Friday, March 7, 2014

Mason "Statement" An Answer To All-Star Team Slight

Niagara's standout junior guard Antoine Mason won't admit that he felt slighted when the vote of league coaches left him off the MAAC's first-team post-season all-star squad.

He wouldn't say that after his team's 76-74 victory over Marist, but his actions spoke considerably louder than his words. And, there were others more than willing to make the spoken case for the slighted star.

Mason dropped 38 points on Marist in Thursday night's opening-round contest of the MAAC tournament, just one shy of his career best, in his first opportunity to play since the vote of conference coaches relegated the talented 6-foot-3 backcourt performer to second-team all-star recognition.

And, we'll add our own voice to the can't-believe-Mason-is-a-second-team-pick chorus.

How the heck does the second-leading scorer in the nation (25.6 points per game, behind only the 25.9 point average of Creighton's Doug McDermott) get left off the league's top all-star squad.

Shortly after Thursday's contest that went into Friday's wee hours, Mason wasn't about to be drawn into that particular controversy.

"It's not anything I'm thinking about," he said. "I'm just out here trying to win games."

The conspiracy theory is that Mason's Niagara team finished last with a 3-17 MAAC record, and how can a player from a last-place team be considered one of the league's top five players?

But the award, it seems, is meant to honor the top individual talents and not necessarily players whose teams have the most success. That supposition, though, is often interpreted differently by league coaches.

We're not sure, for instance, who Manhattan coach Steve Masiello picked for his Player of the Year candidate, but in a conference call several weeks ago Masiello contentiously claimed that top individual award should only go to a member of the league's regular-season championship team.

If Masiello's reasoning also pertains to his overall all-star picks, then there's one ballot that didn't include Mason among the league's top five players.

But, there certainly is precedence otherwise. The 2012-13 season's Player of the Year was Iona's Momo Jones, and the Gaels finished fourth in the regular season standings last season. A few years before that, Siena's Ryan Rossiter was the MAAC's Player of the Year despite playing for a seventh-place finisher.

So, was Thursday's obviously inspired effort by Mason his form of a statement on the coaches' ballot box?

"I think his play said it all," said one teammate.

There certainly were others willing to say what Mason, the player, wouldn't.

One was his father, former NBA standout Anthony Mason who was front and center at Thursday's contest, easily to pick out amidst the 1,000, or so, spectators on hand.

“I think it was a travesty,” the elder Mason told the Buffalo News, about his son being relegated to an all-star also-ran.

“He’s getting double-teamed and he’s not first team. Who’s the five before him? I don’t know. But I guess it’s the losing record or whatever the case may be. But that had nothing to do with the way he played.”

The other "knock" on Mason, the theory goes, is that he doesn't make players around him better.

“If that’s the case,” the elder Mason said, “don’t double-team him. That’s what everybody in the league is doing. Obviously, he’s a top player to them.”

Whether Mason makes others better, for sure, is a matter of debate.

He does average 1.6 assists per game, which isn't bad for a player whose primary role is to score points.

And, on a team that doesn't have another double-digit scorer, Niagara needs all the scoring it can get from Mason. It should also be mentioned that he did have four assists in Thursday's victory over Marist.

And, is Niagara going through a difficult season because Mason isn't making teammates better? Or, are the Purple Eagles pretty close to being much better (eight of its last 10 losses have been by single digits) because of what Mason is doing?

It certainly isn't Mason's fault that five players with remaining eligibility, including four of last season's top six scorers, left Niagara after former coach Joe Mihalich left the school for Hofstra.

Mason was one of the few who stayed. How does that make him less a team-oriented player?

“In terms of making a statement, he’s going to tell you no,” said Niagara coach Chris Casey, “but he’s as competitive as they come. So I’m sure in his heart and his mind, he did want to make a statement. And I think the numbers speak for themselves.

“I don’t know where that idea came from (that Mason doesn't make teammates better), or who came up with it, but it couldn’t be more wrong,” Casey added. “He makes everybody around him better, including me. He makes me look like I know what the heck I’m doing.”
And Thursday, like he has for much of the season, he made himself look like a first-team MAAC all star and made league coaches look bad by not selecting him for that recognition.

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