Saturday, January 29, 2011

ATM: Freaky Friday On-Court Happenings

Welcome to the latest version of "ATM," otherwise known as Around The MAAC.

And, this one has a theme, as in ... What in the Wide, Wide World of College Basketball is going on here?

Let's start in the league's western outpost, Buffalo, where the sold-out Canisius Koessler Athletic Center was host to a nationally televised (ESPNU) doubleheader of a men's and a women's game.

Men up first.

- The Canisius men earned a 69-54 victory over proximitous "Little Three" rival Niagara in what is as big a rivalry as it gets in the conference.

But, as the old saying goes, it's not a rivalry between the hammer and the nail and the Purple Eagles had pretty much done the majority of the hammering in recent years, winning 13 of the past 15 meetings and 8 of the last 10 on Canisius' home court.

But not Friday night as the Golden Griffins pulled away from a 51-47 lead with 6:33 remaining with an 18-7 burst the rest of the way to secure the victory.

Canisius is still only 4-6 in MAAC play, but more than one coach your blogger has spoken to in recent days points to the Griffs as the most-dangerous lower-end-of-the-standings (for now) team come post-season tournament time.

Heck, the Griffs are dangerous right now with six wins in their last 10 games overall, including positive outcomes over Iona and Siena.

- Best quote of the season, to date, coming from Niagara coach Joe Mihalich after his team's loss to Niagara.

The Purple Eagles are playing without standout freshman Antoine Mason (foot injury, after the season's first three games), and had been without junior forward Kashief Edwards for two weeks after he underwent arthroscopic surgery on a knee. Overall the team has just one senior (Anthony Nelson) on the roster.

Said Mihalich, about his team's woes ... "We're in a sword fight with a butter knife."

- The women's game at the Koessler Athletic Center Friday was exciting for about 25 minutes as host Canisius was within a point, 25-24 early in the second half.

And then ... visiting Manhattan went on a 30-6 run the rest of the game to secure a 55-30 victory.

Thirty points allowed? Not that out of the ordinary for Manhattan, which gives up an average of 49.65 points per contest, which is fourth-best nationally through Friday's games.

But the Jaspers take a backseat to the nation's top defensive team, another MAAC member.

That would be Fairfield, which allows an average of 47.9 points per game, best of 340 Division I teams nationally. That ranks ahead of No. 2 West Virginia (48.0) and No. 3 UConn (49.5).

- The Siena men, struggling of late without one of their two senior standouts, guard Clarence Jackson (ankle sprains), woke the echoes of recent glory days by dominating an until-now red hot Loyola team, 76-59, in Baltimore.

Loyola had won six of its last seven games, including handing Fairfield its only conference loss to date.

But, on this night the Saints put all five of its starters in double figures in the scoring column and shot a blistering 53 percent from the field.

Siena played again without its standout senior guard Clarence Jackson (ankle), its best outside shooter. But, the lack of perimeter firepower in Jackson's absence was overcome against the Greyhounds.

In Siena's previous two games, it had made just 29.6% of its shots (in a loss to Rider) and 31.1% of its shots (in a loss to Saint Peter's).

The outcome enabled Siena to hold sole possession of sixth place in the conference stadings at 5-5, a game ahead of seventh-place Canisius. It also kept Siena within range of moving up. Three teams currently share second place in the league standings, Iona, Saint Peter's and Rider, all with 7-3 records.

Of note: Siena's 6-9 senior center Ryan Rossiter became the second player in program history with 1,000 career rebounds. He trails only Lee Mathews (Class of 1993), who had 1,037 rebounds. Within short order Rossiter is almost certain to become the school's all-time retriever of missed shots.

- The upset of the season very nearly occurred in Bridgeport, Conn., when Manhattan held a 5-point lead over first-place Fairfield Friday.

The Jaspers, 1-9 in league play and 3-18 overall, held a 59-54 advantage with 1:32 remaining over the Stags (9-1, 16-4).

And, then, Manhattan players missed the front end of three one-and-one foul-shooting situations down the stretch.

The Stags countered with a jumper from Yorel Hawkins to trim the deficit to three, two free throws from Ryan Olander to cut it to one and, then, went to its best player with the game on the line.

Sophomore guard Derek Needham delivered for Fairield with an NBA-range three-pointer with eight seconds remaining for the final margin. Manhattan missed two shots in the closing seconds as time expired on its upset opportunity.

- The Siena women missed a golden opportunity to make their game Monday at Marist a relatively meaningful one.

Had the Saints beaten Iona at their Alumni Recreation Center home court Friday, they would have been 7-2 in league play heading into a showdown meeting, or sorts, with the 9-0 Red Foxes.

And, Siena held a 46-36 advantage with under 10 minutes left.

Then, the proverbial bottom fell out for the Saints.

Siena only made one of its final 13 shots down the stretch in regulation and Iona got close enough for Kristina Ford's long-range three-pointer to tie the game in regulation.

The Saints failed to score in overtime, going 0-for-4 from the field, 0-for-3 from the foul line and committing four turnovers.

Iona scored five points in OT, more than enough for its third straight victory to get to a 4-5 conference record after a 1-5 start. That's good enough, for now, for sixth place in the MAAC.

The Gaels, playing without standout senior point guard Suzi Fregosi (hip injury, out for the season), since the season's eighth game, have made a dramatic playing style adjustment of late, resorting to full-game, full-court pressure defense.

"We had trouble scoring, so we went to the press to try to force turnovers and get easy baskets that way," said Iona coach Tony Bozzella.

There were few easy baskets for either team Friday night. But, the Iona press appeared to wear down Siena as the game went on and, eventually, took the Saints out of their offense.

"We really needed this one," said Bozzella, in a classic understatement.

The Saints, at 6-3 in league play, still match their fastest start through nine league games since a 7-2 beginning to the 2002-03 season.

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