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Mason Making Leap to Auburn

By Bob DiCesare

Antoine Mason's announcement that he'll play his final season at Auburn is being portrayed nationally as a quality catch for new Tigers coach Bruce Pearl. Whether that proves true depends on if Mason, a 6-foot-3 guard with one season of eligibility remaining, makes a seamless transition from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, ranked No. 16 in the RPIs last season, to the SEC, ranked No. 7.

Mason averaged 25.6 points for Niagara last season, and that makes him the top returning scorer in the country. He pretty much had free reign as the Purple Eagles went young after coach Joe Miahlich left for Hofstra and three significant players transferred out. New coach Chris Casey gave him mega-minutes and rode the horse -- for better or worse. There weren't many other options at the offensive end.

Will Auburn grant Mason the same kind of freedom? And will his physical approach to offense remain effective against taller, stronger guards in the SEC?

Mason has always craved a challenge, whether it was coming back from the injury that ended his true freshman season or trying to carry his young teammates in the post-Mihalich upheaval. But despite his warrior-like attitude and his undeniable grittiness it's interesting that coaches left him off the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conferene first team after last season, going with five players instead of six even though Mason had been part of a six-man first team the season before.

Was that a commentary on his style? Does the demotion mean the coaches perceived his approach at exceedingly me-first? Maybe so. But there's no denying his offensive gifts.

That aside, Mason's departure was the best thing for Niagara moving forward. Casey can now build a program without deferring to one player. He can develop balance within the offense, something that wasn't going to happen so long as Mason was in uniform. This is a transfer situation that should prove best for all involved.

Simon Gray named Niagara AD

By Bob DiCesare

Simon Gray, a ninth-year athletic administrator at Eastern Kentucky, was introduced as the new athletic director at Niagara during a news conference this morning at the university.

Gray, a Pittsburgh native, became EKUs senior associate athletic director in 2011, according to his biography on the school Web site. It says that he served as senior administrator for men's and women's basketball while also acting in a variety of other capacities.

"We are very excited to welcome Simon Gray to Niagara University to lead the Purple Eagles," Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., university president, said in a news release. "His experience as an athletic administrator and his commitment to the university's mission will be critical elements in the continued success of our athletic department. He will be a great asset to our student-athletes, and our entire athletic department, and his positive impact will be felt in the Western New York community and beyond."

Steve Butler had served as Niagara's interim AD since Tom Crowley was removed from the post in September of 2013 after just 11 months on the job. Niagara named Chris Casey to replace the departed Joe Mihalich as basketball coach during Crowley's tenure, but it's unclear whether Crowley played a significant role in that hiring. Crowley has since been hired as special assistant to the commissioner in the Horizon League.

Butler was promoted to interim AD from his role of Associate AD for External Relations. Butler has been at Niagara since May of 2009.

Gray graduated from Richmond in 1998, according to his EKU bio, and worked in media relations at Boston College and East Tennessee State before becoming director of athletic public relations at Richmond. He joined EKU's athletic administration four years later and earned a master's degree in sports administration in 2010.

"Niagara University has such a strong history of athletic achievement." Gray said in the release announcing his appointment. "I am thrilled to be coming to NU and I look forward to being a part in the continued success of the Purple Eagles. This is a great opportunity and I look forward to working with people on campus, and in the local and regional communities, to spread the great name of Niagara athletics."

 

Two transfer from St. Bonaventure

By Rodney McKissic

Add two more names to the ever expanding transfer list: St. Bonaventure's Matthias Runs and Jean Yves Toupane who the school announced will not return to the program.

These aren’t huge losses. Runs, a 7-foot sophomore center from Hilversum, Netherlands, played in just two games while Toupane, a 6-foot-7 forward from Dakar, Senegal, played in six and scored four points.

The only other Big 4 player who has elected to transfer thus far is Niagara's Tajere McCall.

Baron Named MAAC's POY

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Canisius guard Billy Baron, the rock-steady force behind the program's rise from the depths, this evening was named the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year during award festivities at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Baron is the first Griff since Darrell Barley in 1996 to receive the honor and the third overall. Craig Wise was the MAAC's top player in 1995.

A two-time first-team all-MAAC selection, Baron is the nation's No. 3 scorer at 24.4 points per game and ranks among the national top 20 in 12 statistical categories, including No. 2 in minutes played. He has averaged 25.7 points, 6 assists and 5.1 rebounds against MAAC opponents while shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 87 perfect from the foul line.

Meanwhile, on the women's side, Niagara's Victoria Rampado, a 6-foot-2 forward from Niagara Falls, Ont., was named the conference's Rookie of the Year. She averaged 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds.

Baron is also a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award that goes to the nation's premier point guard and is a nominee for the Lute Olsen Award given to the top guard at the mid-major level.

Canisius, the No. 4 seed in the MAAC Tournament, plays Siena in a MAAC Tournament quarterfinal at 2:30 Saturday afternoon.

Other MAAC individual awards went to:

Men: Coach: Tim Cluess, Iona. Sixth Man: Maurice Barrow, Fairfield. Defensive: Rhamel Brown, Manhattan (three-time winner). Top Rookie: Khallid Hart, Marist.

Women: Coach: Billi Godsey, Iona. Player: Damika Martinez, Iona. Sixth Man: Aaliyah Robinson, Iona. Defensive: Leanne Ockenden, Marist.

-- Jerry Sullivan and Bob DiCesare

Blown Call Hurt Niagara

By Bob DiCesare

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference office issued a statement Thursday night saying officials were wrong when they awarded a jump ball to Monmouth with 1:44 remaining in the Hawks 66-62 victory over Niagara in a morning pre-quarterfinal.

The tie-up occurred with Monmouth holding a 60-59 lead that expanded to 62-59 on the ensuing possession. Niagara coach Kendra Faustin asked for clarfication at the time but game officials carried on under the assumption that the possession arrow was correct.

"Niagara started with possession at halftime," reads the statement. "Following that, there was a jump ball at 16:34 and possession went to Monmouth. The next held ball should have been given to Niagara with 1:44 left on the game block. Instead, it was given to Monmouth.

"As a result, I determined the table crew was in fact incorrect and Niagara should have been given the ball with 1:44 left to play. All rellated parties have been reprimanded by the Commissioner."

It's unclea rin the statement if the explanation provided is given by Commissioner Rich Ensor or MAAC Coordinator of Officials Marty Novitch, who was asked by the league to review the matter.

Big 4 Hoops Scenarios

By Bob DiCesare

Here's where the Big 4 basketball teams stand as of 6 p.m. Saturday:

MAC

Men

UB has clinched at least a tie for the East Division title and it becomes an outright championship if Bowling Green beats Akron tonight. More importantly, the Bulls have clinched a top-four finish within the MAC overall and have earned a bye into no less than the quarterfinals in Cleveland. They can finish top 2 by winning their final two games regardless what happens in tonight's Toledo-WMU game. The Bulls are at Akron Tuesday and home to Bowling Green next Saturday.

Women

UB (9-7) has the tiebreaker advantage over Toledo (8-7) as they battle for the No. 4 seed and bye into the quarterfinals. WMU (8-8) lurks. UB has Akron (18-8, 12-3) and Kent (6-20, 3-12) at home. Toledo plays Central Michigan (18-9, 14-1) Sunday and finishes with Eastern Michigan and Ball State. If UB wins out it's in the quarters. If Toledo loses to CMU the Bulls can take probably still take the No. 4 seed with a 1-1 finish. That presumes CMU beating WMU, never a sure thing in a rivalry game.

MAAC

Men

Canisius finishes with the No. 2 seed if it wins at Manhattan Sunday AND Quinnipiac loses to Marist. The Griffs get the No. 3 seed if they beat the Jaspers AND Quinnipiac beats Marist. A loss gives Canisius the No. 4 seed  and a MAAC Tournament quarterfinal game against Siena on Friday in Springfield.

Niagara will be the No. 11 seed and face the No. 6 (either Rider, Saint Peter's or Marist) at 9 p.m. Thursday in Springfield.

Women

Canisius and Niagara are 8-11 and tied for the No. 6 seed heading into Sunday's finales. Canisius is home to fifth-pace Rider (9-10) and Niagara is home to Fairfield (14-5). If Canisius and Niagara both win there will be a three-way tie for seeds 5-7. Canisius would be 3-1 among the trio, Niagara 2-2 and Rider 1-3. If Canisius wins and Niagara loses the Griffs take the No. 5 seed based on a sweep of Rider and Niagara becomes either the No. 7 or 8 seed depending on the tiebreaker with Manhattan (8-12). If Canisius and Niagara both lose it's a three-way tie for Nos. 6-8 among Canisius, Niagara and Manhattan with Manhattan being 3-1 in the group, Niagara 2-2 and the Griffs 1-3.

ATLANTIC 10

Men

Bona is 6-9 and No. 8 in the conference and can go no higher. They can drop no lower than No. 10. La Salle (5-8) and Duquesne (4-10) also factor in. Bona finishes at VCU. La Salle was playing Fordham Saturday and still has games with George Mason and Saint Joseph's. Duquesne has UMass and George Mason.

Women

The Bonnies are done with the regular season and will be the No. 2 seed behind Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. They'll play the winner of the 7-10 game in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Friday in Richmond.

Niagara-Marist Game Wrap

Niagara 80, Marist 74

How Niagara Won: 1) The nation's leading scorer caught fire with the game on the line. 2) By drastically turning the rebounding tables in the second half. 3) By scoring 11 second-chance points after intermission.

Turning Point: The game was sitting there waiting to be had when Antoine Mason shifted into gear and made 3s with 6:45 left, 3:46 left and 2:59 on the clock. And Niagara's leads went to 60-56, 67-60 and 70-61.

Player of the Game: Marist junior Chavaughn Lewis had the primary guard on Mason most of the night and held him to 6 of 18 shooting from the field. Meanwhile, Lewis also scored a game-high 25 points, shot 10 of 16 and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds. That's a pretty good night's work right there.

Stat Check: Marist shot 52.8 percent from the field, 41.2 percent from behind the arc and just 50 percent (11 of 22) from the foul line. Go figure.

Stat Check II: Niagara guard Marvin Jordan (18 points) is 14 of 24 from the field the last two games after a three-game skid where he was 3 of 20.

Stat Check III: First half rebounding: Marist 21-9 and 7-1 at the offensive end. Second half rebounding: Niagara 18-10 and 8-4 on the offensive end. Niagara big man Marcus Ware had all three of his offensive boards in the second half and went to the line 13 times on the night, making 10.

What It Means: Niagara rid itself of a two-game losing streak and improved to 6-15 overall and 3-7 in the MAAC. Marist is 6-13, 3-6.

Still Missing: Niagara point guard Tahjere McCall sat out a second straight game with that tongue laceration suffered in practice Tuesday. He remains day to day. 

In the House: Taps welcomed 1,250 into its warm confines on a night when basketball went head-to-head with hockey on Monteagle Ridge.

Next Up: Niagara hits the road for games at Siena on Thursday and a rematch with Marist on Saturday. The Red Foxes play at Canisius at 2 p.m. Sunday before heading back to Poughkeepsie.

Bob DiCesare

Canisius-Niagara Game Wrap

Canisius 87, Niagara 74

How Canisius Won: Depth. Precision offense. And by building a big lead and making it hold up for a change. Niagara's chances were basicallly shot when point guard Tajhere McCall was held out after suffering a severe tongue laceration in practice Tuesday. That meant freshman guards Wesley Myers played seconds shy of 40 minutes, while guards Antoine Mason and Marvin Jordan did play all 40 minutes. That's a grind in a rivalry game on the road, especially when Canisius players are filling their roles as well as they did in this one. Very solid game for the Griffs, who held Niagara at bay after seeing double-digit leads evaporate the last two times out.

Player of the Game: As I've said before, Billy Baron would dominate this category for the Griffs (and Mason for Niagara). Outside of those two, it's hard not to love what Chris Manhertz brought in this one. He had 14 points and 11 boards in 30 minutes, was perfect on eight free throws and tied his career high with four assists. But get this: Zero fouls. Manhertz managed that once before in his career, against Niagara, in a game in which he played just three minutes.

Best Supporting Roles: Have to go with Chris Perez (17 points) on the Canisius end and Marvin Jordan (19) on the Niagara side. Jordan went 4 of 10 from three and ended his career averaging better than 20 points in games at the KAC.

Elite Matchup: Baron had it going early for Canisius while Mason seemed to bide his time before exploding late. But what's with that 3-for-7 performance at the foul line? But from the field: Mason was 11 of 19, Baron 10 of 17. Quality stuff.

Security Check: Given the rivalry stakes and the oft-times frenetic tempo the turnover numbers astounded. Niagara committed nine, Canisius a season-low five.

What It Means: Canisius (13-7, 7-2) moved into sole possession of first in the MAAC by a half-game and owns back-to-back victories over Niagara for the first time since 2000-01. The Purple Eagles (5-15, 2-7) have lost six of their last seven.

In the House: The game sold out Monday (2,196) and tickets were going $10 over face value outside the doors.

Home Cooking: Canisus remained unbeaten at home, where it's averaging better than 85 points a game.

What's Next: Marist. The Red Foxes visit Niagara Friday night and Canisius Sunday afternoon. McCall is listed as day-to-day for Niagara.

###

Niagara-Siena Game Wrap

Siena 84, Niagara 71

How Siena Won: In the words of Saints coach Jimmy Patsos, the Saints made it a priority to "engage" Antoine Mason whenever the nation's leading scorer touched the ball. The in-your-face approach limited Mason's dribble-penetration and made Niagara look elsewhere for points. Rayvon Harris stepped up but Purple Eagles needed more.

Turning Point: The game was tied at 26 after a Niagara rally but the Saints went on a 21-9 run to end the half, opening a 12-point lead that was never seriously threatened.

Player of the Game: I've always like Rob Poole's game and the Siena junior guard could be in for a big season given the Saints' size and physicality up front. He struck for 21 points, going 4 of 6 from three.

Stat Check: The final stats say Niagara outscored Siena 46-38 in the paint. How so? Niagara was down 26-18 in the paint at halftime. They scored 36 second-half points. Eight of those came at the free throw line.

Stat Check II: Niagara went 0 for 13 from three. Momma said there'd be nights like that.

Minutes Made: Joe Thomas barely saw the floor in the first half but had four points, four blocks and six boards in the second half. Niagara could have used him when Siena was having its way underneath early.

What It Means: Niagara's losing streak hit seven with a loss in the MAAC opener. Its only victory this season? UB.

In the House: They're taking a wait-and-see approach to Chris Casey's tenure on The Ridge. There were 1,442 on hand, about 1,000 under capacity.

What's Next: Niagara entertains Saint Peter's Sunday afternoon while Siena motors down the road to Canisius.

-- Bob DiCesare

Atlantic Hockey road tilts for Canisius, Niagara this weekend

by Amy Moritz

It's a big conference weekend for Niagara and Canisius with both teams on the road for Atlantic Hockey matchups.

The Golden Griffins, coming off a three-point weekend against UConn, are in West Point to face Army for two games (7 p.m. tonight and Saturday).

Images
Tony Capobianco (gogriffs.com)

Senior goaltender Tony Capobianco has regained his form from last year after a slow start. In his last four games, he has a 1.72 goals against average and a .945 save percentage. In his first four games, he had a 4.79 goals against average and a .879 save percentage.

The rest of the senior class is stepping up as well. Kyle Gibbons is now two goals shy of 50 for his career while Ben Danford has a team-best eight assists.

"We have a veteran team so it's not as much about Xs and Os as it is about role acceptance and putting team first," Canisius coach Dave Smith said. "Everyone wants success and those things seem to be coming together nicely. We'll have a challenge in West Point. We know what Army is capable of physically and we've got to be on the top of our game."

The Black Knights are 2-7-0 in Atlantic Hockey with its last game a 4-3 overtime win over American International.

Niagara meanwhile travels to Connecticut for games with the Huskies tonight (7 p.m.) and Saturday (4 p.m.).

The Purple Eagles are still looking for their first road win of the season. They're coming off a 4-2 loss at No. 15 Cornell, where coach Dave Burkholder felt his team played its best game of the season.

AR-131009337
Jackson Teichroeb (buffalonews.com)

Freshmen goaltenders Jackson Teichroeb and Adrian Ignagni  have been battling for the No. 1 spot. (For the record, Burkholder said neither one has emerged yet as the top goalie.) And the Purps biggest weakness has been its defense.

"We’ve been working and we’ve gotten a lot better with our D-zone coverage, but it’s actually been our backchecking that's the problem," Burkholder said. "We’ll have freeze frames on video where we have five Niagara players in the picture and the other team is still making plays through our five guys. So we’re back, which is great. It shows a strong work ethic, but we’re not playing smart. That's been an issue with us and we think we’ve gotten a lot better."

UConn, in its last season with Atlantic Hockey before moving to Hockey East, is tied with Niagara and Canisius for fourth place in the conference standings. All three teams have seven points.

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About Campus Watch

Bob Dicesare

Bob DiCesare

Western New York native Bob DiCesare covers UB football, Big 4 basketball and writes an occasional column. He still holds a grudge against Chris Ford who, he's convinced, cost St. Bonaventure the 1970 NCAA basketball championship.

@TBNDicesare | bdicesare@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered colleges for The Buffalo News since 1999. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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