Stephan Jiggetts to Transfer From Fairleigh Dickinson

By Kevin Sweeney

One of the NEC’s top point guards will be looking for a new home this offseason.

According to Marcus Helton of DMVElite.com, Fairleigh Dickinson redshirt junior point guard Stephan Jiggetts will transfer this offseason. He will be immediately eligible to play next season after graduating in May.

The 6-1, 205 pound Jiggetts, who originally hails from Forestville, MD, was a 3rd-team All-NEC selection this season after averaging 13.5 points, 4.2 assists, and shooting 82% from the foul line for the Knights. He averaged  11 points per game last season, when he helped FDU to an NCAA Tournament berth.

His collegiate career got off to a strange start before he even played a game. He was originally committed to Siena under head coach Mitch Buonaguro. However, after Buonaguro’s firing, Jiggetts was released from his letter of intent and eventually signed with Albany. That destination didn’t work out either for Jiggetts, who left the program without ever playing a game. He then transferred to Fairleigh Dickinson to play his 3-year career.

Jiggetts will likely draw interest from lots of mid-major programs in need of instant-impact point guard help. His experience and talent would be an excellent addition for a team in position to contend for a conference title.

The departure leaves Greg Herenda’s team without a true point guard with game experience for next season. Expectations will be high for FDU, who stumbled to an 11-19 campaign after being picked to win the NEC this season, despite losing Jiggetts. They still return all-conference guard Darian Anderson, along with contributors like guard Earl Potts and center Mike Holloway. The Knights have received a letter of intent from point guard Jahlil Jenkins of West Virginia for next season.

 

 

 

This is (Also) March

By Kevin Sweeney

Midnight strikes to officially bring us to March 1.

I, along with many other college basketball fans, immediately head to Twitter to be greeted with something like this:

Tweet after tweet reading the same mantra: This is March.

We see this slogan, and we immediately think of buzzer-beaters, upsets, dog-piles at center court, and fans rushing the court with glee.

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This is what we think of when we say “This is March!”. Photo by Chad Cooper (https://flic.kr/p/mnDCiW, CC BY 2.0)

However, this past weekend at the MAAC Tournament, I realized there is another half of March, and boy is it tough to watch.

Seniors staring blankly as they come to the realization that their collegiate careers are over. Players crying uncontrollably as they begin to comprehend that they’ve come an inch or two short of the goal they had worked so hard to accomplish.

This is also March.

The two games from this weekend’s tournament that will stick with me forever were Monmouth vs Siena on Sunday and Iona vs Siena on Monday in the championship game. There was incredible basketball played in both of those games, but that’s not what I will remember most. I’ll remember witnessing the raw emotion of players I’d seen play for four years come up just short of their NCAA Tournament aspirations.

First, it was Monmouth on Sunday evening. The Hawks saw a 17-point second half slip away and fell 89-85 at the hands of the Saints, seeing a second straight season end in which they dominated the regular season before stumbling in the conference tournament.

Senior guard Justin Robinson chewed on his jersey, trying unsuccessfully to hold back tears. Fellow senior Josh James, whose technical foul seemed to swing momentum to the Saints, was inconsolable as he sprinted down the tunnel towards the locker room. Even an hour later, as the Hawks emerged from the locker room, many did so wearing hoods with tears still in their eyes. Later, more Hawks seniors stood on the concourse level surrounded by friends and family, in a mood as somber as a wake or funeral.

The next night, it was Siena, who had experienced the euphoria of March Madness the previous night, that faced the devastation of March when they came up just short in overtime to Iona. The more than 1,700 students (about 57% of the student population at Siena) that had been rowdy from tip all the sudden went silent when the dreams of storming the floor to the tune of “We Are the Champions” floated away just as Nico Clareth’s 3  for the win had floated wide left.

Point guard Marquis Wright began bawling as soon as the buzzer sounded, as his meaningless 35-foot heave swished through the net. Clareth just sat there on the hardwood, unable to believe that it was over. Javion Ogunyemi, who had missed a few early free throws but dominated the offensive glass to keep the Saints alive, was consoled by his father as he went down the tunnel while Iona celebrated on the Saints’ home court.

It was simply unfathomable to see the emotional rollercoaster for the Saints, from listless early in the second half vs Monmouth to the jubilation of a thrilling comeback, then to stunned disbelief that their seasons and careers were over, all in the span of about 30 hours.

But in many ways, that summarizes March. Those emotions make this month my favorite of the year, even when I am moved to tears seeing the heartbreak of others.

Only 68 teams fulfill their dream. The other 283? They experience the other side of this glorious month.

Tom Moore Out as Quinnipiac Head Coach 

By Kevin Sweeney

Tom Moore’s run as the head coach at Quinnipiac is over. 

The school announced this morning that the 51-year old Jim Calhoun disciple has been fired following a first round exit at the MAAC Tournament this weekend. Moore finishes his time at Quinnipiac with a 162-146 record and 4 postseason tournament appearances in 10 years. He also oversaw the program’s transition from the NEC to the MAAC prior to the 2013-14 season.  However, the last two seasons have been rough for the Bobcats, with consecutive 20 loss campaigns ranking near the bottom of the MAAC. 

The Quinnipiac job is one that will likely be highly sought-after. The MAAC has served as a stepping stone for current power conference coaches Fran McCaffery (Siena->Iowa), Ed Cooley (Fairfield->Providence) and Kevin Willard (Iona->Seton Hall). In addition, the Bobcats have the best on-campus facilities in the MAAC, with the beautiful TD Bank Sports Center holding approximately 3,500. 

The immediate future of the program rests on the shoulders of rising sophomores Mikey Dixon & Peter Kiss, along with rising senior big man Chaise Daniels. Should that trio all elect to remain in Hamden, the new coach will have a nice core to build around. If not, it could be a long rebuild for the new head man. 

One obvious candidate for the vacancy would be Iona assistant Jared Grasso. Grasso is regarded as an excellent recruiter and one of the top assistant coaches in mid-major basketball. He’s also an alum of the university, where he was a 1,000 point scorer, and was an assistant there in the 2005-2006 season. 

More to come as we get more information on this developing story.

Iona Wins Thriller To Seal Big Dance Berth

By Kevin Sweeney

It seemed like destiny. 

Nico Clareth, whose heroics in the semifinal vs Monmouth had the raucous Siena faithful chanting his name all night, had a three at the top of the key to send the Saints to the NCAA Tournament. 

But that wasn’t how the story ended. 

Clareth’s three was off target, and Iona was the team headed to the Big Dance. 

The Gaels found a way to survive 87-86 in an OT instant classic and knock off the Saints, who were playing on their home court and were coming off the emotional high of a win over top-seeded Monmouth. Senior big man Jordan Washington had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Gaels. 

Siena came out explosive in the early going, snagging an eight point lead. But Iona responded with a 17-1 run to silence the Times Union Center and give them control. Siena answered with an 11-0 spurt of their own, and were able to carry a 2 point lead into the break. However, the Saints had to have been frustrated with some missed opportunities from the charity stripe, as they shot just 7-15 from the foul line in the opening period. 

After a cold 3-11 from 3 in the first half, the Gaels brought a 3-point barrage with them out of halftime. They made 4 of their first 5 triples to start the second half, and quickly began extending a lead. That lead would grow to as much as 9, but that’s when Siena struck back. Senior forward Brett Bisping drained a pair of triples as the Saints stormed back to take the lead. 

But Deyshonne Much gave Iona the spark they needed to keep fighting despite losing momentum. He made several key plays, none bigger than a steal and dunk that put Iona up 4 with less than 5 minutes to go in regulation. 

Just as Bisping had put the Saints on his back earlier, fellow senior Marquis Wright did it at this juncture for the Saints. He made bucket after bucket down the stretch as part of a 29 point performance to keep the Saints punch-for-punch with the Gaels. 

With the Saints down 2 with 13.3 ticks left, Bisping stepped to the line and calmly drained a pair of free throws to tie the game. Rickey McGill’s shot for the win bounced off, and we had ourselves the first OT championship game of Champ Week. 

It was a steady diet of Washington in the extra session that kept Iona out front, as the senior dominated in the post to either score or draw a foul. It was Washington’s presence that led to EJ Crawford’s game-winner, as the defense had to stay home on Washington as Crawford drove to the hole, giving the freshman enough separation to score the layup. 

The final possession didn’t go well for the Saints, as way too much time came off the clock as they looked for a good shot. They finally got a decent look for Clareth, but the fearless sophomore couldn’t quite recreate the magic of yesterday’s performance. Washington got the rebound and was fouled, where he made both free throws to seal the deal. 

Wright drained a 35 footer at the buzzer to close the final margin to 1. 

The Gaels put all 5 starters in double figures, with Washington’s 21 leading the way. Much had 18, McGill 14, Crawford 12, and Schadrac Casimir added 10. It’s the second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament for the Gaels, who likely profile as either a 14 or 15 seed come Selection Sunday. 

Siena’s senior class of four 1,000-point scorers sees their careers end in heartbreaking fashion. Bisping had 16 points & 14 rebounds, while Javion Ogunyemi posted 16 points, 10 boards, and 5 blocks. Lavon Long added 9 points and 11 rebounds. The 17-17 Saints will likely be offered a chance to play in the postseason, but with such a senior-laden team, it’s unclear whether or not they would accept that invitation. 

Early 2nd-Half Explosion Pushes Iona Past St. Peter’s

By Kevin Sweeney

The first half was Iona’s lowest scoring half of the season. St. Peter’s had imposed their grind-it-out style, and the Peacocks appeared to be in control. 

The Gaels responded with a 17-0 run early in the second half to take a lead they would never concede, and advanced to their 5th consecutive MAAC championship game tomorrow night vs Siena. 

As I previously mentioned, the first half was a struggle for the Gaels. They were held without a field goal for the final 8:49 of the opening period, while first-team all-MAAC center Quadir Welton did work down low for the Peacocks. Coming off a career-high 25 points yesterday, Iona point guard Rickey McGill was held scoreless in the opening period and committed 3 personal fouls. However, the Gaels were still within just 4 at the break thanks to the hot shooting of Deyshonne Much, who had 11 first half points. 

After St. Peter’s scored the first 4 points of the second half, it was pretty much all Gaels. They went on the 17-0 run led by a 3-point barrage to turn a 9 point deficit into a 10 point lead, causing St. Peter’s head coach John Dunne to use 2 timeouts.

From there, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Peacocks, who aren’t known for their offensive prowess. They cut it to 2 a few times, but in the end couldn’t make enough shots to match Iona down the stretch. 

Welton and Trevis Wyche each had 18 points for the 19-13 Peacocks, who would be an excellent candidate for a “3rd tier” postseason tournament should they be interested. 

The Gaels put 4 players in double figures, with Sam Cassell Jr. leading the way with 17 points. Jordan Washington had 15 points, while Much had 13 and Jon Severe had 11. 

The Iona win sets up a matchup with Siena tomorrow night in a “road” game for the Gaels. It should be an INCREDIBLE atmosphere at the Times Union Center tomorrow. 

Clareth’s Heroics Lead Siena’s Second Half Comeback Over Monmouth 

By Kevin Sweeney

Knee injury. 

3 game suspension. 

Offensive struggles. 

Indefinite leave of absence. 

Siena fans won’t remember any of that from super sophomore Nico Clareth’s tumultuous campaign. 

They’ll remember the MAAC semifinal in which Clareth dropped 27 points in the second half on a bum ankle to lead a massive comeback to beat top-seeded Monmouth. 

They’ll remember chanting his name as he stood at center court overcome with emotion. 

They hope they’ll remember an NCAA Tournament berth. 

Clareth exploded from downtown with 7 second-half threes as the Saints came from 17 down to advance to the MAAC title game Monday night. Meanwhile, Monmouth’s NCAA Tournament hopes come crashing down in Albany for the second straight season after dominating the regular season. 

“This is everything right here. After all this hard work” Clareth said postgame, per @SienaSaints/Twitter. “We got one more….and we’ve got five more after that.”

Siena hung with the Hawks for much of the first half despite Clareth playing just 3 minutes, but a late run by Monmouth appeared to put the Saints’ hopes of advancing in serious jeopardy. With do-everything forward Lavon Long on the bench with 2 fouls, Siena turned the ball over 13 times in the opening period and couldn’t get anything going on offense late. Meanwhile, Monmouth heated up, going on a half-closing 9-0 run to give the Hawks a 39-25 lead at the break. 

Coming out of halftime, Monmouth seemed ready to pull away despite being in Siena’s home arena, but a couple of early 3’s by Clareth kept the Saints around.

Then, things changed. 

Clareth knocked down shot after shot, Marquis Wright was relentless with his drives to the hoop, and Brett Bisping and Javion Ogunyemi owned the glass. The Saints started to string together stops on defense, and all the sudden were right back in it. The raucous Siena faithful were going crazy, and Monmouth seemed to tense up. 

However, Monmouth appeared to be regaining control as senior Josh James finished a 3-point play to put the Hawks up 5. But James was T’d up in the aftermath of the bucket to keep momentum with the Saints. At that point, Monmouth had to be seeing flashbacks of last season’s championship game, when James got a technical late in the Monmouth defeat. 

Unfortunately for the Hawks, it was deja vu. 

Siena fought back to reclaim the lead and held it for much of the late stages of the second half. Every Monmouth bucket had an answer from Siena, and the intensity in the building grew with each passing second. 

The Hawks kept pushing, and got back within 1 with a minute to go. But Clareth hit a ridiculous fade-away from the baseline to keep the Saints in front. A stop by the Saints forced Monmouth to play the foul game, and Siena made their free throws when it mattered to complete the unthinkable comeback. 

Wright had 20 points and 8 assists, while Ogunyemi had 21 points and Brett Bisping had 13 points and 8 rebounds. 

Justin Robinson led the Hawks with 22 points, but was mostly kept in check all night by senior forward Lavon Long. James had 14 points, while Je’Lon Hornbeak had 13. 

Monmouth’s incredible senior class of Robinson (program’s D1 all-time leading scorer), James, Hornbeak, Collin Stewart, and Chris Brady exits without an NCAA Tournament berth, save a miracle from the Selection Committee. 

Meanwhile, Siena advances to the MAAC championship game tomorrow at 9pm. It should be an incredible crowd and atmosphere in downtown Albany. 

Ogunyemi Carries Saints in Second To Send Siena to MAAC Semifinals

By Kevin Sweeney

Javion Ogunyemi wouldn’t let his Siena career end. Not tonight, at least. 

As the Saints faced adversity in the second half with Fairfield charging hard and PG Marquis Wright on the bench with 4 fouls, Ogunyemi stepped up big and led his team to a 78-66 win and a berth in the MAAC semifinals. Ogunyemi had 24 points and 9 rebounds in the victory. 

Playing in front of their home crowd, Siena came out firing, using a 16-0 run early on to take an 18-6 lead. The game could have gotten hand for Fairfield at that point, but the Stags hung around with first team All-MAAC performer Tyler Nelson leading the charge. Despite the Stags playing better basketball, Siena went into the half with a 38-27 lead and feeling pretty good about their first half performance. 

Coming out of halftime, Fairfield came out feisty and got back into the game. Things really turned when Wright was called for a personal foul and subsequent technical for arguing, sending him to the bench with 4 fouls. The Stags drew as close as 5 as the Saints offense was out of sync, and the Siena faithful was seemingly getting tense. 

But with the shot clock winding down, Ogunyemi, who had made just 4 threes all season, drained a triple from the left wing, to give the Saints some breathing room. That three started a 10-0 run that included 8 points from Ogunyemi to give Siena a 62-47 lead with 6:53 to go. 

The Stags continued to fight down the stretch, but Ogunyemi and the Saints seemed to have the answer every time to keep Fairfield at bay. 

Fairfield concludes their season with a 16-14 record. Nelson led the way with 25 points, while Matija Milin added 14 for the Stags. 

The 4 senior starters for Siena (16-16) all had solid games. Lavon Long had 17 points and guarded Nelson for much of the night. Brett Bisping posted a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Wright had 12 points. The Saints advance to play Monmouth tomorrow at 4:30pm, a very quick turnaround especially considering Siena is not a deep team. 

Star sophomore Nico Clareth did not play tonight for Siena due to an ankle injury. His status for tomorrow’s game is unknown.