MAAC Tournament: 5 keys for Niagara in semi vs. Iona
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • March 10, 2013 @ 9:46am
Following their 74-62 triumph over Siena, the Niagara Purple Eagles relaxed in a section of the stands, relishing their quarterfinal win while keenly watching rival Canisius drop a high-scoring affair to Iona.
Almost exactly 24 hours later, the Purple Eagles will square-off against the Gaels in the MAAC Tournament semifinals at 2 p.m. at the MassMutual Center— televised on ESPN3 and live-blogged by Buffalo.com courtside. Niagara’s stars showed up Saturday—Antoine Mason posted 21 points and four steals, while Juan’ya Green added 15 points and six assists—but duplicating those stat-lines may not be enough to ward off high-flying Iona.
Here are five things Niagara must do to reach the conference final:
1) Avoid a slow start: Almost everything went wrong for the Purple Eagles to begin the quarterfinal game, and it’s a marvel that Joe Mihalich’s squad led by a point at halftime. Starting center Devon White earned two fouls in the first 2:38, shackling him to the bench for the remainder of the half.
Freshman guard Tahjere McCall, a valuable ball-handler and defender who’d solidified a place in NU’s starting five, shed tears as he was helped off the floor after suffering a knee injury. He was on crutches after the game and is, barring a miracle, out for the duration of the post-season. Stuck with a rather unfamiliar lineup, Niagara shot 33% for the first half before regrouping in the locker room.
2) Get Marvin Jordan in rhythm: MAAC fans know that Mason and Green will come out hard for Niagara today, much like Canisius’ Billy Baron and Iona’s MoMo Jones did yesterday. Stars will be stars.
It’s role players like Jordan, however, who subtly determine the outcome—if Mihalich can find a way to get his “instant-offense” junior shooting with confidence, Iona will have a tough time combating three dynamic Purple Eagle guards.
“Marvin the Microwave” mustered only eight points on 2-7 shooting, turning the ball over twice as well. If Jordan scores 15 or more points today, I’d bet heavily on a Niagara victory.
3) Make sure Devon keeps his cool: Graduate-student center Devon White is a gigantic man with a bit of a foul temper. He dodged a technical foul Saturday after two quick whistles on him, and his bench tantrum was mild compared to what we’ve seen this year.
If White can stay on the floor for 20 minutes this afternoon, that’ll be a major win for NU—his wide body and brute strength will make life difficult for Iona’s do-everything forward David Laury III and scrappy Taaj Ridley.
4) Play smart defense: Fouling got Canisius in trouble against Iona—the Gaels made 34-40 from the free-throw stripe with Jones and Sean Armand combining for 25-of-26. These two guards turn into robots when they reach the line—their fundamentals are mechanical, their release is picture-perfect and their consistency is remarkable.
Fouling a sweet shooter like Armand is double the poison, as the freebies also boosted his confidence in firing shots behind the arc (he went 3-for-3 from the field in the second half after hitting all 10 first-half free throws.)
Armand took a spill in the early second half that forced him briefly from the game—he said in the post-game presser that he may feel some soreness today as a result.
5) Hope MoMo is really, really sick: The MAAC Player of the Year persevered through an illness yesterday—he could barely speak post-game, and it’s likely that his wind will be a factor today even if his adrenaline masks much of the body aches and soreness.
Startlingly, Jones got better and better as the quarterfinal progressed—his 21 second-half points came from relentlessly attacking the rim, weaving around Canisius big men and eagerly inviting contact.
Not to turn this into a Kirk Gibson, Michael Jordan type of “greatness through sickness” story, but if MoMo can win a MAAC Championship while suffering from the flu—he’ll go down as a MAAC legend even if his career only spanned two seasons.