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March 8, 2008
The MAAC Tournament

by Caleb Peiffer


ALBANY, N.Y.--The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Quarterfinals get underway today at the Times Union Center, and Basketball Prospectus is on hand to chronicle the action. The first game, between Fairfield and Loyola, tips off at 2:15 p.m., and the last, between Marist and Niagara, gets underway at 10:00 tonight. Check back following each game for an account of the contest, which will be posted after the previews below.

If the MAAC Tournament plays out anything like the conference's regular season did, it will be a highly-contested, thrilling couple of days in Albany. Six teams finished with between 11 and 13 wins in conference play, and the regular season champions were not revealed until the final game of the schedule. Siena and Rider tied for first at 13-5, Niagara and Loyola were both in third place at 12-6, and Marist and Fairfield were right behind them at 11-7. The Saints earned the top seed thanks to their season sweep of Rider, and will be playing in their home arena throughout the tournament. While that makes Siena the definitive favorite, Ken Pomeroy's log5 analysis reveals that all six teams bunched atop the standings have a shot, and that there is a greater than 40 percent chance a team other than the Saints will advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Eight teams playing in a single elimination tournament for a single spot in the field of 64--it doesn't get much better than that. March has indeed arrived.

Metro Atlantic Tournament Quarterfinals

Matchup: #5 Seed Fairfield (14-15, 11-7) vs. #4 Loyola MD (18-13, 12-6), 2:15 p.m. EST, MSG Network
Rankings: Fairfield, #213 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 10 in MAAC); Loyola MD, #177 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Loyola MD, 70-67 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 39%
Result: Loyola MD, 64-59 in 51 Possessions

The Greyhounds raced out to an 18-point lead early in the second half, and the Stags could not quite run them down in the opening game of the MAAC Tournament Quarterfinals at the Times Union Center Saturday afternoon. Loyola staved off a late Fairfield comeback to pull out a 64-59 win and advance to the tournament semifinals tomorrow night.

The game was an offense struggle in disguise, as both teams scored over 1.14 points per possession, but the overall number of points was held down by the extremely slow pace of 51 total trips. The game was the first this year that Loyola has played with a possession count in the 50's, and tied for the slowest game of the season for Fairfield with a loss to Georgetown on December 1. While neither team shot well from two-point range, each offense hit its three pointers (8-of-16 for Fairfield, and 8-of-20 for Loyola) and did good work on the offensive glass.

Leading by thirteen at halftime, 34-21, Loyola scored the first five points of the second period on a three-pointer by guard Michael Tuck and a breakaway layup by guard Brett Harvey after a Greyhounds steal. That put Loyola up 39-21, their largest lead of the game, but from that point the Stags began to get back into it. With the score 42-24, Fairfield launched a 22-6 run over six minutes of play, which was capped by a three-pointer by point guard Jonathan Han that made the score 50-48 Loyola. The Greyhounds senior leader, Gerald Brown, answered with his own three-pointer, but on the next Fairfield possession Anthony Johnson soared well above the basket to throw down an explosive dunk off a perfect lob from Jonathan Han, which cut the lead down to 53-50 with 8:44 to play.

Harvey knocked down a three less than a minute later that pushed the lead back to eight points, but Fairfield had one more run left. Warren Edney knocked down a jumper with 3:24 to play that shaved the lead to five, and then on the following Stags possession Han and Johnson hooked up again, as this time the MAAC's assist leader zipped a no-look pass from the top of the three-point arc to a wide-open Johnson under the hoop, who flushed the ball with a one-hand tomahawk to make it 62-59 with 2:17 to play.

Fairfield had to play defense for a full minute on the following possession, but after two missed Loyola jumpers, the Stags walked it down the court with just over a minute remaining, still down three. Han, a 6'0 junior who ranks third in the country in percentage of minutes played and ranks 31st in assist rate, drove down the right side of the lane, but his runner bounced off the rim and the ball squirted out of bounds and over to the Greyhounds.

Pressing heavily in the backcourt, Fairfield nearly came up with a steal, but the Greyhounds were able to get it across and into the hands of Harvey, an 84 percent free throw shooter. Harvey missed the one-and-one, but the ball again went out of bounds off of Fairfield. Brown then finished off the game by cutting to the hoop for a layup.

"This program will never forget Gerald Brown," Loyola head coach Jimmy Patsos said of the forward who led all scorers with 18 points on 59 eFG% from the floor. "I was going a little crazy in the huddle--Gerald Brown said 'I got it, I'm taking over, listen to me.' He called the plays, he made sure everybody did what they're supposed to."

The Greyhounds will now play in the semifinal tomorrow night, likely against Siena, which plays at a much faster pace than the 62.6 possessions/40 minutes that the Stags average.

"Siena's a great game for us--Siena likes to go up and down," Patsos said. "Fairfield is really difficult because they grind it out and play very tough. Siena is the way we like to play."

Loyola averages 68 possessions per 40 minutes, and Siena 70.4. The Greyhounds beat the Saints twice this season, including in overtime on the road on February 16, and will have to win again at the Times Union Center in order to reach the championship game.

Han led Fairfield with 14 points and a game-high eight assists, while Harvey scored 16 points on 4-of-11 from three-point range, and Tuck added 14 and eight rebounds. The Stags, who have no seniors among their top seven in minutes played, finish the season an even 15-15.

Matchup: #8 Seed Manhattan (12-18, 5-13) at #1 Siena (19-10, 13-5), 4:30, MSG
Rankings: Manhattan, #232 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 10 in MAAC); Siena, #119 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Siena, 83-67 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 9%
Result: Siena, 66-58 in 63 Possessions

Tournament favorite Siena ended the season of the young Jaspers with ease on Saturday evening in the second MAAC Quarterfinal game at the Times Union Center. The Saints cruised to a 66-58 victory to advance to the tournament semifinals, where they will play Loyola.

Siena, which lost at Manhattan by one point on February 18, got out to a double-digit lead in the first half and then over the remainder of the game toyed with eighth seeded Manhattan, the ninth youngest team in the nation, never letting the Jaspers come closer than within seven points. The victory sets up a matchup between the Saints and Greyhounds, who beat Fairfield in the first game of today's quarterfinals action, and who are perhaps the team best-suited to take down the tournament's top seed, having beaten Siena twice during the regular season.

The Saints took control of the game midway through the first half. Manhattan, which beat nine-seed St. Peter's last night to advance, continued its strong play out of the gate, and led 12-11 after a layup by Rashad Green with eight minutes gone by. Siena's first-team All-MAAC guard Edwin Ubiles put the Saints back up on the next possession with a layup, and from that point forward Siena would never again trail. Ubiles' bucket began a 12-0 run over the next five plus minutes which made the score 23-12.

Two straight field goals by Manhattan's junior forward Devon Austin, the only upperclassman in the Jaspers' regular rotation and the team's leader in offensive rating, followed by a layup by Andrew Gabriel cut the Siena lead down to five with 4:43 before halftime. The Saints quickly built their lead back up in front of the home crowd, however, pushing the advantage to 11 once again on an alley-oop slam by forward Alex Franklin from point guard Ronald Moore, and took a 32-23 lead into halftime.

Manhattan appeared poised to threaten at several points in the second half, but each time they cut the lead to single digits, the Jaspers either turned it over or were stymied by a made Siena basket. Manhattan missed a chance to shave the Saints' advantage to six with a little over four minutes to play, as guard Chris Smith missed two free throws, and then on the Jaspers' next possession had the ball stolen away from him by Franklin, which led to a jumper by Siena guard Kenny Hasbrouck.

The Jaspers struggled at the free-throw line throughout the game--in the first half they missed all five of their free throws, and finished the game just 5-of-12 from the stripe. Manhattan, second to last in the MAAC in both three-point percentage and percentage of field goal attempts taken from deep, also predictably failed to get its long range attack off the ground, hitting only 1-of-9 three-point attempts in the first half and 3-of-14 overall. In the Jaspers' surprising 73-72 win over Siena several weeks ago, they hit 11-of-21 from downtown.

Franklin led all scorers with 26 points on 9-of-18 shooting for the Saints, and also added a team-high nine rebounds, while Austin scored 17 points on 8-of-15 from the floor and grabbed 11 rebounds. Moore had 11 points, seven rebounds, and 10 assists, one off his career high, and committed just two turnovers for a Saints team that is fifth best in Division I at taking care of the ball.

"The key for us was Ronald Moore--I thought he was tremendous today," Siena coach Fran McCaffery said.

The loss for Manhattan, which was also bounced from the MAAC Tournament by Siena last year, drops the Jaspers to 12-19, the team's worst finish since 1999. The Saints, meanwhile, will have to figure out a way to beat Loyola tomorrow if they hope to play for their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002 in Monday's MAAC Championship. The Greyhounds blew out Siena 85-56 in Maryland January 24, and then won at the Times Union Center on February 18 in overtime, 83-76.

Matchup: #10 Seed Canisius (6-24, 2-16) vs. #2 Rider (21-9, 13-5), 7:30
Rankings: Canisius, #304 in Pomeroy Ratings (10th of 10 in MAAC); Rider, #126 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Rider, 81-63 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 6%
Result: Rider, 75-71 in 67 Possessions

The Broncs beat Canisius by a combined 75 points in the two regular season meetings between the teams, and after the first half of play Saturday night at the Times Union Center in the MAAC Tournament Quarterfinals, it appeared that the Golden Griffins were headed towards another drubbing. But after trailing 41-29 at halftime, last place Canisius, the lowest seed in the tournament, came back to nearly upset the two seed.

It was the Broncs that came up with the critical shot, however, as little-used freshman Patrick Mansell knocked down a three-pointer with less than a minute and a half to play to brake a 71-71 tie and spur the Broncs to the 75-71 victory. Mansell entered the game having played less then 20 percent of the team's minutes and shot only 13-of-42 from long range, but when 6'11 senior Jason Thompson passed to him beyond the arc, the first-year guard didn't hesitate to pull the trigger.

Mansell was only playing because of two key injuries that struck Rider in the second half. With 7:31 to play Rider's lead having been cut down to 62-61, sophomore guard Ryan Thompson, who ranks second on the Broncs behind his older brother Jason in minutes played, was knocked out of the game with a concussion. A little over a minute later, Broncs point guard Justin Robinson left the game with a knee injury.

"It's amazing because, with the exception of senior night, we've started the same lineup every game all year," Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said. "We come here in the biggest spot, the biggest weekend of the season, and they were dropping like flies."

The score was 64-62 in favor of Rider when Robinson left, and two free throws from Broncs guard Harris Mansell, who also was hurt but returned from a first half ankle injury, made the score 66-62 with 5:42 to play. But the Golden Griffins' contingent of undersized guards soon spurred Canisius into the lead. Six foot freshman Robert Goldsberry nailed a jumper from the elbow, and on the next possession 5'10 Frank Turner stole the ball from Broncs' point guard Matt Griffin, who was filling in for Robinson, and scored on the breakaway to tie the game at 66.

The Broncs scored the next three points, but with 2:13 to play the defense sagged off 6'1 junior Bob Bevilacqua, who got the ball from Turner on the left wing and found the space to nail a three-pointer that tied the score once again. Harris Mansell followed with a layup, but Turner answered right back, curling off a screen from forward Greg Logins and unleashing a shot just over the arm of Jason Thompson, which bounced around the rim before falling in for the 71-71 tie. That set up Patrick Mansell's big shot, as the smaller Griffins swarmed Thompson in the middle to prevent an easy bucket from the big man, and Thompson deftly kicked it out to his teammate on the left wing.

"He's a big shot maker, and I had a lot of confidence that that shot would go in," Dempsey said.
"I thank [Thompson] for trusting me to make that shot," Mansell added. "I'm shooting like 30 percent on the season from three, but still he trusted me to take that shot and knock it down, and I did."

The Griffins missed on their next opportunity, but a traveling call on Thompson gave the ball back to Canisius with 27 seconds left. The team elected to go inside to Logins rather than shoot a three, and the forward was fouled while putting up a shot that nearly rolled into the hoop. Logins missed the first free throw, however, and Canisius was called for a lane violation on the second, effectively ending the squad's chances. Rider inbounded the ball to Thompson, who hit one of two free throws with 14 seconds left to finish off the victory.

Canisius was attempting to pull off an upset via a second-half comeback for the second straight night, after the Griffins erased a nine point halftime deficit against Iona yesterday to reach the quarterfinals. The Griffins did not wait long tonight to cut into the Broncs' 12-point halftime cushion. After Jason Thompson scored a layup on Rider's first second-half possession that made it 43-31, Canisius went on a 13-2 run, begun and ended by three-pointers from Logins, that cut the Broncs' advantage to 45-44 with 16:44 to play.

From that point forward the game stayed very close. Rider went up by six with 12:50 left, but Canisius ran off another run, this time an 11-2 stretch of play capped by two Turner jumpers and a Bevilacqua three, that gave the Griffins a 62-59 lead.

The second-half performance from the Griffins was even more improbable considering how badly the Broncs had beaten Canisius this season--82-58 in Buffalo on December 8, and then a stunning 51 point, 102-51 blowout in New Jersey on January 6.

"I can't say how proud I am of them, how far we've come since the last time we played them," Canisius coach Tom Parrotta said. "It all came together tonight, short of a victory."

The Golden Griffins are the youngest team in the MAAC, and the sixth youngest in the country, with an average experience level of 0.8 years. Canisius finished its season at 6-24, but will return its top seven in percentage of minutes played next season.

"They're playing a lot of freshmen--they played with great energy," Dempsey said. "They're a better team right now than they were two months ago."

Logins led all scorers with 20 points on 75 eFG% shooting, as the 6'7, 240 lb. freshman clearly got hyped up to play against NBA prospect Thompson, and mostly had his way against the MAAC Player of the Year on offense. Turner added 19 points for the Griffins, to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists, while Bevilacqua scored 15 on 5-of-9 from three-point range. Thompson led the Broncs with 18 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, his 21st double-double of the season.

Thompson and Rider now advance to Sunday's semifinal matchup against the winner of the last game in tonight's quarterfinal action, between Marist and defending MAAC Tournament champion Niagara. The Broncs, however, will have to go on without Ryan Thompson and Robinson, who are both out for Sunday's semifinal game. That puts even more pressure on Jason Thompson, who leads Rider in possessions used and shots taken, rebounding, and block percentage, to carry the Broncs to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1994.

Matchup: #6 Seed Marist (17-13, 11-7) vs. #3 Niagara (19-9, 12-6), 10:00, MSG
Rankings: Marist, #157 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 10 in MAAC); Niagara, #153 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Niagara, 74-73 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 48%
Result: Marist, 66-62 in 69 Possessions

Standing at the free-throw line in the final minute of what was to be the final game of his collegiate career, the nation's leading scorer needed just two more points to give his team the lead. But Charron Fisher, perhaps tired from having played all forty minutes of the game and a higher percentage of his team's minutes on the season than all but 10 other players in the nation, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 45 seconds to play, and Marist went on to defeat Niagara 66-62 to eliminate the defending MAAC tournament champions and advance to the semifinals.

After's Fisher's missed free throw, the senior, who entered the night with a national-best average of 27.8 points per game, fouled Marist freshman guard Jay Gavin on the perimeter with 30 seconds left, and Gavin hit both free throws to extend the Marist lead to 61-58. With plenty of time remaining, the Purple Eagles--who rank last in the MAAC in three-point percentage, at 31.5--elected to try to get it all back with one shot, rather than pound it inside to Fisher. The long range attempt of freshman Anthony Nelson, who had hit just 12-of-43 threes on the season, caromed off the rim and into the hands of Marist senior forward Spongy Benjamin.

Perhaps in a display of frustration over the evaporation of his final postseason opportunity, and the realization that the last seconds of his college career were at hand, Fisher fell hard upon Benjamin and was called for an intentional foul, which by rule awarded two free throws and the ball to the Red Foxes. Marist capitalized on the call to take a five point lead with 18 seconds left, which effectively ended the game.

Niagara led 58-55 with 2:24 to play after a three-pointer by sophomore guard Tyrone Fisher, but Marist's fifth-year senior forward Ryan Stilphen brought the Red Foxes back. After the team's offense broke down on the possession following Fisher's three, sophomore point guard David Devezin fired up an air-ball from three-point range with the shot clock nearing expiration. Stilphen was in the right spot, however--whether by good fortune or by design--and the forward snatched the ball out of the air and banked in a reverse layup to cut the lead to one.

Lewis misfired on another three-point attempt on the next Niagara trip, and Stilphen was fouled by Benson Egemonye in the fight for the rebound, which put Marist into the double bonus. Just a 52 percent free throw shooter on the season, Stilphen headed to the other end of the court having made 1-of-4 from the line on the game, but he knocked down both shots to give Marist a 59-58 lead with 1:11 to play, and set up Fisher's own fateful trip to the stripe.

"I obviously hadn't had a very good free-throw shooting game up to that point, but I just wasn't going to let myself miss those two," Stilphen said. "I knew that going up one would be a big deal, and thankfully I was able to knock them down."

The Red Foxes ended up taking 20 trips to the line in the second half, to eight for Niagara. The Purple Eagles entered the game ranked first in the MAAC and 11th in the nation in free throw rate, while the Red Foxes were eighth in the MAAC in that same category, yet those profiles were reversed on Saturday night.

"I thought in order to give ourselves a chance to win, we had to keep Niagara off the foul line--mission accomplished there," Marist coach Matt Brady said.

The game was a remarkably tight one throughout, as both teams led by as many as four points in the first half before Niagara went into the locker room with a one-point lead. The Purple Eagles went up by as many as six with a little over seven minutes to play in the second half, but a 7-1 run by the Red Foxes, highlighted by a big three-point shot from senior Ben Farmer, tied the game for the tenth time, at 51-51 with 5:09 to play. Overall, the contest featured 12 ties and 17 lead changes.

Fisher led all scorers with 23 points, but he made just 9-of-26 shots from the floor, and 1-of-4 from three. The 6'4 senior also tied his career high by grabbing 16 rebounds. Farmer had 13 points and seven rebounds for Marist, while Benjamin had 11 boards and Stilphen added nine points, eight rebounds, and four assists. That trio of seniors, together with the three other seniors on the roster, will now try to lift the Red Foxes past Rider in the semifinals, the round where Marist, as the tournament's top seed, lost last year to Siena.

"To see these six seniors play again is really all I fight for," Brady said. "The young guys will have a chance because we'll be good in the future, but right now all I care about is tomorrow."

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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2008-03-09 - The MAAC Semifinals: Rider 76, Marist 71
2008-03-09 - The MAAC Semifinals: Siena 65, Loyola 63
2008-03-09 - Prospectus Preview: Sunday's Games to Watch
2008-03-08 - The MAAC Tournament : Quarterfinals
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