Green Bay Knocks off Wright State in Horizon League Championship

By Kevin Sweeney

The Phoenix are dancing. 

After last season’s heartbreaking loss in the Horizon League Championship Game, expectations weren’t all that high for this year’s Green Bay team. After all, they had lost 2-time Horizon League Player of the Year Keifer Sykes. Green Bay was picked 6th in the preseason. However, the Phoenix proved the doubters wrong all year, culminating in 4 wins in 4 days to earn an spot in this year’s NCAA Tournament. 

“Nobody said we could do this. Nobody. They doubted us.” Senior forward Jordan Fouse said. 

Fouse, one of the players who returned from last year’s team, led all scorers with 16 points. Fouse raised his game this year to help offset the loss of Sykes, increasing his scoring average by nearly 5 points. 

After an improbable overtime win over Valparaiso last night, the Phoenix entered tonight’s contest confident and raring to go. They quickly raced out to a double digit lead and never looked back, as they never trailed after 6-4 in the opening minutes. Wright State was able to trim the deficit to 5 at one point in the half, but the Phoenix responded, closing the half on a 12-5 run to take a 12 point lead into halftime. 

Wright State needed to make the first run of the second half, but couldn’t get anything going. The deficit hovered around 12 for the opening stages of the second half, but Green Bay started to pull away, extending their lead to 19 on a dunk by Charles Cooper with 9:46 to go. The Raiders began to wake up, making a quick push to cut their deficit back to 13. However, in the final 8 minutes of the ballgame, the Phoenix kept Wright State from gaining too much momentum, maintaining the double digit lead the rest of the way. 

The loss for Wright State is now their 3rd Championship game loss in the past 4 years. Senior forward JT Yoho had a tough game in his final chance to reach the NCAA Tournament. Yoho, the team’s leading scorer, put up just 8 points on just 2/17 from the field. 

Green Bay will wait to see who they draw in the NCAA Tournament. The Phoenix have the offensive firepower to shock some people next weekend. Wright State likely isn’t done, as they should hold appeal to postseason tournaments such as the CBI, CIT, and Vegas 16. 

The Case For Participating in a Postseason Tournament

By Kevin Sweeney

Every year, the debate as to whether teams should participate in postseason tournaments if they fail to reach the NCAA Tournament or NIT seems to heat up more and more.  With the emergence of tournaments like the CIT, CBI, and Vegas 16, there are more opportunities than ever for teams to continue their seasons into late March.  Many feel that these tournaments aren’t good for college basketball.  These tournaments can cost a lot of money for schools, as the CBI and CIT require lots of travel or high fees to host games.  However, I am of the belief that the benefits of participating in the postseason outweigh the potential costs.

One advantage of participating in a postseason tournament is that it allows for extra practice time for teams.  With practice time limited by the NCAA, any additional time for the team to practice together is a huge positive, as once the season ends, teams are more restricted in how much they can practice and how organized these practices can be. A few extra weeks of basketball can provide valuable experience, especially for a young team.

Another advantage is the experience of playing in a tournament-style atmosphere. For mid-majors, the only road to the NCAA Tournament is winning the conference tournament.  Playing in a postseason tournament gives teams more practice at playing in one-and-done, winner-take-all atmospheres.  The Vegas 16 is especially intriguing for teams looking for this experience, as unlike the CBI and CIT, the Vegas 16 is played on a neutral court with games every day.  This format is very similar to that of most conference tournaments.

These tournaments also reward the fans of a team who would normally be left to watch March Madness without their favorite team.  Fans get to witness their team compete for a championship.  Looking back 2 years, when nearby Siena reached the CBI Championship, it was a party for students and fans.  They played the championship game on campus at 11am, served free breakfast, and the students were able to storm the court after a big win.  The players felt like rock stars in a season in which they had far exceeded expectations, yet were nowhere close to reaching the Big Dance.  Those players will remember that game for the rest of their lives.

Clearly, even small-time postseason tournaments provide a lot of benefits for teams.  It’s a blast for the players, fans, and students and it provides valuable practice time & experience for the players and coaches.  So don’t give up just because your team didn’t make the Big Dance this year; enjoy the ride in another postseason tournament.

English Leads Iona into MAAC Championship with Win over Siena

By Kevin Sweeney
Even though they lost, Siena fans have one consolation prize: they will most likely never have to face AJ English again. 

English, who has been perhaps the Saints’s biggest nemesis over the past 4 years, wrote the final chapter in his Siena-killing career with a huge 27 point performance to lead Iona into the MAAC Championship game with a 81-70 win on Saturday night. After his 30 foot 3-pointer downed the Saints in the MAAC Tournament last year and his dagger 3’s in this year’s regular season match-up broke Siena’s hearts, Saints fans were well-aware of English’s ability to take over games. Tonight, English put together one more performance for the ages to put the Saints away in the second half. 

The Saints dug themselves a 14 point halftime deficit, conceding a 19-3 run to end the half. However, in the second half, Siena continued to chip away at the deficit, feeding off the pro-Siena crowd and some huge shots from fearless freshman Nico Clareth to cut the Iona lead to 5. English wouldn’t go away though, knocking down big shot after big shot to keep Siena at bay. 21 of English’s 27 points came in the second half. 

Siena will kick themselves for struggling from the free throw line. They shot just 11-21 from the foul line, failing to capitalize on key chances to get back into the game. Center Javion Ogunyemi struggled mightily, making just 3 out of 11 from the stripe. 

It wasn’t just English who got it done for the Gaels. Iona also got a huge night from forward Isaiah Williams. Williams scored 23 points and snatched 11 rebounds. He scored his 1,000th career point in the first half. Siena was led by Clareth, who scored 18 and added 4 steals on the defensive end. 

The win sets up the Gaels for a mammoth showdown with top-seeded Monmouth, with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Siena likely isn’t done, as they most likely will participate in a postseason tournament like the CBI or CIT. 

Of Note: Ibn Muhammad left the game early in the second half and didn’t return. Tim Cluess said that Muhammad had a severe back spasm and would be a game-time decision for tommorow night’s contest. 

Siena Hard-Fought Win over Manhattan

By Kevin Sweeney
It wasn’t easy, but Siena held off a late Manhattan charge in the final minutes to earn an 89-76 win Saturday night in a MAAC Tournament quarter-final matchup on Saturday night at the Times Union Center in Albany NY. Brett Bisping led the way for the Saints with 22 points and 16 rebounds. 
The Saints raced out to a quick 13-4 lead in the opening minutes, clearly feeding off of the energy from a loud, pro-Siena crowd. However, Manhattan quickly settled in, even taking the lead mid-way through the first half. After that, the Saints regained the momentum and ran out to a double digit lead. Lavon Long, who came off the bench after starting for the majority of the regular season, provided a huge boost for the Saints. Another reason why the Saints were able to make the push was foul trouble for the Jaspers. While both teams faced foul trouble, Manhattan’s 2 leading scorers, Rich Williams and Shane Richards, were grounded 2 and 3 fouls m, respectively. This late first half boost led Siena into halftime with a 46-34 lead. 

In the second half, it was Siena who made the first real push. They extended their lead to 16 points at 66-50 with only around 12 minutes to play. Manhattan wasn’t done, however, making a huge 20-7 run culminating in a technical foul on Jimmy Patsos. The Siena lead was cut to just 3. The technical seemed to energize the Saints, as they scored the next 5 points, including a dagger banked-in 3 by center Javion Ogunyemi that gave the Saints and 8 point lead with under 3 minutes to go. Siena knocked down their foul shots, and a few technical fouls on Manhattan in the final minute put the game away in the closing moments. 

The aforementioned foul trouble was a problem for both teams. Many of the best players for both sides were forced to sit with excess fouls, challenging each team’s depth. 

For Manhattan, it was Rich Williams who led the way. Williams had 26 points, and for much of the night was the only offense the Jaspers had. Williams had a huge quickness advantage over forwards Bisping and Ogunyemi, which he exploited all night. However, Shane Richards was kept in check, thanks mostly to the defense of freshman Nico Clareth. Richards scored most of his points late in the game.

Siena moves on to a HUGE semi-final tomorrow night against Iona. The teams split the regular season meetings. Manhattan concludes their season with a 13-18 record. 

Stifling D leads Monmouth into Semi-finals

By Kevin Sweeney
Monmouth used dominant defense to knock off Rider 59-48 in a quarter-final matchup at the Times Union Center on Friday night. Micah Seaborn led the way with 14 points for the Hawks, who will play the winner of Fairfield vs Saint Peter’s on Sunday afternoon. 

It was a jittery start for the Hawks, as they struggled to create anything offensively in the first four minutes of play. They trailed 6-2 at the first media timeout of the game. From there, the Hawks locked in defensively, allowing just 2 field goals in the final 16 minutes of the first half. Monmouth’s defensive effort was keyed by their superior athleticism compared to Rider. Rider’s guards were unable to penetrate, and center Khalil Thomas faced double teams for much of the half. As a result, the Hawks were able to force turnovers and earn easy buckets as a result. In the final 16 minutes of the half, the Hawks outscored Rider 30-10 en route to a 32-16 halftime lead. 

The beginning of the second half seemed like more of the same for Rider, conceding 12 out of the first 19 points of the 2nd half. However, Rider seemed to have one run left in them. Sparked by two 3’s from forward Xavier Lundy, the Broncs went on an extended 16-1 run to cut the deficit to 6 with under 8 minutes to go. But Monmouth responded with a 7-0 spurt to distance themselves with 5 minutes to play. 

Turnovers plagued the Broncs all night long, as they turned the ball over a season-high 21 times in the contest. There were times when Monmouth guards literally ripped the ball out of the hands on Rider guards. These turnovers led to a season-low in scoring for the Broncs. 

Rider concludes their season with a 13-20 record. Monmouth moves to 26-8 on the season, with their next game on Sunday at 4:30pm. 

MAAC Tournament Preview: The Key For Each Team to Lift the Trophy

By Kevin Sweeney

The MAAC Tournament is rapidly approaching, with first round action beginning on Thursday.  I’ll be at the Times Union Center all tournament providing updates and analysis of all the games.  Let’s take a look at the key for each team to earn the MAAC’s auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament.

  1. Monmouth: Strong play from the supporting cast
    • The Hawks have Justin Robinson, the leading candidate for MAAC Player of the Year, but have struggled to replicate the production of forward Deon Jones, who is out with a hand injury.  In order for Monmouth to beat the likes of Iona or Siena, they will need more production from their role players to replace Jones’s production.  Players like Austin Tilghman, Pierre Sarr, Collin Stewart, and Je’lon Hornbeak have to step up for the Hawks if they want to reach the Big Dance.
  2. Iona: Hold opponents under 70 points
    • While Iona is usually seen as a team who wants to play in shootout-style games, the numbers say that defense is the key to Iona’s success.  The Gaels are 11-0 in games in which they allow under 70 points, but are just 8-10 in other games this season.  Iona’s athleticism and length allows them to bother opponents with full-court press or zone looks.  However, the Gaels struggle to defend in the paint, as center Jordan Washington is one of the most foul-prone players in college basketball.  Defense will decide the Gaels’s fate in Albany.
  3. Siena: Feed off of the home crowd
    • The Saints have the tremendous advantage of playing the conference tournament at their home venue, the Times Union Center.  On the season, the Saints are 12-2 at home, with their only losses coming in tight battles with Iona and Monmouth.  With Saints fans well-regarded as some of the best fans in the MAAC, expect huge crowds for all of the Siena games this weekend.  Having the support of 8-10,000 fans would be a huge boost in difficult games.
  4. Saint Peter’s: Grind it out
    • Saint Peter’s doesn’t play the most exciting brand of basketball.  They aim to slow the game down, play good defense, and score enough points to win.  They allow the least amount of points and the least amount of possessions per game in the MAAC.  They feature two of the best defenders in the league in Chazz Patterson and Quadir Welton. Patterson’s length allows him to guard the best players in the league, including AJ English and Shane Richards.
  5. Fairfield: Pick up the pace
    • One of the things that makes the quarter-final matchup between Saint Peter’s Fairfield is that the teams are basically polar opposites.  Fairfield loves to run up and down the floor, shoot 3’s and get easy buckets.  They rank top-25 in tempo in all of college basketball. With Marcus Gilbert, Tyler Nelson, and Curtis Cobb leading the way, the Stags have enough firepower to beat any team in the league on any given night.
  6. Manhattan: Force turnovers
    • For the Jaspers to win a third consecutive MAAC Championship, they will need to force a lot of turnovers.  Coach Steve Masiello, a Rick Pitino disciple, has an excellent reputation for his full-court pressure defense.  This year, the Jaspers have forced more turnovers per game than any other MAAC team.  This boom-or-bust style could lead them to glory.  The only issue is that the style that the Jaspers play is very taxing physically.  Without much depth, I can only wonder if Manhattan has enough stamina to win 4 games in 5 days.
  7. Canisius: Get hot from downtown
    • Even though they are just the 7th seed, the Golden Griffins are one of the most dangerous teams in the league.  They are capable of fireworks every time out, with explosive players like Malcolm McMillan and Kassius Robertson in the backcourt and match-up nightmares like Phil Valenti and Jermaine Crumpton in the frontcourt.  If they get hot at the right time, the Griffins could shock the league this weekend.
  8. Rider: Ride Okereafor and Thomas
    • For the Broncs to pull off a stunning performance this weekend, they will need their 2 leaders to have strong tournaments.  Okereafor, the 5th-year senior from England, is putting together another good season, leading the team in scoring and assists. Thomas, a 6’7″ forward, has been coming on strong lately. He leads the MAAC in field goal percentage and is third in rebounding.  If the veteran duo can be big for the Broncs, they have a chance to make some noise in the conference tournament.
  9. Quinnipiac: Dominate the paint
    • The Bobcats will need to impose their will inside in order to pull some upsets this weekend.  With strong players down low such as Chaise Daniels, Donovan Smith, and Abdulai Bundu, Quinnipiac has the size down low to bother some of the upper-echelon teams in the league.  However, they will also need to get support from their guards if they are going to make some noise in the tournament.
  10. Niagara: Someone other than Scott and Blackman must step up
    • We all know the scoring capabilities of guards Matt Scott and Emile Blackman, but for the Purple Eagles to have a sustained run in the tournament, they will need support from the other contributors.  If a player like freshman Marvin Prochet, who has shown signs of greatness this season, can have a great weekend, Niagara has a chance to knock off some good teams this weekend.
  11. Marist: Play like there is nothing to lose
    • If Marist had any sort of success this weekend, it would be one of the great stories of the weekend.  There are no expectations for the Red Foxes.  That being said, Marist has nothing to lose.  They have the freedom to play loose and just have fun.  Sometimes removing the pressure to succeed can make a team play better than they have all year.  With players like Khallid Hart and Brian Parker manning the backcourt, the Red Foxes have enough talent to make some noise.

Poor First Half Dooms Albany In Quarter-final Loss to Hartford

By Kevin Sweeney

This wasn’t how it was supposed to end.

An otherwise somber crowd applauded appreciatively as a tearful Peter Hooley shared embraces with his teammates and coach Will Brown as he exited the game for the final time of his college career. After 3 straight America East titles, including last year’s emotional win over Stony Brook in which Hooley hit the game-winner, this season was supposed to be a last hurrah of sorts. This season’s Great Danes team had aspirations of another Big Dance appearance, and maybe even the first Round of 64 victory in program history.

A dominant first half, as well as some big shots late, helped Hartford end those Albany championship aspirations before they really began on Tuesday night, earning a 68-59 victory at SEFCU Arena.

In that first half, the Hawks used hot shooting and good defense to run out to a 38-21 halftime lead. Hartford knocked down an incredible 9-17 shots from downtown in the first half. It was junior guard Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas who led the barrage for the Hawks, nailing 4-7 from 3 in the first half.  This first half deficit proved to much for Albany to recover from in the second half.

Brown expressed frustration with his team’s first half performance, saying “we lost that game in the first half.”

“We just dug ourselves to big a hole.” Peter Hooley added, echoing his coach’s sentiments.

Albany went into the locker room knowing that it would be necessary to start strong in the second half if they had any chance of coming back. They did so, quickly getting the deficit down to 12, but were unable to sustain a push. The Hartford lead hovered around 12 for much of the second half. With 5 minutes to go, the Albany deficit was 13. The Danes made one final push, using a 10-2 run to shrink the gap to just 5 points. However, on the ensuing possession, Hartford ran down nearly the entire shot clock before finding an open J.R. Lynch for a 3. Lynch calmly drained the dagger triple in what seemed to be the knockout punch for the Danes.

What makes this outcome even more shocking is that just 4 days ago, the teams met on the same floor. In that match-up, the Danes won fairly easily, beating the Hawks 75-59. However, both coach John Gallagher and Pancake Thomas said in their post-game press conference that Saturday’s game gave them confidence for this one.

“We left here Saturday night and not to be cocky, but we knew we would win this game.” Gallagher said.

Thomas added, “We knew the way we could play.”

Because the America East re-seeds, Hartford will travel to play top-seeded Stony Brook on Monday night. While Albany concludes their season, it seems likely that they will participate in one of the postseason tournaments, such as the CIT or CBI.