Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Blink, but don't miss the Red Flash

Shown here defending Wagner's Corey Henson, Isaiah Blackmon has been vital cog in Saint Francis University's resurgence to Northeast Conference's upper echelon. (Photo by Jonathan Reyes/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Jonathan Reyes (@werdynerdy)

Back on a beautiful, partly cloudy late fall afternoon; October 26, 2016, the Northeast Conference men’s basketball preseason poll was announced at the fifth annual NEC Basketball Social Media Day at Barclays Center. And so far, it has been a good outlook on the 2016-17 season.

The Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, who were voted No. 1, are currently No. 2 behind the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers, who were picked tied for fourth with the LIU Brooklyn Blackhawks. While the Wagner Seahawks and the Bryant Bulldogs are both playing below expectations tied for fifth; each were looked at to be No. 2 and No. 3 in the conference, respectively, with the Seahawks tallying four first-place votes.

Robert Morris, St. Francis Brooklyn, Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut are all in the bottom half of the conference, where they were voted by the coaches. One team not mentioned, chosen to finish ninth and not receiving enough attention for how they’re performing is Saint Francis University, currently fourth in the NEC.

“They’re a really talented, well-coached, great executing team,” Wagner head coach Bashir Mason said about the Red Flash at the postgame press conference following a 72-67 loss to SFU January 26.

Red Flash head coach Rob Krimmel gives all credit of his team’s success to the pride-filled mature leadership in the locker room. Some of the players that he pointed out as contributors to that are Keith Braxton, Isaiah Blackmon, Jamaal King, and Josh Nebo. What makes those names the more impressive besides where the group stacks up conference-wise is how each is either a freshman or sophomore.

“I feel like we can win the championship,” Blackmon said when asked about who else he’d add to his coach’s list of impact players. “You got a fantastic freshman like Keith Braxton, guys on the board like Nebo and a great point guard in Jamaal. It’s a great combination that helps keep the team together and focused to win. We have great pieces coming off the bench like Georgios [Angelou], he’s a great three-point shooter; Andre [Wolford], he gives us great minutes, and guys like Randall Gaskins [Jr.] is a lock-up defender.”

Braxton and Nebo average nearly a double-double. King joins them as the Red Flash's three double-figure scorers. Braxton has been named rookie of the week five times already, the most recent being the week of January 23. All of them encompass what ranks as the NEC's top scoring offense.

“As a coach, it gives you a couple of different options because you’re not always putting the ball on the block or relying on the three-point shot,” Krimmel said about what it’s like having players the likes of Braxton, King and Nebo. “We have guys that are multidimensional that can drive it and shoot it. It makes things easier when you’re trying to draw plays, especially when you have a guy that might have an off night. That’s what we want from these guys. We talk about contributions, whether it’s two minutes or 22 minutes; when you can come in and lift us up.

“We have two-way guys. They can defend, rebound, score and as a coach, you don’t have to draw trick plays every single possession. Having guys that are multidimensional, you don’t have to worry about manufacturing stuff either offensively or defensively, because you let their skill set take over.”

A player Krimmel mentioned, but one who isn’t receiving nearly the amount of praise he deserves, is Blackmon. He was finally recognized by the league the week of January 30, when he rightfully earned NEC Player of the Week honors. It’s understandable that he hadn’t garnered any looks until now, because he is as close to the healthiest he’s been since tearing his ACL last February.

“The great thing about this guy is I don’t know if I call many plays for him,” Krimmel said of Blackmon, “but I just know he has a knack for scoring and a good feel defensively. That’s the other thing that makes my job easier when you have guys that can just go make plays and you don’t have to worry about trying to get guys in spots every time.”

In Blackmon’s return to the lineup, he scored a career-high 25 points while hitting 4-of-5 from three-point range and adding five rebounds, three assists and two steals in the Red Flash’s win over Wagner. He didn’t slow down in his next game, dropping another 20 points with the help of another four three to lead SFU to a 89-83 overtime win over in-state rival Robert Morris on January 28. He is a potent scorer and someone that more than definitely adds to the rotation depth, something Krimmel said is what they need heading into the final weeks of the season.

“I like this team,” Krimmel said. “We continue to get better, and that was our focus going into the season. We wanted to be ready for January and February. Now, a big part of it is getting lucky and healthy. Those things are part of everybody’s plan moving forward.

“It’s a close group. I love coaching these guys, they’re a lot of fun to be around and they’re passionate about the game. It’s a long season. We’ve been practicing since the end of September. The energy level that these guys have still is a credit to our leadership, their passion for basketball and the guys care in that locker room. Our challenge is these win one, lose one. We want to put together a little bit of a streak. Let’s find a way to put a couple together here instead of going back and forth.”

St. Anthony: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

JERSEY CITY, NJ - The trip through Jersey City brings you through several sections and neighborhoods. Finally, the destination in the Hamilton Park area. The location is the St. Anthony home court, not far removed from the high school.

‘Removed’ is appropriate here. For years, it has been well-documented: The basketball powerhouse has thrived despite not having a home court. A charter school, with a relatively new spacious gym, is the official Friar home court.

On this afternoon, a freshman basketball officiating assignment is in order. Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley has his varsity team on the road to play at Bergen Catholic, while the freshmen host Elizabeth High School. Whenever you work a St. Anthony assignment, even freshmen or JV,  you cannot help think of the legacy and outstanding achievements of his four-plus decades at the school. The banners inside the gym are reminders. They simply reinforce the excellence throughout the years that so many.

The St. Anthony freshmen run the floor very well in transition.  Half court sets mirror those run by the varsity: Good ball movement, cutters off the high post, ball reversals. The young Friar edition gets out early and builds a 20-point lead by  the half. Through it, coach Julius David is more concerned with effort, positive body language and execution. All three areas are emphasized.  

Elizabeth later goes on a run to cut the deficit to thirteen. St. Anthony regroups, pushes the lead back to 20, and is on their way. The Friars post an 88-54 victory over an Elizabeth team, and by objective analysis, that is a good freshmen squad.

David has been the freshman coach here for a few years. The Hurley effect is evident as he speaks. After it was mentioned how his team beat Elizabeth in transition, he added, “they beat us down the floor more than I accept.” He would note the improvements his team needs, especially in the area of defensive consistency.  Not content to sit on the laurels of a 34-point win, like Coach Hurley, he is in a constant teaching and coaching mode. Even like Coach Hurley, who has his wife Chris keep the book, Julius has his wife do the same for the freshmen.

Visit St. Anthony and you cannot miss the Hurley effect. And it transcends wins and losses.

The Hamilton Park outdoor courts near St. Anthony:
Pregame warmups before the freshman game:
The banner says it all:
A tribute to the legend, and a reminder to all who take this court:
The scoreboard entering the fourth quarter:
The St. Anthony freshman team in a postgame victory pose:
The illuminated Jersey City skyline:
A view of the main entrance to St. Anthony High School:

WATCH: Justin Robinson becomes Monmouth's all-time leading scorer

Justin Robinson became the all-time leading scorer in Monmouth University's Division I history Monday night, doing so on a three-pointer from the left wing in the Hawks' 83-71 victory over Marist. To make the milestone even more memorable, Robinson made history in front of several family and friends who made the trip to McCann Arena from nearby Lake Katrine, New York.

Here is the shot that provided the reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year with his latest piece of immortality, as called by Eddy Occhipinti on The Shore Sports Network, with video footage courtesy of the Monmouth Digital Network, headed by Greg Viscomi:

Monday, January 30, 2017

Seton Hall 65, Butler 63: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - Round-robin conference play used to be the norm: Play everyone twice; once home, one on the road. Now with the proliferation of leagues morphing into mega conference, such a situation is not feasible. There are simply too many members in some groups, allowing for the traditional home-and-home. Fans lose out on the opportunity to see some teams they may have looked forward to. Traditional rivalries can also be more difficult to maintain.
The Big East, with its ten members, still allows for a traditional format: Play every member twice. Beside being attractive to fans, it also allows a good barometer of a team’s success and/or improvement. An example of this latter point was Seton Hall defeating Butler, 65-63, at Walsh Gym on Sunday. The victory finished off a Pirate sweep of Xavier and Butler. Beyond winning the two home games this weekend, a further note of observation - these are two teams that handled the Pirates significantly the first time around.

In the weeks that followed those losses, it is obvious Tony Bozzella’s group has stepped up and is working on eliminating any deficiencies they had earlier. Naturally, there is still a month of the regular season to play. The opponents will all be teams Seton Hall has already faced, another way to gauge progress and another reason the traditional Big East schedule is attractive, especially to coaches.

Seton Hall director of player development Nick DiPillo and assistant coach Lauren DeFalco watch the Pirates go through pregame warmups:
Seton Hall and Butler after a scramble for a held ball:
The broadcast booth of John Fanta, who had the call for the Big East Digital Network:
Butler head coach Kurt Godlevske observes the action:
Seton Hall setting up the offense:
Butler on the attack:
Seton Hall head coach Tony Bozzella, perhaps in deep thought:
Martha Kuderer describes her effort to Chris Pierre-Louis of the Pirate Sports Network:

Seton Hall 65, Butler 63: Tempo-Free Recap

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - Seton Hall came in winners two of their last three, the lone setback an overtime loss to Creighton. Butler entered in the midst of a five-game slide. The Bulldogs defeated the Pirates on January 2 in Indianapolis and Seton Hall was hoping to make the second time a charm, coming off a win Friday over Xavier, who also defeated the Pirates earlier in the season.

In a game so typical of Big East action and drama, the game went down to the final possession. Actually, the final shot, released just before the buzzer sounded. In the end, Seton Hall emerged victorious, 65-63, improving their conference record to 4-7. Butler is now 2-9 in league play.

First five possessions:
Butler: Turnover, field goal, turnover, turnover, field goal
Seton Hall: Field goal, missed FG, three-point FG, turnover, turnover

Leading 5-4 through the first 2:03, Seton Hall was utilizing the three-pointer early. At the first timeout, five of the Pirates’ eight field goal attempts have been dialed from long distance. They hit four of those first five. Butler went zone mainly, one must assume, to stop dribble penetration, leading to perimeter kickouts and open attempts from three. Butler gets into the lane and damage is done. The Bulldogs are adept at penetrating and dishing, usually to the likes of 6-foot-1 sophomore Tori Schickel, able to cause matchup problems for your defense.

At the half, Seton Hall led 39-32. Butler missed an attempt with five seconds remaining, which the Pirates rebounded, and rather than settle for a perimeter shot, made the extra pass to result in a Shadeen Samuels layup at the buzzer. In a 35-possession first half, Seton Hall had an outstanding 111 offensive efficiency. On defense, they limited Butler to 91.

The first four minutes of the second half were even, at 4-4. Seton Hall did forfeit a chance to expand the lead, coming up empty on a few possessions due to errors of execution. Butler very well could have looked at more than a seven-point deficit at the six-minute mark of the third quarter. The Bulldogs did not go away. During their five consecutive losses, the last three were by seven points or less. Coach Kurt Godlevske has the Bulldogs competing, especially on this afternoon.
Martha Kuderer came off the bench to make some valuable contributions today, especially early in the fourth quarter with two perimeter jumpers that kept Butler at bay.
Kaela Hilaire’s penetration and close shot kisses the glass and goes down, giving Seton Hall a two-point lead with 1.9 seconds left. Butler inbounded. Choosing for a game winning three, Sydney Buck fired from beyond the arc. It appeared to have eyes but rimmed out, as the Seton Hall faithful breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Possessions: Butler 69, Seton Hall 68
Offensive efficiency: Butler 91, Seton Hall 96
Four Factors:
eFG%: Butler 45, Seton Hall 54
Free Throw Rate: Butler 29, Seton Hall 25
Offensive Rebound%: Butler 46, Seton Hall 36
Turnover Rate: Butler 30, Seton Hall 29

Leading scorers and EF:
Butler: Michelle Weaver 25 points, EF 34
Seton Hall: JaQuan Jackson 13 points, EF 18.

What Butler did well: Not go away. Several times, Seton Hall threatened to pull away, yet the Bulldogs remained resilient and never folded. Butler also full court pressured the Pirates into a high turnover rate.

What Seton Hall did well: Defend and give the effort. The Hall came off a tough win on Friday over Xavier and was ready today with a strong effort, especially on defense.

Butler led 30-22 on points in the paint and 24-21 off turnovers. Seton Hall outrebounded 35-29 overall, and led 15-6 in second chance points. Tori Schickel of Butler led all with 11 rebounds. She added 16 points for a 28 EF that could have been higher if not for five turnovers. Lubirdia Gordon of Seton Hall led all with seven turnovers. The senior center was a needed presence, on defense especially, inside for the Hall.

Martha Kuderer did not miss a shot. “She shot very well in practice this week,” Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella said of Kuderer. “We felt she earned the spot and some time, and she used the opportunity.”

Final Thoughts:
“Exciting. It was a great crowd on National Women in Sports Day. Glad they came and they gave us added energy. The cheerleaders, dance team and band got the crowd energized, and that carried over to us. Glad for KK (Hilaire) and Martha. Martha especially stepped up and gave us a huge lift off the bench. KK made a great read on the last play to penetrate and finish. She has come off a great week in practice. We played hard on defense. Both teams played Friday night, but I am happy with how we responded on a day to prepare. Butler and ourselves are two young teams. We will be battling the next few years, but with a higher standing in conference at stake. Lubirdia hasn’t been feeling well. She gave us seven points, six rebounds and four blocks. She was a factor for us today, and all year she had given a great effort. As a senior, she wants to go out on a high note.” - Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella

“You can see how much we have improved. We play so much better together as a team, and we just came off beating two teams that beat us by a lot the first time around.” Seton Hall’s Martha Kuderer

MAAC Monday: Assist rates and assist/turnover ratios, stat leaders, power rankings

MAAC Monday profiles the value of sharing the basketball in the opening segment, first looking at assist rates before delving further into assist-to-turnover ratios, then reprising the standard stat leaders and power rankings. Again, any and all statistics reflected within MAAC Monday were gleaned from the individual stat pages of each school's website.

Assist rates are among the more simpler statistics to calculate, as it is merely the number of assists divided by the number of made field goals. For example, a team with six assists on ten field goals has a 60 percent assist rate.

Assist rates, from highest to lowest:
1) Canisius (64.3%)
2) Iona (56.7)
3) Niagara (52.8)
4) Fairfield (52.3)
5) Quinnipiac (50.7)
6) Saint Peter's (50)
7) Siena (49.9)
8) Marist (48.9)
9) Monmouth (48.5)
10) Rider (48.3)
11) Manhattan (47.2)

Opposing assist rates, from lowest to highest:
1) Fairfield (44.7%)
2) Canisius (48.9)
3) Siena (50.8)
4) Rider (50.9)
5) Saint Peter's (51.1)
6) Marist (53.6)
7) Niagara (53.7)
8) Iona (54.1)
9) Quinnipiac (54.4)
10) Monmouth (55)
11) Manhattan (60.2)

Analysis: Canisius' wide-open attack makes the Golden Griffins adept when the ball is in their hands, and Reggie Witherspoon has preached a community effort when it comes to scoring and distribution. Having five players who average more than seven points per game is impressive enough, but five players with 50 or more assists on the season is an even greater proof of the difference that the Griffs' new coaching staff has made on a team who has spent the entire MAAC season in contention for a first-round bye in March's conference tournament. Iona is in its usual spot near the top of the charts, and Niagara has benefited immensely from the arrival of Kahlil Dukes and Chris Barton to give Matt Scott the protection he has desperately needed for two years on Monteagle Ridge. On the defensive end, Canisius makes it harder for teams to get going with their transition game taking away opportunities to not only score, but spread the wealth equally, as the Griffs' second-place figure trails only Fairfield. Sydney Johnson preaches a love for sharing the ball, which is evident in the Stags' numbers, and even greater when Fairfield is on the defensive end disrupting their opponents from asserting their will on a game.

Assist-to-turnover ratios, from highest to lowest:
1) Canisius (1.35:1)
2) Iona (1.28:1)
3) Monmouth (1.06:1)
4) Niagara (1.02:1)
5) Saint Peter's (0.952:1)
6) Quinnipiac (0.95:1)
7) Fairfield (0.94:1)
8) Siena (0.93:1)
9) Rider (0.91:1)
10) Marist (0.87:1)
11) Manhattan (0.66:1)

Opposing assist-to-turnover ratios, from lowest to highest:
1) Saint Peter's (0.83:1)
2) Monmouth (0.90:1)
3) Rider (0.92:1)
4) Canisius (0.94:1)
5) Fairfield (0.96:1)
6) Manhattan (1.01:1)
7) Siena (1.05:1)
8) Quinnipiac (1.15:1)
9) Iona (1.16:1)
10) Marist (1.33:1)
11) Niagara (1.39:1)

Analysis: Seeing John Dunne's team atop a defensive statistic is not shocking, but what sets Saint Peter's apart is just how stingy the Peacocks are when the ball is not in their hands. The suffocating man-to-man pressure Dunne's group applies makes it difficult for any passes to get out, hence the minuscule 0.83:1 ratio yielded to their opponents. Monmouth has locked down on the defensive end this season as well, credited largely to Justin Robinson and Josh James in the backcourt as the Hawks continue to build off their 28-win breakout last season. We would be remiss if we failed to mention Canisius here as well. The Golden Griffins may be fourth in defensive ratios, but their plus-0.41:1 assist-to-turnover ratio margin belies their defense surrendering 80 points per game by making sure they keep the damage inflicted upon them to a minimum. In fact, only two Griffs; Jermaine Crumpton and junior Selvedin Planincic, have negative assist-to-turnover figures on a team whose season has been highlighted by their exceptional facilitation.

Scoring Leaders
1) Tyler Nelson, Fairfield (19.1 PPG)
2) Justin Robinson, Monmouth (18.4)

3) Kassius Robertson, Canisius (17.9)
4) Jordan Washington, Iona (17.4)
5) Matt Scott, Niagara (17.3)
6) Jermaine Crumpton (17.2)
7) Khallid Hart, Marist (17.0)
8) Mikey Dixon, Quinnipiac (16.6)
9) Zavier Turner, Manhattan (15.7)
10) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (15.7)

Rebounding Leaders
1) Amadou Sidibe, Fairfield (10.2 RPG)
2) Brett Bisping, Siena (9.5)

3) Kahlil Thomas, Rider (9.3)
4) Quadir Welton, Saint Peter's (7.8)
5) Jordan Washington, Iona (7.3)
6) Matt Scott, Niagara (7.0)
7) Dominic Robb, Niagara (6.8)
8) Zane Waterman, Manhattan (6.7)
9) Norville Carey, Rider (6.7)
10) Chris Brady, Monmouth (6.6)

Assist Leaders
1) Stevie Jordan, Rider (5.5 APG)
2) Rickey McGill, Iona (5.2)
3) Justin Robinson, Monmouth (5.2)
4) Marquis Wright, Siena (4.4)
5) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (4.2)
6) Jerome Segura, Fairfield (4.2)
7) Malik Johnson, Canisius (4.0)
8) Trevis Wyche, Saint Peter's (3.5)
9) Zavier Turner, Manhattan (3.3)
10) Brian Parker, Marist (3.3)

Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Chris Brady, Monmouth (.586)
2) Jordan Washington, Iona (.571)
3) Amadou Sidibe, Fairfield (.569)
4) Jermaine Crumpton, Canisius (.523)
5) Kahlil Thomas, Rider (.513)
6) Javion Ogunyemi, Siena (.512)
7) Brett Bisping, Siena (.507)
8) Zane Waterman, Manhattan (.498)
9) Kiefer Douse, Canisius (.497)
10) Lavon Long, Siena (.493)

Free Throw Percentage Leaders
1) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (.942)
2) Zavier Turner, Manhattan (.892)
3) Mikey Dixon, Quinnipiac (.862)
4) Tyler Nelson, Fairfield (.860)
5) Rickey McGill, Iona (.844)
6) Justin Robinson, Monmouth (.835)
7) Kassius Robertson, Canisius (.824)
8) Micah Seaborn, Monmouth (.812)
9) Zane Waterman, Manhattan (.788)
10) Trevis Wyche, Saint Peter's (.783)

Three-Point Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Jermaine Crumpton, Canisius (.444)
T-2) Je'lon Hornbeak, Monmouth (.442)
T-2) Jon Severe, Iona (.442)
4) Kassius Robertson, Canisius (.440)
5) Nick Griffin, Saint Peter's (.434)
6) Kahlil Dukes, Niagara (.430)
7) Zavier Turner, Manhattan (.425)
8) E.J. Crawford, Iona (.420)
9) Schadrac Casimir, Iona (.419)
10) Ryan Funk, Marist (.403)

Power Rankings
1) Monmouth (17-5, 9-2 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Friday 1/27 vs. Quinnipiac (W 95-76)
Next Game: Monday 1/30 at Marist, 7 p.m.

2) Iona (15-8, 8-4 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 1/29 vs. Saint Peter's (W 69-66)
Next Game: Friday 2/3 at Rider, 7 p.m.

3) Saint Peter's (12-10, 8-4 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Sunday 1/29 at Iona (L 69-66)
Next Game: Friday 2/3 at Monmouth, 7 p.m.

4) Canisius (13-9, 6-5 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Saturday 1/28 vs. Manhattan (W 78-64)
Next Game: Monday 1/30 vs. Rider, 7 p.m.

5) Siena (9-13, 6-5 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Friday 1/27 vs. Iona (L 77-66)
Next Game: Monday 1/30 at Quinnipiac, 7 p.m.

6) Rider (12-10, 5-6 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Saturday 1/28 at Niagara (L 80-67)
Next Game: Monday 1/30 at Canisius, 7 p.m.

7) Quinnipiac (8-13, 5-6 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Friday 1/27 at Monmouth (L 95-76)
Next Game: Monday 1/30 vs. Siena, 7 p.m.

8) Fairfield (9-10, 4-6 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Saturday 1/28 vs. Marist (W 72-62)
Next Game: Tuesday 1/31 vs. Manhattan, 7 p.m.

9) Niagara (8-15, 5-7 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Saturday 1/28 vs. Rider (W 80-67)
Next Game: Thursday 2/2 at Fairfield, 8 p.m.

10) Manhattan (8-15, 3-9 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Saturday 1/28 at Canisius (L 78-64)
Next Game: Tuesday 1/31 at Fairfield, 7 p.m.

11) Marist (6-16, 3-8 MAAC)
Last Week:

Last Game: Saturday 1/28 at Fairfield (L 72-62)
Next Game: Monday 1/30 vs. Monmouth, 7 p.m.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Much's four-point play pushes Iona past Saint Peter's in OT

Deyshonee Much's four-point play in final minute of overtime gave Iona cushion necessary to outlast Saint Peter's and secure regular season sweep of Peacocks. (Video by Brian Beyrer/Iona College Athletics)

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- One of the most distinguishing marks of a champion is its adaptability to any condition they are faced with, especially those that are adverse to their normal style.

Taking on Saint Peter's for the second time this season, Iona was dealt the ultimate contrast in styles, their run-and-gun tendencies colliding head-on with the deliberate, quicksand-like tempo favored by the Peacocks. And despite having their moments of struggle with the slower speed, the Gaels found a way to win, something they have turned into a calling card of sorts over the years.

First surviving a late rally in the closing minutes of regulation, the Gaels were then outhustled in the opening possessions of overtime, but a Deyshonee Much four-point play inside the final minute of the extra session gave the reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions all the cushion they needed, hanging on to defeat Saint Peter's by the final of 69-66 at the Hynes Athletics Center to secure a season sweep of the Peacocks.

"I just thought the kids played their hearts out and never gave up," head coach Tim Cluess assessed as Iona (15-8, 8-4 MAAC) clinched a tiebreaker over Saint Peter's by virtue of their season sweep, moving into second place in the league standings. "It was a different tempo game for us, and our guys just gutted it out tonight."

Iona's standard offensive bright spots, including a 13-for-23 showing from three-point range and exceptional sharing of the basketball; with 19 assists on 24 made field goals, were more lustrous than usual given their adjustment to Saint Peter's and their methodical nature, something Sam Cassell Jr. alluded to in the wake of the Gaels' sixth win in their last seven contests.

"I knew it was going to be a tough game," said Cassell, whose 17 points led all Iona scorers and matched Saint Peter's Trevis Wyche for the highest total of the afternoon. "We played Saint Peter's in December, and it was a gut-check game. I had to bring all my energy and play straight from the tip, and my teammates just fed me the ball and put me in spots where I could make shots."

The Peacocks (12-10, 8-4 MAAC) were able to prevent Iona from getting in transition more than in their December 2 encounter at the Yanitelli Center, which the Gaels won going away in the MAAC opener for both schools. To their credit, they kept Iona on the ropes throughout the day, keeping nearly the entire second half within two possessions despite squandering a 32-28 halftime lead.

"I thought we controlled the first half really well," John Dunne conceded, as the Peacocks asserted their will amid Iona shooting 55 percent from the floor and draining six of their eight three-point field goal attempts. "The second half, their energy level was really, really good, but I thought we settled back into the game. The fact that we just played our seventh game in 15 days and had a chance to win with two seconds left, I'm very, very proud."

Saint Peter's stormed back with a 10-3 run to answer Iona's 52-45 lead, tying the score at 55 with 5:08 to go in regulation. Iona responded a minute later with a Cassell triple, and the Peacock defense managed to hold Iona to just one point over the final 3:58 of the second half, getting baskets from Nick Griffin and Quadir Welton; the latter on a tip-in of Wyche's missed layup, to provide the 59-all deadlock that warranted five extra minutes.

The Peacocks scored the first three points of the extra session, only to surrender consecutive baskets to Jordan Washington (15 points, seven rebounds) as Iona tipped the scales in their favor with 92 seconds left in overtime. On the ensuing possession, Wyche split a pair of foul shots to tie the game for a ninth time, but a Rickey McGill rebound of an errant trifecta attempt by Jon Severe afforded the Gaels a second chance. Severe got the ball back, then fed Much on the left baseline for the coup de grace as Chazz Patterson leaned into the junior wing on his release.

"He's been coming around in the last few games and last few practices," said Cluess of Much, who scored 20 points in Friday's road win at Siena and backed that effort up today with 13 points and eight rebounds. "In the games he's rebounded well, he's played well. I love the fact that he's not just being that one-dimensional, either I'm a shooter or I'm not. He's making things happen on the court in different ways, and I was happy he made that big shot for us, because we're still trying to get him back in that groove of 'when I'm open, shoot the ball.'"

Saint Peter's got a three-pointer from Griffin on the next trip down the floor to pull within one, and still had a chance to tie the game following two McGill free throws. After Patterson got his own rebound off a misfired attempt from distance, Griffin came up empty from beyond the arc as well, but Taylor Bessick was whistled for traveling while coming down with what appeared to be the game-winning rebound.

The Peacocks, with a newfound lease on life, were unable to capitalize, as McGill deflected a Patterson inbounds pass to seal the victory, furthering a growth period since a January 6 loss to Monmouth that has positioned the Gaels as the perennial contender that they have come to be recognized as.

"We're getting better," Cluess opined. "There's still a long way to go and a lot of areas we can improve on, but I think our guys are understanding what we want out of them a little bit better, and I think they're understanding on both ends of the court what they're supposed to be doing."

Friday, January 27, 2017

McGill, Much exploit lack of emotion in road win over Siena

While Rickey McGill set career-high point total for second time in as many games, Deyshonee Much was just as important to Iona Friday, going for 20 points in Gaels' road win over Siena. (Photo by Brian Beyrer/Iona College Athletics)

ALBANY, NY -- When Iona last visited the Times Union Center, they exited with souvenirs in the form of a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship trophy and strands of the net en route to their third NCAA Tournament appearance in five years.

While recent history was on the Gaels' side entering their return to the capital of New York, the specter of a surging Siena team still loomed large in a pivotal battle for position behind conference leader Monmouth and upstart Saint Peter's as the MAAC standings have begun to take shape. Fortunately for Tim Cluess, his team was able to channel their March magic at an opportune time.

Led by a career-high 22 points from Rickey McGill and 20 points off the bench from Deyshonee Much, Iona led wire-to-wire Friday night in a decisive 77-66 victory over Siena, the seventh consecutive win for the reigning MAAC champions on the home floor of the Saints dating back to January 2012, when the Gaels were unable to preserve a game-opening 21-2 run and ultimately lost by three that afternoon.

"Anytime you can get a win in our league, it's something that you're happy about," Cluess remarked as Iona (14-8, 7-4 MAAC) won their fifth out of six contests since a loss to Monmouth three weeks ago left them 2-3 in league play. "When you can win on the road, it's even better, and Siena has been playing well, so that really challenged us tonight."

The Gaels rode McGill early and often in the opening stanza, fresh off the sophomore's then-personal best 20-point night in a winning cause last Monday against Quinnipiac. He responded emphatically, scoring 13 of Iona's first 20 points to set the tone for an effort bolstered by Siena's struggles from the floor to start the game.

"I just thought he played with the same intensity factor," said Cluess when comparing McGill's performance to his game on Monday. "Our team did as well."

The Saints (9-13, 6-5 MAAC) rallied entering the final minutes of the first half, going on an 8-2 run culminating in a conventional three-point play by Javion Ogunyemi; whose 16 points matched Marquis Wright for the most by a player on the home team, to pull within two points with 4:11 remaining before the intermission. Trailing 30-28 at that juncture, Siena immediately gave up a layup to Tyrell Williams on the ensuing possession, then fell victim to a three-pointer in transition by Much, triggering a 14-4 run by the visitors to stake a double-digit lead entering the locker room.

"I thought Deyshonee gave us a huge lift off the bench," said Cluess. "This is the Deyshonee we've been waiting for since before the injury, and I thought he played really well. The whole team, I thought, played with good effort."

A Brett Bisping (10 points, 14 rebounds) basket to break the ice on second half scoring brought the Saints within eight points and kept them in earshot, but the vaunted Iona transition game struck again for eight unanswered points as Much and McGill put the Gaels ahead 52-36 with 16:04 on the clock. Siena would not get back within three possessions for the remainder of the game, as another Iona spurt; this one an 11-1 stretch capped by one of five triples on the night for Much, put Iona ahead by 20 and essentially snuffed out any hope of a comeback for a Saints team that had four days to prepare for Iona on the heels of Sunday's convincing win at Manhattan.

"We let them get hot early, and they stayed hot for the rest of the game," said Lavon Long, who was limited to just five points, but provided his usual stat-stuffing numbers once again by also contributing four rebounds and four assists. "It's not like they were going to the basket. They were putting up shots and making them, so things snowballed quickly. It just wasn't our night."

E.J. Crawford (13 points) and Sam Cassell Jr. (10 points, six assists) joined McGill and Much in double figures for the Gaels, while Siena's front line tandem of Ogunyemi and Bisping was augmented by a stellar floor game from Wright, who supplemented his offense with seven assists and six rebounds in a turnover-free effort against Iona's pressure. However, the emotional display of the home team, or lack thereof, was a factor that both coach and players agree must be addressed heading into the second half of the MAAC slate.

"We've got to play with more emotion than that," a candid Jimmy Patsos offered as Siena's 3-for-19 effort from three-point range contrasted sharply with Iona's travails from beyond the arc, as the Gaels connected on 10 of their 23 attempts. "I didn't think I was going to have to give a rah-rah speech. That game was for third place against the defending champs, and I thought they played with more emotion and heart than we did. That's on me as a coach. I thought we were going to come out gangbusters and play really hard, compete and fight. We didn't want to battle tonight."

"If we don't come out ready to go, that's on us as players," Bisping said, echoing Patsos' comments. "The reason we lost tonight is because we didn't come out ready to go emotionally."

Pink Whistle: Union City vs. St. Dominic

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

UNION CITY, NJ - A Thursday afternoon JV meeting with St. Dominic and Union City. The Union City gym may be the best in the county, as it is the newest. Entering, it is noticeable the lights are not on to their full strength. One coach tells me they are. The normally well-lit
gym had to replace bulbs and budget constraints, so the story goes, necessitated a wattage reminiscent of Fordham’s Rose Hill Gym during Tom Penders’ days. Topping this off, yours truly is battling a bad cold and my partner tells me Union City is struggling, but likes to press.
Pregame talk briefly with the St. Dom’s head coach lets me know his one assistant is a Seton Hall grad and was at their game against Butler Wednesday night. We talked about the lack of flow of the game and Butler’s defense. Hopefully this game will have a better flow.

First Half: Union City 22, St. Dom’s 16

Union City has a No. 25, a freshman, knocking down three-pointers. They build a double-digit lead. The full court pressure forces a few turnovers, but is not too detrimental to St. Dom’s. As noted, Union City is having a tough season, so the pressure leads to reach-in fouls, soon putting the visitors on the line. Adjustment to the lighting was easier than expected. Once you toss the ball up and get into the game, you adjust to conditions. Flow-wise, the first half moved fairly well. I told my partner at halftime the cold effects do not even seem present. Getting out and running the floor has been therapeutic.

Final: Union City 38, St. Dom’s 36
The good flow of the first sixteen minutes dissipated this half. For one, we had at least four clock malfunctions in the third quarter. They finally brought out a portable clock to put on the scorer’s table. My home scorer, a student wearing a shirt saying “Basketball is my boyfriend,” spent more time texting than paying attention and had to be watched. Union City is still pressing full court. St. Dom’s is in man-to-man pressure. Translated, a half of double bonus and roughly 25 combined fouls. During one dead ball, I am by the St. Dom’s bench. One of their players says, “I like your whistle,” not uncommon to hear from the girls. I showed her the breast cancer awareness insignia, and she went from liking to loving it.  
Union City never lost the lead, but a one-possession game in the stretch provided a few anxious moments. No. 25 hit a big three. The Soaring Eagles also scored off an inbounds pass to seal the game with seconds left. St. Dom’s scored at the buzzer for the final margin.

I talked a few minutes after the game with Kaitlyn Galati, the St. Dom’s coach. They have one win, so naturally, her young group is in a teaching/learning situation. She does demand effort. “I let them hear about it after we lost to Hoboken last week,” she said. Admitting Hoboken was better, Kaitlyn was upset at her team not giving a good effort in the second half. Today, the source of discontent was not grabbing a winnable game. “Again,” she said, “for too long in the second half, we seemed to go through the motions.” As coach, she is a teacher on the basketball court. One thing Kaitlyn expects of her students is an honest effort.

My partner and I go over the game in the officials’ room. No major issues, but a contest, due to the clock and second half fouling, that lost any semblance of flow. My partner, impressed by the touch and range of No. 25, tells me the scorer told her she shot 6-of-7 from three-point range. Given the Union City varsity’s struggles, that young lady may soon be called up.