Friday, January 31, 2014

Many MAAC Men, Women Among D-I Stat Leaders

Who says scoring in college basketball is down?

That's certainly not the case in the MAAC, not when two of its players are among the top four scorers on the Division I level nationally.

Niagara's Antoine Mason remains atop the national scoring list, despite being "held" to 18 points by an effective Siena defense Thursday night in the Saints' 66-62 victory over the Purple Eagles.

He still has a considerable lead over national No. 2 Greg McDermott of Creighton.who averages 25.0 ppg.

Next is Tyler Haws of Brigham Young University (24.2 ppg.), followed by the MAAC's Billy Baron, the standout senior guard at Canisius, who checks in at 24.0 points per contest.

And, an interesting perspective on the two from Siena coach Jimmy Patsos.

"Antoine Mason is a great player, but I still think that Billy Baron is the best player in our league," said Patsos, after Thursday's contest.

"Antoine can really score. He's a junior, and it's going to be interesting to see how much better he gets because you know he's going to work hard between now and next year. He's the guy who's going to be the next `best' player in this league."

Those two aren't the only MAAC players finding a spot among the national leaders in a variety of categories.

Manhattan's senior forward Rhamel Brown ranks second nationally in blocked shots with 3.7 per contest.

And, Ike Azotam, the powerful senior forward at Quinnipiac, is second in rebound average at 11.6 per contest.

The MAAC women's players, too, are numerous among the national leaders.

Iona's junior guard Damika Martinez is No. 5 nationally among Division I scorers at 24.4 ppg.

And, plenty of her teammates join her among national leaders.

The Gaels' sophomore forward Joy Adams is No. 4 nationally in rebounding at 13.9 per contest.

Sabrina Jeridore, a senior center at Iona, is No. 5 in blocked shots per contest with 3.6 per game.

And, women from the MAAC take up two of the top three spots in three-point field goal accuracy.

Iona's junior guard Aleesha Powell leads all Division I players in that category, connecting on 51.7 of her long-range attempts. And Madeline Blais of Marist isn't far behind. Her 51.2 percent three-point accuracy is third-best nationally.

And, Gillian Abshire of Quinnipiac, the standout point guard, averages 6.8 assists per contest which is the eighth-best average in the country among Division I players.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Niagara's Mason Still D-I's National Scoring Leader

Chip off the old block?

Not entirely. Niagara's junior guard Antoine Mason, at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, isn't anywhere near the physical dimensions of his father.

Dad, Anthony Mason, was a power-packed 6-7, 250-pounder who had a standout college career at Tennessee State, followed by 13 productive NBA seasons.

But, dad did pass down gifts of quickness, strength and one other important aspect.

Anthony Mason, an undersized power forward in the NBA, used an unquestioned work ethic to impose his will on basketball proceedings.

As does the son.

"He is doing what he's doing because of the work he puts in," said Niagara coach Chris Casey, about his Mason, reently. "People don't see how hard he works. So, it's good for him to reap some rewards this season, even if they are individual rewards."

That trait is mentioned, in a recent phone conversation, to the younger Mason.

"Yeah, I guess it's good bloodlines," he says of his own work ethic.

That's not all he got from dad, though.

"I used to travel with him a little when he was in the NBA and saw what it took (to play at a high level)," Mason said. "And, dad has worked with me a lot. We work out together in the off-season. He's always there for me. He's at most of my games, and we talk every day."

The individual reward is the likelihood of him capturing the national scoring title this season, something even his father never did.

Antoine Mason is averaging a Division I best of 27.4 points per contest, and has been atop the scoring list since Day 1 when he dropped 34 on Seton Hall way back in the season opener on Nov. 9.

Anthony Mason actually averaged more points, as a college senior, than his son's current average. The elder Mason scored at a 28.0 ppg. clip as a senior in 1987-88, but wasn't close to that season's national scoring leader Hersey Hawkins of Bradley and his 36.3 ppg. average.

The younger Mason would need a drastic dropoff to lose this year's scoring title. Creighton's standout forward Doug McDermott is his closest pursuer at 25.0 ppg.

And while Antoine Mason can thank, in part, some good family genes, Niagara can give thanks to another Mason family member for being able to retain the high-scoring junior after former coach Joe Mihalich moved on to Hofstra.

Mihalich's departure included the transfer of two of the Purple Eagles' top three scorers from a year ago to his current location. And, two other members of last season's playing group also moved on, transferring elsewhere.

Mason said that he, too, thought about leaving after Mihalich left Niagara.

"But, I decided to wait it out to see who the new coach would be," he said.

When Casey was hired, one of Mason's first phone calls was to his older brother, Anthony Mason Jr., a former standout at St. John's when Casey was an assistant coach there.

"My brother gave a very positive scouting report on coach Casey," said Mason. "That was one of the reasons why I stayed."

For sure, Niagara is glad to have him ... glad to have a national scoring leader on its roster.

The program had gotten considerable positive recognition during Mihalich's 15-year tenure, mostly for a dramatic turnaround from what had been a moribund situation prior to his arrival.

The Purple Eagles, after all of the defections from last year's team, weren't destined to compete for the MAAC crown this year and, entering Thursday's 8:30 p.m. game against Siena at the Times Union Center, have a 6-15 overall record.

But, considerable positive publicity continues up on Monteagle Ridge, thanks to a certain name atop the national leader board for points.

"It's definitely good for us," said Casey, about having the national scoring leader. "It has brought some positive attention both to our program and to Antoine.

"But, that's not what his goal is. He does what he can to try to help us win. He doesn't come out every game looking to be the nation's leading scorer. His goal is looking to do whatever he can to help us win games."

Mason agrees.

"The scoring title thing isn't something I follow ... I don't even know what the stats are, unless someone tells me," he said. "But, I'm getting a lot of recognition for it. It's nice to walk around campus and students stop me to say things about it to me.

"But, now that we're this far into the season and I'm still on top (of all scorers nationally) I'd like to stay there."

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Valiuskyte, Booth Have Breakout Game Efforts Friday

Coaches can study film and watch their own players every day in practice and game settings.

But, even they can't ever be sure when one of their own will suddenly have the proverbial light switched on, when a player makes a breakthrough.

Two such occurrences were on display at Rider Friday evening when the Broncs' women nipped Siena, 73-70, in a MAAC contest.

Let's start with Rider's junior guard Kornelija Valiuskyte. The 5-foot-8 player, a native of Lithuania, seemed to have that breakout game at the end of the 2011-12 season when, due to an injury, she was thrust into her team's starting lineup for a MAAC tournament first-round game against Iona.

Valiuskyte performed valiantly in defeat that day, scoring 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting (3-of-5 from three-point range). Until then she had just 14 total points in the regular season, with a career high of four.

It helped earn her a starting spot in in 11 games last season, but her performances were not good enough to continue to earn key minutes. Her single-game scoring high in 2012-13 was eight points, and she only scored 43 points the entire year.

This season hadn't been going much better for Valiuskyte, who had only scored 22 total points prior to Friday's game and had yet to earn a spot in the starting lineup.

That changed, though, Friday when she got her first start of the season, a move that gave the Broncs an extra ball handler against an opponent adept at forcing turnovers.

Valiuskyte responded with the best game of her career since that MAAC tournament performance of two seasons ago. On Friday, she matched her career high of 13 points (5-of-7 shooting, 3-of-5 from three-point territory) in 35 minutes of court time.

But, she wasn't even the prime "breakout" performer in the game Friday. That designation had to go to Siena's 6-foot-1 junior forward Kelsey Booth, albeit in defeat.

Entering Friday's contest Booth had mostly been a lightly used specialist, an occasionally effective long-range shooter. Still, she only scored 52 points as a freshman and just 33 total points in all of 2012-13, while shooting 20.8 percent from the floor.

She had been playing better of late with efforts of five points/six rebounds in 24 minutes and nine/eight in 23 minutes in her previous two contests.

But her first career start came on Friday at Rider, and only because the team's second-leading scorer, senior guard Kanika Cummings, was kept out of the contest with a minor injury.

Booth responded with the best game, by far, of her career: 25 points (9-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-3 from three-point range) and 12 rebounds in 31 minutes.

Clearly, it was a night for "breakout" performances.

Current MAAC Members Fought Prejudice Years Ago

While reading the recently published, very well-written, well-done book "John Wooden, A Coach's Life," your blogger came across some notable basketball history.

It's from the 1947-47 season, long before there was a MAAC, but it involves two current conference members. And, it involves some exceptional, insightful decisions by the two programs.

Back then a national tournament called the NAIB was established, in part, by sport inventor Dr. James Naismith. The National Association for Intercollegiate Basketball event actually came into being in 1937 as a forum for small colleges and universities to determine a national championship.

Current available written historical recollections of the event indicate that, in 1948, it became the first national organization to open an intercollegiate postseason event to black student-athletes.

But, it did so begrudgingly. And it did so, in no small part, due to decisions made back then by administrators at current MAAC members Manhattan and Siena colleges.

A little background. In the previous year, 1947, Wooden was coaching at Indiana State and his team was invited to the event. Wooden's team had an African American on the roster, Clarence Walker.

When NAIB officials told Wooden that Walker was not welcome at its event, played in Kansas City, Missouri, where segreation was the norm back then. Wooden did not accept the invitation to play.

The following year, though, the tournament once again invited Indiana State and, this time, Wooden agreed to bring his team to the event even if it had to leave Walker behind.

We'll pick up the narrative from the Wooden book from that point.

"Fortunately for Walker, there were some influential people on the East coast who were willing to fight for him in a way that Wooden was not," writes Seth Davis, in the Wooden book.

"When Manhattan College's athletic director learned of the NAIB's rule prohibiting Negros from competing in the tournament, he requested that it be changed, even though Manhattan did not have any blacks on its roster.

"After two days of exchanging telegrams, the NAIB informed Manhattan that it was goo late to repeal the rule for that year's tournament, so Manhattan withdrew and the athletic director publicly stated the reason.

"The NAIB then offered its spot to Siena College, but that school also turned down the invitation because of the racial ban. Long Island University did the same."

The decisions by those schools, it seems brought the issue to light. Soon the U.S. Olympic basketball committee became involved. One of the reasons the NAIB event was so prestigious was that its champion was invited to compete at the U.S. Olympic trials in New York, shortly after the tournament.

As detailed in the Wooden book ...

"After reading about the protests made by the New York schools Henshel (Harry Henshell, a member of the Olympic basketball committee) sent a telegram to the Olympic committee's chairman recommending that the NAIB champion be dropped from the Olympic trials unless the ban was rescinded.

"Suddenly, the members of the NAIB's executive committee had a change of heart ... two days before the tournament was due to tip off, they announced that the prohibition had been removed."

The rule change did not come in time for Manhattan, Siena or Long Island University to participate that year. But, their stand on the race issue brought about change and Wooden's Indiana State team was allowed to bring its lone African American player to play in the tournament.

Remarkable stuff from nearly 66 years ago, and enlightened decisions from two future members of a league that continues to carry on a tradition of doing things the right way.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Men's Standings, With Four At Top, Never Closer

It was the 2000-01 season for MAAC men's basketball, and the final standings were a thing of beauty if you adhered to the philosophy of parity former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle enjoyed so much.

That season Siena, Iona and Niagara all finished with a share of the top spot in regular-season play with 12-6 records. And, as if that wasn't tight enough at the top, three more teams ... Marist, Rider, Manhattan ... were all a game behind with 11-7 records.

The league had never seen anything like that before, and there hasn't been anything close to that since.

Until now.

We're only eight games in, 40 percent of league play competed. But, 2012-13 threatens to outdo that 2001-02 season of parity, at least at the top.

There are currently four teams sharing first place with 6-2 records ... Manhattan, Quinnipiac, Canisius and Iona. And, your Hoopscribe can't ever remember a season nearing the halfway point with four teams still holding a share of the top spot.

It took a wacky weekend of results to create the logjam on the leaderboard.

It started on Friday night when Canisius handed Iona its second conference loss of the season, an 85-83 decision.

In that one the Golden Griffins looked to have pulled free and clear with a 20-point lead early in the second half. And, then, the Gaels stormed back to gain a five-point advantage with 4:52 remaining.

But the high-flying Gaels suddenly were grounded after that, scoring just two points over the last 4:52 to fall on their home court to suffer their second conference loss.

That outcome left Manhattan and Canisius with a single loss entering play on Saturday.

And, then, the Jaspers, the league's preseason choice to capture the regular-season crown, suffered an even more improbable setback.

It dropped a 71-67 decision to the league's remaining winless team in conference play, Fairfield.

The game, played on the Stags' home court, the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Ct., featured a halftime ceremony honoring teams and coaching staff from the 1985-86 and 1986-87 Fairfield teams that advanced to NCAA tournament play.

And, then, the current edition seemed to channel some of that good play from those old teams to knock off Manhattan.

The Jaspers played their second straight game without leading scorer George Beamon (a shoulder bruise), and they missed him.

And, then, that left Canisius as the lone conference team with a single league loss.

But, not for long ...

On Sunday afternoon Canisius met up with Monmouth in West Long Branch, N.J.

The Hawks trailed by 14 points at one second-half juncture and were still down by five in the closing seconds.

Junior forward Andrew Nicholas, though, made a three-pointer with 10 second remaining to cut the Canisius lead to two, 82-80.

Monmouth was forced to foul Canisius and seemingly picked the wrong player to foul, senior guard Billy Baron. All Baron had done to date this season was to shoot 92 percent from the foul line, the fifth-best percentage nationally.

And, then, Baron missed the front end of a one-and-one situation.

Monmouth secured the rebound, fired it to midcourt and into the hands of Nicholas who took a couple of dribbles and, then, drained the game-winning three-pointer with a second remaining.

Crazy stuff, all helping create one of the tightest races for the top spot, up to now, in conference history.

And, the quartet isn't alone in the title race. Rider is only a single game back at 5-3.

Friday, January 17, 2014

ATM: Some News & Notes From Around The MAAC

Time for another installment of "ATM," an accumulation of happenings from around the league and otherwise known as Around The MAAC.

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.


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.


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."


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."

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Broadcasts, Ceremony A Reunion Tour For Buonaguro

Mitch Buonaguro, who has been a coach in the MAAC for 14 of the conference's previous 32 seasons, is making a reunion tour of sorts in coming weeks.

Most recently the head coach at Siena for three seasons, prior to his dismissal after the 2012-13 season, Buonaguro will be doing television color commentary for three upcoming women's broadcasts.

His first time behind the microphone will be Thursday when the Siena women play at Fairfield.

He says he'll have no problem finding his way to the Connecticut school. After all, he was the head men's coach there for six season, a tenure that included two trips to the NCAA tournament (1985-86 and '86-87).

After those two years, though, the program couldn't duplicate those accomplishments and Buonaguro was fired.

Still, he'll be back at Fairfield again on Saturday. This time he'll be on hand for a halftime ceremony of that day's men's game to honor the program's two NCAA teams he coached.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Buonaguro, whose record at Fairfield was 72-103. "I have no animosity toward Fairfield. I still know a lot of people there. It should be a lot of fun.

"Sydney Johnson (Fairfield's current men's coach) had a big hand in bringing this together. It was a nice gesture on his part."

Buonaguro's first Fairfield team finished 24-7 and was the only MAAC team ever to have a perfect record (15-0) in away-from-home games.

That record included a 13-victory improvement from an 11-17 finish the previous year, before Buonaguro arrived. It was the largest victory improvement by any program on the Division I level that season.

After the graduation loss of three starters and some injury woes, the Stags finished seventh among eight teams in the MAAC in 1986-87. And, then, they swept the conference's post-season tournament to once again earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.

After Fairfield Buonaguro worked as an assistant at Texas A&M, at Cleveland State and, then, connected with Fran McCaffery for two seasons at North Carolina-Greensboro. When McCaffery was named Siena's head coach in 2005, Buonaguro came along as his top assistant.

They were together for five seasons, the last three all resulting in trips to the NCAA tournament.

When McCaffery left to take over Iowa's program, Siena promoted Buonaguro to be its head coach.

But, the proverbial cupboard wasn't well stocked. He had a 35-59 record at Siena in a stretch also hindered by an overabundance of injuries and some player suspensions. He was fired this past March and is currently out of full-time coaching for the first time since his graduation from Boston College in 1975.

He returns to Siena on Jan. 30 to work another television broadcast, this one a Manhattan at Siena women's game at Albany's Times Union Center, part of a double-header that precedes a Siena men's game.

Buonaguro jokingly says he hopes he doesn't get booed, as he did when he was the program's head coach.

Still, his overall positive achievements as a coach are worth mentioning.

He is one of just two coaches in MAAC history to be on the staff of conference teams that advanced to the NCAA tournament five times, twice as Fairfield's head coach and three times as a Siena assistant.

The only other MAAC coach with five NCAA trips is former Niagara head man Joe Mihalich, a La Salle assistant for that program's three NCAA appearances when it was a conference member and, then, two more times at the Big Dance when he was Niagara's head coach.

Iona Women's Big Win Still A Conversation Topic

The Iona women's basketball team has a bye on Thursday's schedule, surely a welcome couple extra days to both savor and digest its victory over perennial league powerhouse Marist on Monday night.

The outcome ended the Gaels' string of 29 consecutive losses to the Red Foxes. It also ended Marist's streak of 36 consecutive victories over MAAC opponents and a 42-game home winning streak.

Asked about a possible letdown as her team prepares for another tough contest, Saturday at 11 a.m. at Fairfield, first-year Iona coach Billi Godsey admitted that potential is on her mind.

"There's always that type of concern," said Godsey. "But my staff and I have to try to keep things in perspective. It was a great win for the program on that night. Now, we have to start preparing for the next opponent."

Godsey, though, was still savoring the outcome a little on a conference call for league coaches Tuesday afternoon.

"It was a big victory because of the history and tradition," she added. "Marist is a strong contender every year, and we had to give it our best shot.

"It was an exciting victory, and it helps us confidence wise. To get over that big one solidifies the belief that we can do this. It should help us come together even more. It was a big win and a great game."

Godsey's situation is somewhat unusual. Usually coaching positions open up because a program is going through difficult times and a predecessor has been fired, or a coach had great success, moves on and better players graduate.

Godsey, though, inherited the full starting five, along with some valuable bench players, from a team that finished 20-13 and went to the WNIT last season before former coach Tony Bozzella moved on to Seton Hall.

"I've been extremely lucky in that regard," said Godsey. "I've known coach Bozzella for a while, and he did a phenomenal job when he was here. He left behind a great group of girls, both starters and bench players.

"We've only tried to do a few little things differently. We've kept the up-tempo style of play, but also have tried to spread the floor a little more."

Spreading the floor, often with four guards on the court and no player taller than 5-11 on the floor, opened things up against Marist in Monday's second half.

That smaller lineup made it difficult for some bigger Marist players to get to shooters quickly, and Iona's sophomore guard Aaliyah Robinson came off the bench to drain four second-half three-pointers to help the Gaels rally from a 10-point deficit early in the second half.

""It was a big game for both teams since we were both unbeaten (in league play) at the time," said Marist coach Brian Giorgis. "It was a great confidence booster for them ... and, we didn't play poorly. It's not often we shoot 53 percent from the floor (52.8 percent) and lose.

"But we saw some stuff ... we learned a lot of things about some things we'll need to do against them when we meet again. We've got to find things to do to neutralize their quickness.

"We watched their celebration ... and, rightfully so for that ... I don't think I'll have to mention that to my players. They saw it for themselves. If we don't come back strong and ready to play, I'll be really disappointed.

"We've lost games before, and we've lost games on our home court. It's going to happen. They're human. The streak was going to end at some point. But, we never mentioned it. Our freshmen probably never knew there was a streak. We just play game by game. Our philosophy is that it's a matter of what you do that game.

"It still all comes down to what you do in March (in the MAAC's post-season tournament)."

But, before then, there's another regular-season meeting. And, the conference's schedule makers so graciously gave us the gift of a return match on the final day of regular-season play, March 2 at noon in New Rochelle.

That one could be a one-game referendum on which team captures this season's regular-season championship.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Iona Women (Finally) Topples Marist In Key Battle

Meet the new boss of MAAC women's play, and it's not the same as the old boss.

It's Iona, which ended some historical streaks by earning a 73-71 victory over 10-time defending regular-season champion Marist on Monday night, and on the Red Foxes' home court no less.

For now, Iona now stands alone atop the conference women's standings with a 6-0 record. The win was the program's 12th in a row overall.

Marist, which came into the contest with a 10-game winning streak, slips to second place with a 5-1 mark.

It has been some time since Marist hasn't been the conference's first-place team. Marist had won its last 36 games in conference play ad had won 42 consecutive contests on its home court, including an upset win over Oklahoma, ranked No. 20 nationally, earlier this season at the McCann Arena.

The outcome set off a brief but enthusiastic on-court celebration by the Gaels before they moved back to the sideline to shake hands with their opponents.

No one could blame Iona for celebrating the outcome of an early regular-season contest, particularly considering that Marist had won the previous 29 meetings between the two programs.

Those included three wins a year ago, all by relatively lopsided scores including a 72-48 decision in last season's MAAC tournament championship game.

But, Iona appeared as strong a MAAC opponent as Marist has faced in some time with the Gaels having all five starters back from a year ago, including reigning conference Player of the Year 5-foot-7 junior guard Damika Martinez.

And, it was Martinez who delivered the game-winning basket with 2.9 seconds remaining in the contest when she dribbled to a spot about 16 feet from the basket, used an up fake to get defender Leanne Ockenden off her feet, ducked under Ockenden's arms and, then, squeezed off the shot over the outstretched hand of second defender Emma O'Connor.

Martinez's shot broke a 71-71 tie, and left Marist with just enough time to try a long in-bounds pass which Iona was able to intercept to secure the victory.

The winners needed to overcome a 10-point deficit early in the second half, never an easy task against as defensive-minded a team as Marist.

The Gaels, though, would never have gotten in position for Martinez' late-game heroics were it not for sophomore guard Aaliyah Robinson, who connected on four three-pointers in a four-minute second-half stretch, the last giving the winners a 63-62 advantage with 4:55 left to play.

Iona's lead was 71-67 with a little more than a minute left before Marist got a bucket by Ockenden, followed by one by O'Connor.

It left Iona in possession with 25 seconds left, and the winners ran the clock down until Martinez could get off her game-winner.

"It came down to the last play, and that's why she (Martinez) was the Player of the Year last year," said Marist coach Brian Giorgis, in his post-game remarks. "We knew she was getting the ball on that last play, and we couldn't do anything to stop it.

"But, Robinson was the key to the contest."

Robinson, a 5-9 sophomore, had made 14-of-38 three points on the season prior to Monday's game, but made all four of her second-half bonus attempts against the Red Foxes.

"We had too many people helping (defensively) off her," added the Marist coach. "And, we knew that's what she does. We didn't do a good job on that (contesting Robinson's long-range shots).

"They're a good team, and if we don't work hard and learn from this then it's a bad loss for us. One lesson our girls learned is that they can get beat. But, it all comes down to what happens in March (in the league's post season tournament) for this conference."

Martinez had 18 points for the winners, including 14 in the second half. Teammate Joy Adams, a 5-11 sophomore forward, also had 18 points and 14 rebounds while Robinson matched her career high in scoring with 17 points.

Sidney Coffey led Marist scorers with 17 points, while Casey Dulin had 16 and O'Connor added 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

English Latest On List of Iona Backcourt Standouts

As Siena coach Jimmy Patsos passed by Iona's sophomore standout A.J. English in the hallway of Albany's Times Union Center after the Gaels' 87-78 victory over the Saints Sunday afternoon, he had a few words for English.

"I was at Maryland (as an assistant coach) when your father played, and he was a heckuva player," said Patsos.

Indeed he was. The elder A.J. English played at the Division II level at Virginia Union (about 120 miles south of Maryland) where he scored 2,396 career points and averaged 33.4 points per game as a senior. He was later a second-round NBA draft pick and played two seasons in the NBA, averaging 9.9 points per contest.

Iona's version of A.J. English, a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard, appears to be a case of the apple not falling far from the tree.

He scored a career-high 31 points against the Saints on Sunday, pushing his seasonal scoring average to 18.2 ppg.

And, he came up big when the Gaels' needed him most, scoring 12 of his points in the game's final nine minutes after Siena had taken a 66-62 lead.

The offensive explosion might be somewhat a surprise after a freshman year in which he only averaged 7.0 ppg.

English, though, looked like a rising star before suffering a broken right wrist after the Gaels' first 17 games.

He sat out the rest of the year and couldn't return to the court for almost seven months. He still has a small pin in place in his wrist, and claims the injury still isn't fully healed.

"If I bang it on something it will swell, and there are times it will still swell up," he said, after Sunday's game. "I've been told I probably won't be 100 percent with it for at least another year."

Hard to envision, though, English being more prolific than he is now ... even at 100 percent.

He has been particularly effective of late, averaging 25.3 points over the Gaels' last four games.

And, that production comes from an individual who not only is also his team's primary ball-handler but has one of the MAAC's best long-range shooters alongside of him in Iona's backcourt, senior guard Sean Armand, who had 19 vs. Siena and averages a team-best 19.1 ppg.

Armand, who has 1,403 career points through Sunday's game, is the latest in a long line of superlative backcourt performers at the New Rochelle, N.Y., school.

It's a backcourt tradition that began back in the mid-1950's with Richie Guerin, who had a lengthy NBA career and was recently selected for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Other standout guards at the school included Steve Burtt Sr., Kevin Hamilton, Glenn Vickers, Sean Green, Steve Burtt Jr., Scott Machado and Lamont "Momo" Jones, among others.

Armand, a senior, is carrying that torch this season, but the line appears likely to continue in the future through English.

Armand, after Sunday's contest, was asked about English's shooting ability.

"Second best shooter on the team, to me," he said. "He showed us a lot before he was hurt last year and he's been terrific this year. He's up next when I'm gone."

English appears a perfect fit to a fast-paced Iona attack that looks to get down court and find open looks before opposing defenses can set up.

But, his game is about far more than shooting. He entered Sunday's contest with a team-high 58 assists.

"I played point guard in high school and on the AAU circuit, so when they asked me to do that this year it wasn't like I've never done it before," he said.

English was also a big scorer at the high school level and initially leaned toward attending Marquette. Instead, he opted for a year of prep school before joining Iona.

Despite his strong play of late, English claims he's far from a finish product.

"I can get a lot better," he said. "There are a lot of things I can work on. You always have to work to get better ... you have to be dedicated. Even Michael Jordan was always working to try to make some aspect of his game better."

He is already gaining recognition as one of the better guards in the MAAC this season.

If he gets better?

Then, he'll be the latest in that lengthy succession of superlative backcourt performers to have played at Iona.

Iona At Marist Already A Meaningful Women's Contest

Here we are, barely a quarter of the way through conference play, and Monday night's schedule features as big a women's basketball game as we're likely to see this season.

It's Iona at Marist, 7 p.m., at the McCann Center in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., a rematch of last season's MAAC tournament's championship game.

They are the league's two remaining unbeatens so far. Iona is 5-0 in conference play and has an 11-game winning streak overall. Marist is 4-0 in league play and has a 10-game winning streak.

In recent years Iona has become the defacto league also-ran, if you will, the conference's second-best team. The best team in the league besides Marist.

Yet, that's like saying someone in the American League was the second-place team to the 1927 New York Yankees, or was the NBA's second-best team to all those Boston Celtics' championship squads during the Bill Russell era.

Except that Marist might even be a more-dominant dynasty than just about anything we've seen on any level of college sports.

How else to describe 10 straight regular-season championships and eight straight trips to the NCAA tournament (and, 9 of the last 10)?

Ask former Iona coach Tony Bozzella about how dominating Marist has been over the years. Bozzella coached the Gaels in the MAAC for the past 11 years before moving on to Seton Hall. His teams there went from perennial bottom-dwellars to a run of relative success over the past six or seven seasons.

But, his tenure came at the exact same time as Marist coach Brian Giorgis has been in place.

The two are good friends. They probably had a strong a relationship as any two MAAC coaches had over that period.

That didn't mean Giorgis was going to go easy on Bozzella. Over those 11 seasons Marist had a 29-0 record against Bozzella's Iona teams, including both regular-season and tournament games.

Now it's first-year Iona coach Billi Godsey's turn to try to snap that stretch of Marist dominance.

Her team is probably better suited to do that than at any time during the streak, thanks to Bozzella who brought in a group of talented players and left them all behind when he moved on. Iona returns the same starting five it had a year ago when it finished 20-13 and advanced to the WNIT.

But, last year's team had no success against Marist, losing by scores of 69-55 and 63-40 in regular-season contests and, then, by a 72-48 score in the conference tournament's championship game.

Marist, though, is slightly changed. Gone from last year's team is 6-2 forward Elizabeth Beynnon, a second-team all-MAAC selection a year ago; and, 6-1 forward Kristina Danella, the Red Foxes' top reserve and the Sixth Player of the Year award winner in the MAAC for 2012-13.

Marist was height-challenged early in the season and also played several games without returning point guard Casey Dulin, who was recovering from a foot injury.

But, Dulin is back at full strength and Marist, of late, has looked strong in the post.

Senior 6-0 forward Emma O'Connor has done most of the inside work thus far, averaging career-high numbers in points (13.3) and rebounds (6.0) per game.

Freshman Kat Fogarty, a rugged 6-2 post, has been making strides during the early season and 6-3 Vanderbilt transfer Tori Jarosz is as talented a post player as the MAAC has seen in many years.

Jarosz, though, still isn't at full strength, coming back from a torn Achilles tendon suffered this past spring. Still, she looked close to peak form in Siena's game at Marist on Tuesday, when she had 12 points in 13 minutes of time.

As usual, it will likely be a test of Iona's strong offensive capabilities vs. Marist's traditionally suffocating defense.

Marist, though, has allowed opponents to shoot 40.2 percent from the field this year, only 182nd best of 343 Division I teams nationally.

Iona's field-goal against percentage is better, at 38.3, 110th nationally.

But, Marist's has played the most-difficult schedule to date of any MAAC team. Its strength of schedule ranks 52nd nationally, while Iona's ranks 226th.

Individually, it's the latest in the immovable object/irresistable force matchup of Marist's Leanne Ockenden and Iona's Damika Martinez.

Ockenden is the conference's reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Martinez is well on her way to her third consecutive MAAC scoring title, and ranks fourth nationally in scoring (25.2 ppg.).

Ockenden and Marist got the better of things a year ago when Martinez managed only 17 points in each of the regular-season meetings with the majority of her points late in the game when things were well in hand for the Red Foxes. In the league championship game, Martinez only scored four points on 2-of-9 shooting.

Iona, though, has considerable other weapons, including sophomore forward Joy Adams, who averages 18.5 points and 13.9 rebounds. That rebound average is third-best nationally.

Iona also has the national leader in blocked shots in Sabrina Jeridore (4.1 per game), and a nearly mistake-free point guard in senior Haley D'Angelo, whose 3.93 assist-to-turnover ratio is third-best nationally.

It should be an exciting evening in Poughkeepsie for one of the most-attractive early season games on the women's schedule this season, one that could go a long way toward deciding the regular-season title winner.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

McGuinness Helping Niagara Women Excede Forecast

It was an off-season of change for the Niagara women's basketball team.

Three starters from a squad that was a solid 9-9 in MAAC play and 15-16 overall left the program despite each having one remaining season of eligibility.

It turned a team that might have contended to finish near the top of this season's standings into a too-easy to dismiss also-ran.

In any transition that drastic new players step in and new roles develop.

The transition, of late, seems to be moving in a positive direction and no Niagara player has stepped into an important role to bring about some recent success as has 5-foot-10 junior guard Meghan McGuinness.

Never was that more evident than in Niagara's 76-72 victory over Siena Friday night at Albany's Times Union Center.

McGuinness, a slightly built perimeter player, doesn't look capable of devastating performances, but her looks are deceiving.

She dropped in a career-best 29 points against the Saints on 8-of-12 shooting, including 7-of-11 from three-point territory, in the contest.

And, it seemed, she delivered key baskets whenever her team needed them. Her last two were indicative.

With the game tied at 61-61 with about two minutes remaining, teammate Chanel Johnson made a traditional three-point play to give Niagara a 3-point edge. And, then, McGuinness drained back-to-back treys to seal the deal, pushing the winners' lead to seven with under a minute remaining.

Before that every one of her six other baskets came with her team either trailing or holding a one-point edge.

It's not as if opponents aren't aware of McGuinness's shooting ability. She now has 143 career three-pointers and is shooting a commendable 40.7 percent from bonus territory over her career to date. This season she's even better, now at a 43 percent accuracy rate from beyond the three-point stripe.

But on Saturday Siena played its traditional zone defense that emphasizes pressure on the ball, often leaving other players unguarded on the perimeter. McGuinness was often that open Purple Eagles, teammates regularly found her on the perimeter for goof shots and she delivered.

"I guess I was in that `zone,' " said McGuinness, about the state of being shooters occasionally inhabit when the basket looks twice as big as normal and every shot seems to fall. "I had no idea that I had 29 points until I made my last two free throws (with eight seconds remaining), and looked up at the scoreboard. It didn't even feel like I had that many."

But she had plenty, the highest point total she has ever scored in a game at any level.

As is the case with those successful in any walk of life, McGuinness's on-court success is a product of hard work.

"I haven't always been a good shooter," she said. "It's something that has definitely developed. I just take a lot of shots every day. I'm usually at the gym early for practice and stay late and put up a lot of shots."

"There are not many times before and after practice when she and Val McQuade (a junior forward who shoots three's at a 42.6 percent rate this season) aren't there taking shots," said Niagara coach Kendra Faustin.

Faustin claims the challenge has simply been to get McGuinness to take shots in games.

Desite a rare shooting touch, she only averaged 6.8 points and 9.6 points over her first two seasons.

"There's a mental side to being a shooter," added Faustin. "We've told her that it's her job to make shots. If she's not making them, she still has to take the next one, but sometimes doing that is tough.

"It's a matter of knowing when she has to shoot, and handling the mental pressure of being the shot-maker. In her freshman year she would miss a shot and, then, wouldn't want to to play defense or to take the next shot. I've had to tell here that she's our shot-taker, that's her role. I've told her if she doesn't take shots we don't have a chance to be successful. If she doesn't take open shots she hears about it from me."

McGuinness, now, is a more-mature junior better able to handle the mental aspect of stepping into that role.

"After we lost some players from last season I knew I had to step up," she said. "I knew we needed more scoring. Chanel (Johnson) has stepped up, and Val (McQuade) has stepped up. Everyone has a bigger role. I've got a bigger role scoring wise and in terms of leadership."

That Niagara's players appear to be understanding that need has helped the team start exceeding expectations.

Although its overall record is only 4-10 thus far, it has won two of its last three with the loss by only a 10-point margin against Iona, which is currently 5-0 in league play.

"In college basketball there are role changes every year regardless of the personnel," added Faustin. "It has taken some time to define roles for our players, but they're starting to embrace those roles. It's why we're playing better."

Right now Niagara is playing better than most expected.

"I think we're better than the predictions that were made for us," said McGuinness. "I think we'll keep moving up."

Niagara's chances for that won't be hurt if McGuinness keeps putting up shots and making them like she did in her 29-point effort against Siena on Friday.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Observations from Some Recent Game Viewing

We've seen some games ...

Game attendance has been plentiful, of late. On occasion, your Hoopscribe will share thoughts about players and teams seen in person.

Here are observations made from some recent viewings ...

- The Rider women's team had its first non-losing season (15-15) in 2012-13 since 1994-95. And, with a 6-7 overall start (2-2 in the MAAC), there might be more of the same ... and, maybe even a little better ... coming this season for head coach Lynn Milligan's squad.

We saw the Broncs play at Siena and earn an impressive 77-63 victory on Dec. 31. In that one, standout senior forward MyNeshia McKenzie had 29 points and eight rebounds. On the year she is averaging 20.5 points and 10.2 rebound and is the conference's only player averaging more than 20 and 10 in those two categories.

I'm not sure any MAAC women's player has ever averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds for a full season. My initial research showed that Rachele Fitz of Marist came close in 2008-09, with 20.5, 9.3 averages.

Close, too, for Siena's Melanie Halker, who averaged 19.3 points and 12.2 rebounds in 1996-97 and 19.8 and 10.3 in 1998-99.

And, for Loyola's Patty Stoffey who averaged 24.0 and 9.8 in the 1994-95 season.

One other good thing on display in Rider's victory at Siena ... some strong play off the bench from Shereen Lightbourne, who had been Rider's MVP as a sophomore in the 2010-11 season and, then, missed every minute of the past two seasons with knee injuries.

- The Rider men played Siena at Albany's Times Union Center on Saturday night and looked nothing like the team that opened MAAC play with a 3-0 record.

The Broncs could do almost nothing right in dropping a 62-47 decision. Rider had scored an average of 88 points per game in its first three league contests.

On Saturday, though, only guard Anthony Myles, who had 21 points, scored more than six points for the Broncs.

Head coach Kevin Baggett was justifiably upset by what he saw from his team.

"Siena was more aggressive and tougher," said Baggett. "They played with a sense of urgency that we didn't have. We actually haven't played well for our last three games and it finally caught up to us.

"We relied too much on perimeter jumpers. Even when we got the ball inside we couldn't make close shots. I'm down on my team right now. We're not playing the right way. If we're not playing the right way then it's an understatement to say that I'm not going to be happy."

- The Manhattan women team put up a tough fight against Siena in a meeting of teams picked near the bottom of the coaches' preseason predictions.

The Jaspers managed to be in a 44-44 tie in their game with the Saints with about 16 minutes remaining.

And, then, Siena went on an impressive 38-14 run after that to earn an 82-58 victory on Manhattan's home court.

The Jaspers played without standout 6-foot-2 freshman post player Kayla Grimme, who missed her fifth straight contest with a foot injury although she is expected back relatively soon.

Without Grimme, Manhattan struggled to contend with Siena's inside game. The Saints outrebounded Manhattan 56-30 in the contest and Siena secured 24 offensive rebounds.

It appeared that Manhattan wore down after about 24 minutes of trying to contend, while height challenged, with Siena's rebounders.

The Saints got double-double production from two players, 6-2 freshman Meghan Donohue (15 points, 12 rebounds) and junior guard Tehresa Coles (14 points, 14 rebounds). Coles, at 5-9, got seven of her rebounds on the offensive end.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Look at MAAC Teams' Positions in RPI Positions

We're more than 10 games into college basketball season, which means we have a substantial sampling to start making some judgments about the relative strengths of MAAC teams.

Or, at least, to view the experts' view of things.

One of the best sites for gauging where teams rank right now is, which does a good job of approximating the NCAA's official ratings percentage index. The NCAA, of course, uses its own unrevealed system to assess things just prior to the NCAA tournament and uses those RPI as one of several tools to help determine its field and seeding positions.

For now, the best we have is a close approximation. But, a revealing one.

Here's how the men's teams rank as of Wednesday (prior to games played on Thursday), in order. We'll list each team's RPI, its overall record to date and its strength of schedule rating.

- Manhattan, No. 51 nationally (of 351 Division I teams), 9-2 overall record, 119 SOS.

- Canisius, No. 110, 8-4, 240 SOS.

- Rider, No. 119, 8-4, 171 SOS.

- Iona, No. 154, 5-6, 164 SOS.

- Siena, No. 204, 5-8, 165 SOS

- Quinnipiac, No. 208, 6-5, 297 SOS.

- Monmouth, No. 224, 6-7, 246 SOS.

- Marist, No. 263, 3-9, 142 SOS.

- Saint Peter's, No. 287, 4-7, 333 SOS.

- Fairfield, No. 296, 3-9, 217 SOS.

- Niagara, No. 315, 4-9, 281 SOS.

Here are the ratings for MAAC women's teams:

- Marist, No. 19, 8-4, 15 SOS.

- Quinnipiac, No. 62, 7-6, 24 SOS.

- Iona, No. 77, 9-2, 205 SOS.

- Fairfield, No. 100, 7-4, 129 SOS.

- Siena, No. 179, 5-6, 172 SOS.

- Rider, No. 212, 5-6, 197 SOS.

- Canisius, No. 276, 4-8, 273 SOS.

- Niagara, No. 282, 2-9, 158 SOS.

- Manhattan, No. 308, 3-11, 287 SOS.

- Saint Peter's, No. 313, 2-9, 285 SOS.

- Monmouth, No. 333, 1-12, 248 SOS.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Lightbourne, Jarosz Return After Lengthy Absences

Two key women's players are playing, again, after lengthy absences with injuries.

Shereen Lightbourne of Rider, a 5-foot-10 guard who looked like she would be one of the to players in the league at one point, has been playing this season after missing all of the last two years with knee injuries.

And, 6-3 post player Tori Jarosz of Marist is also back after missing all but one game last season and all of Marist's games to date this year until recently.

Lightbourne had been a do-everything off-guard during her first two seasons at Rider and did enough in the 2010-11 season, her sophomore year to be the program's MVP after averaging 9.7 points per contest.

And, then, prior to her junior year she suffered a knee injury that kept her off the court through 2011-12.

She appeared ready to return in 2012-13 when, once again, she suffered another knee injury that forced her to miss all of that season, too.

Lightbourne is now a graduate student at Rider, her fifth year at the school, and has been back on the court since the start of this season.

She only got on the court for four minutes in her first appearance this season, followed by a pair of three-minute contributions. But, her playing time has been gradually increasing since then and, so too, has her contributions.

She has played at least 11 minutes for the past four games, and had her best statistical game to date Tuesday afternoon in the Broncs' 77-63 victory over the Saints.

She had six points (2-of-3 shooting), three rebounds, two assists and two steals in 11 minutes in that contest and was at her best with Rider trying to hold on to what was a five-point lead with 2:28 remaining.

Lightbourne then got the call to enter the game and immediately helped beat Siena's pressing defense with a crisp pass to teammate MyNeshia McKenzie for a layup.

A few seconds later she sank her second three-pointer of the contest to lift her team's margin to a comfortable 10-point one that helped secure the victory.

Jarosz has also been away from playing most of the past two seasons. She missed 2011-12 after transferring to Marist from Vanderbilt, where she spent her freshman season. But, she was still able to practice with the Red Foxes last year.

She got in Marist's first game of the 2012-13 season, contributing 14 points and two rebounds, before suffering a season-ending wrist injury.

And, then, this past spring she tore an Achilles tendon in a workout and missed all of Marist's preseason drills and the team's first 11 games this season.

Jarosz finally made her return on Tuesday, playing seven minutes in a victory over Canisius. Her contribution was a single blocked shot, but her return could eventually provide a big (literally) lift to Marist, which had been undersized this year.

"This game gave me an opportunity to just shake off the nervs and get out there and try to get some minutes to get back," Jarosz told the Poughkeepsie Journal after Tuesday's game. "I was just focused and ready whenever coach (Brian Giorgis) called on me to come in and do the best I can to help the team."

The report indicated that Jarosz received a "warm ovation" from her home-court crowd when she checked into Tuesday's game midway through the first half.

It's nice to see both players returning to full health and back and contributing to their respective programs.

Iona's Damika Martinez Building Superlative Career

Sometimes we don't appreciate what's happening right before our eyes.

Far too often we don't recognize superlative play, relative greatness, except with hindsight.

But, these days, it shouldn't be difficult to understand we're watching one of the most-outstanding individual careers a player has ever crafted in the MAAC.

That would be the play of Iona's junior guard Damika Martinez, now 11 games into her junior year for the Gaels' women's basketball team.

All Martinez did in her first two seasons was to lead the conference in scoring both years, becoming the first freshman to ever top the league's scoring chart as a freshman and, then, the first to do it her first two years on the college level.

She went over 1,000 points for her career late in her sophomore season, a mark usually reached by standouts in their senior years.

After averaging 16.0 and 18.1 points per game in her first two seasons, respectively, she has exploded this season, taking her achievements to the national level.

She is currently averaging 26.1 points per game, the third-best average nationally on the Division I level.

Her career total of 1,356 is already sixth on Iona's all-time list, and she's likely to threaten program leader Maggie Timoney's 1,849 career points near the end of this season.

After that, if all continues to go well, comes an assault on the MAAC's all-time leader board for career points next season.

If Martinez continues to average in the mid-20's per game through the rest of her career, she will almost assuredly surpass the all-time career total of 2,467 currently held by Loyola's 1995 graduate Patty Stoffey.

All of that is happening right now, and is being done by a player's whose physical dimensions wouldn't necessarily lend themselves to those type of scoring heights.

Stoffey and Rachele Fitz, the MAAC's top two all-time career scoring leaders, were both 6-foot-1 forwards.

Martinez is a slender 5-7 guard, yet she has only missed one game due to a minor injury thus far in her time at Iona.

"I guess it's a gift," said Martinez, after a recent Iona victory. "Some players are gifted with the ability to do certain things, whether it's rebounding or blocking shots. I guess I have the gift of being able to score."

She does it with both a superlative long-range shot (32-of-67, a .478 percentage) thus far this year, but with a quickness that enables her to create either space to squeeze off a mid-range shot, or to get to the basket.

And, if not as if all Martinez does is shoot the ball. She's also a clever passer, often drawing defenders to her and dishing off to teammates. She's currently averaging 2.1 assists per contest this season.

Martinez's "gift" was evident far before she came to Iona. She averaged 26 points per game as a senior at Oliver H. Platt High School in Connecticut, and finished with 1,857 career points over her career there.

But, she's the first to admit her game has continued to develop since then.

"My game, compared last year to this year, has gotten a lot better," she said. "One thing is that, in the past, defense could slow me down by making me go to my left. I worked on that a lot in the off-season, and, now, I'm comfortable with the ball going let."

She's comfortable doing a lot of things on the court, and the type of improvement she's made to reach her current comfort level doesn't come without some good old fashioned hard work.

This past summer she was a member of the Puerto Rico national team, and said that experienced was an eye-opener.

"Ig gives you a chance to see what you have to do to reach that level," she said. "You get to see what you need to do to stay in top condition and what you need to do to improve your game."

Martinez also had a mentor, of sorts, well versed in the fine art of hardwood hard work in the form of Momo Jones, the MAAC's men's scoring leader last season.

"He and I would get up at 5 a.m. a lot of days and be in the gym not long after that putting up shots," Martinez said.

Those early morning workout sessions are a thing of the past, with Jones having finished up his Iona eligibility. But, they're often replaced by late-night trips to the school's Mulcahy Gymnasium  these days.

"There are a lot of nights I go over there with Joy Adams (Iona's standout sophomore forward) to work on our game," she said. "A lot of nights we go into the gym at midnight. I don't have a key, but the security guys let us in."

It all helps, and none of it has come at the cost of winning.

The 2011-12 Iona team finished 13-18 in Martinez' freshman year but lost that year's best player, Kristina Ford, to an early season injury for seven games and she never truly returned to form.

Last year the program finished 20-13 and advanced to the WNIT post-season event. This year Iona is off to a 9-2 start overall.

Martinez hopes that it's all part of her achieving some very lofty goals.

"As a team we want to get to the NCAA tournament," she said. "As an individual I want to be a three-time MAAC Player of the Year winner (she won that award as a sophomore last season), and to be the first player in league history to lead the league in scoring for four years."

Admirable goals, and high-reaching ones, too.

But, not out of the realm of possibility, not for a diminutive guard whose career to date has not only far exceeded most expectations but is on course to be the greatest statistical career ever by a women's player in the MAAC.