 500-point plateau for the year, something only two other players in St. John's history accomplished in their freshman campaigns. At 502 markers on the year, he surpassed Erick Barkley for second on the single-season freshman scoring list, and is only 42 away from tying D'Angelo Harrison for the top spot. With at least three games in which to rewrite the record books, one of which is the Red Storm's Big East Tournament opener, Ponds is a safe bet to add to his milestone collection despite not paying it much attention.

2) Federico Mussini reaffirmed his X-factor status off the bench.
We've made mention of just how much more lethal Mussini has been as a reserve, particularly having been freed up to play off the ball this season with the emergence of Ponds and Marcus LoVett to direct the St. John's offense. And with those two handling the initiative for the Red Storm, Mussini was able to get his own feel for the game when he came in, and turned in a 16-point day on 5-of-6 shooting and three three-pointers to prove that he can still be a potent option in Mullin's arsenal without the heavy workload that he rode to being the leading scorer for last year's 8-24 outfit.

"I know I need to bring energy every night and do the best I can for the bench, especially on defense," said Mussini. "My teammates did good finding me tonight, so that's what I've got to do, just bring energy and get the team together."

"He's as valuable, minus the minutes," Mullin imparted. "One thing we had to do last year was have him on the ball all the time, which wasn't even fair. He understands that with Marcus and Shamorie and Malik, (Ellison) these guys can create shots for him. That's really his strength, but he's a consummate teammate."

3) Can the familiarity with MSG spark a Big East Tournament run?
Mullin spoke of how St. John's has become comfortable playing at the Garden, and as a veteran of the conference tournament atmosphere, he understands better than anyone just how vital the crowd component can be. Add the fact that St. John's has won three straight contests on their home floor to the mix, and you have a formidable upset special in the making.

"People can say what they want," said Mullin of the marked contrast between home and road performance for his team. "There is a transition between playing anywhere and Madison Square Garden, but for us, it's more important because we play so many games here. I think everyone is really comfortable playing here, and that's a big advantage for us."

Of the Big East Tournament, the Hall of Famer had this to say:

"It's a special time," he stated, waxing somewhat nostalgic in the process. "I've played in it, I scouted. It's one of the best tournaments to come see, it takes up the electricity another notch. Games at the Garden are big anyway, but that week where everyone's in one place, it's really cool times. It's a lot of fun."

4) What a difference a year makes.
It doesn't seem to be getting the attention it should, but St. John's is one win away from matching last season's overall win total in Big East play alone, an uptick attributed to not only the added talent level on the corner of Union and Utopia, but also the patient and incremental progress under Mullin's watch. Some are quick to criticize his unique approach to coaching for better or worse, but improvement is still improvement, and a six-win turnaround in league play over one of the more daunting conference slates speaks for itself. As far as the team's overall maturation, its young leader chalked up the enhanced results to a cultivated cohesiveness.

"At the beginning of the year, everybody would just go their separate ways," Ponds recollected. "As the games go by further and further, even through wins and losses, I just feel like we're coming together as a team. We're more like a unit now."