Time for another installment of "ATM," an accumulation of happenings from around the league and otherwise known as Around The MAAC.
- FAIRFIELD'S DaCRUZ BECOMING A WEAPON
A year ago Felicia DaCruz of Fairfield was such a notoriously poor shooters that opponents didn't have to guard her on the perimeter, instead dropping its five defenders back to cover the Stags' other four offensive options.
But, not this season. The 5-foot-5 point guard has always been a more-than-capable floor general and distributor. But, of late, she has added an ability to create some points for herself to the team's offensive arsenal.
A career scoring average of 2.3 points per game entering this season that included a shooting percentage of 25.3 (and .140 from three-point range) a year ago made it easy for opponents to conclude they didn't have to guard against her outside shot.
But, that has changed of late. DaCruz is averaging 10.4 points per game overe her team's last nine contests, and might have turned in the best game of her career to date Thursday night against Siena.
If nothing else, she turned in one of the top clutch-shooting performances of the season by any player in the league. DaCruz scored 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting without getting a single layup.
She saved the best for last, scoring all 10 of her team's points in the overtime session, all from the perimeter, to help Fairfield escape with a 66-65 overtime victory.
Her last shot, a three-point bank shot, gave the Stags a short-lived three point lead. After Siena tied it, DaCruz got fouled with eight-tenths of a second remaining and made the game-winning free throw, the front end of a one-and-one, to secure the decision.
"She's got a massive heart ... she really does," said Fairfield coach Joe Frager, after the game. "For her to make that shot (the three-pointer) and for her to step up and make that free throw ... that was huge."
Unexpected, too. But, not to DaCruz, whose shooting from the floor is an acceptable 37.8 percent this year and 28.6 percent from three-point territory. Over her recent nine-game surge she is shooting 43.5 percent from the floor.
"A lot of my problem last year was mental," said DaCruz, after Thursday's contest. "I was a good shooter in high school."
A lot of DaCruz's improvement, though, is a product of hard work.
"I stayed here (at Fairfield) an extra two months this past summer to really work on my shot," she said. "I was at it at least two hours every day. It helped."
And, the results are becoming more evident as the season progresses.
- NIAGARA MEN CHANGE SCRIPT FOR WIN
The Purple Eagles, with a reputation for high-scoring games, have won three of their lowest-scoring five games this season.
One of those came Thursday at Fairfield when Niagara earned a 67-63 decision over the Stags. It was just the fifth time all year that Niagara has scored less than 70 points, and they've won three of those contests.
Niagara has one of the top offensive weapons anywhere in junior guard Antoine Mason, who leads the country in scoring. But, Mason only had 15 points against Fairfield.
It was the Purple Eagles' defense that decided things, particularly late.
Niagara emerged from a 61-61 tie with 3:10 left to play by limiting Fairfield's offense to just two made free throws the rest of the way. The Stags were 0-for-3 with two turnovers against the Purple Eagles' defense down the stretch.
- FAIRFIELD MEN ADJUSTING TO NEW LOOK
A year ago the Stags had one of the best backcourts in the league.with the trio of Derek Needham, Desmond Wade and Colin Nickerson.
The bad news was that the were all seniors, gone at the end of last season.
Stags' coach Sydney Johnson has found it difficult to replace that trio.
"Those guys (last year's backcourt) knew what we were doing so well that when I started to say something they could finish my sentences," said Johnson. "Now, we're a very young team. My entire starting lineup is made up of underclassmen.
"I am trying to squeeze every ounce of focus, play, intensity and court IQ out of our young team. Our greatest strength is our youth, yet it's also our weakness. Our future is tremendously bright."
But the future hasn't arrived yet.
The team's top four guards this year are two sophomores lightly used last season, a sophomore transfer who could not play last year, and a freshman.
The Stags are currently 3-14 overall, and could tie the program's all-time worst start of 3-15, set in former coach Ed Cooley's first season in 2006-07. The team's 0-7 start to league play is the program's worst start in conference play.
"When this groiup develops and matures it's going to be something special," added Johnson. "That can be in the near future. We're working toward Springfield (site of the league's post-season tournament). We're not waiting for next year."
- INJURY REPORT ON KEY MEN'S PLAYERS
Swingman George Beamon of Manhattan and post player Adam Kemp of Marist remain out of action due to injuries, although both are expected to return relatively soon.
The 6-10, 245-pound Kemp bruised a knee in an on-court collision in a recent game.
"His recent improvement is evident and we're hopeful he's not out a long period of time," said Marist coach Jeff Bower, whose team had been on a five-game winning streak (after an 0-9 start) with Kemp in the lineup."
Marist has subsequently lost its two games without Kemp.
"When he's out, it puts a different set of skills and people in the mix," said Bower. "We're trying a variety of ways to fill that absence."
But, with so few true "bigs" available throughout the league, it's difficult to replace an absent good one.
Manhattan is having a little more success getting by without Beamon, who led the MAAC in scoring two years ago and, then, missed most of last season with foot issues.
Beamon suffered a shoulder bruise when he dove for a loose ball in a loss against Quinnipiac on Jan. 9. He has missed two games since then, both Manhattan victories.
The Jaspers defeated Siena, 90-68, on Thursday as their senior guard helped pick up the slack with a 21-point, 7-rebound, 5-assist performance.
"Beamon's shoulder is being handled like you would an ankle sprain," said Manhattan coach Steve Masiello, who bristled at one report that indicated Beamon could miss up to another two weeks.
"He's day to day. He will be back soon. But, we're going to be extremely cautious and we're going to take our time with him. Without him ... we played all of last year without him and finished up pretty well (advancing to the post-season tournament's championship game). But, we're a much better team when he's on the court."