5 things we learned from Niagara’s season-ending loss to Maryland
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • March 20, 2013 @ 10:47am
Pitted against a perennial ACC power in the National Invitational Tournament, the Niagara Purple Eagles still had a lot to play for in Tuesday night’s first-round clash against Maryland.
The Purple Eagles were televised in prime-time on ESPN2, went head-to-head with a high-major on the road and were participating in the postseason for the first time since 2008. At this point, any competitive game holds value for Mihalich’s squad—the 40th youngest in the country—as any “teachable moment” for T.J. Cline, chance to drive left for Antoine Mason and opportunity to battle on the glass for Ameen Tanksley represents a boost for the program.
Despite a first half where Niagara maintained a small lead for much of the 20 minutes and knotted Mark Turgeon’s Terps at the break, 35-35, Maryland pulled away with a 51-point second half en route to an 86-70 victory. Antoine Mason scored a game-high 24 points for Niagara, while Ameen Tanksley added 18 and 4-7 from three-point range.
The Purple Eagles’ season ends one win shy of 20, as the team’s record of 19-14 was Niagara’s best since its 26-9 finish five years ago.
Here are five things we learned from last night’s nationally-televised clash:
1) In most cases, there’s still a significant talent gap between high-majors and mid-majors: When you toss out the pressure of the NCAA Tournament and play a lesser tournament game at the favorite’s venue, the disparity in athleticism and skill level is evident.
There’s a reason powerhouses like Maryland attract the four-star recruits—the Terps lured two of the 2012 class’ top 25 centers, as No. 8 Shaquille Cleare and No. 23 Charles Mitchell gave the Purple Eagles fits in the paint.
Nick Faust and Dez Wells both showed jaw-dropping athleticism in their forays to the rim, while NBA first-round prospect Alex Len and lanky frosh Jake Layman contested—and usually altered or swatted—every Purple Eagle shot in the lane. This Maryland team is going to be very, very good in the coming years—especially if Len unexpectedly sticks around. Still, with Mitchell and Cleare, Turgeon has enough big bodies to survive without his Ukrainian big man.
2) Antoine Mason can drive left!: This is a strange story-line to follow, but it was worth monitoring after Iona’s MoMo Jones claimed Mason was easy to stop because of his preference to drive to his right. Mason did, in fact, drive regularly to his right—and he can get away with being predictable because of his body control and strength.
In the second half, though, Mason did slash hard to his left on multiple occasions, and even though he didn’t score off those drives, at least he kept the defenders honest.
3) Juan’ya Green’s shot is not right: Something is not right with the NU sophomore point guard, as Green shot 4-for-13 (1-6 from three-point range) and is now 13-for-44 over his last three games (30%). After his abysmal performance against Iona, Green admitted to leaning to his right as he released his outside shots, and his form continued to look miserable Tuesday.
His feet aren’t set, his body isn’t squared to the hoop and he doesn’t jump straight up—simply put, his mechanics are a mess. It’s easy to be critical of the team’s most important player—who again played the full 40 minutes—but he’s costing his team when he’s not attacking the rim.
4) Devon’s done: La Salle transfer Devon White earned three fouls in only six minutes of action in his final collegiate game, a common theme since the center returned from his Achilles’ injury on Dec. 8. Even more unfortunate for White is that his former team, the Explorers, face Boise St. tonight in the play-in game of the NCAA Tournament.
This season, White averaged one foul per 5:25 on the floor, meaning he’d record just shy of eight fouls in a 40-minute game. Whether it was his conditioning early in the year, his physicality or his giving into the temptation of hacking instead of leaving his arms straight up, White was frustratingly foul-prone.
5) Return of McCall: Even though freshman Tahjere McCall didn’t have his best game as a Purple Eagle against Maryland’s smooth and selfless backcourt, it was great to see him back on the floor after suffering what looked to be a serious knee injury against Siena in the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament. It’s tough to quantify what McCall’s presence would have meant to Niagara’s MAAC title hopes—he’s still inconsistent and a little out of control—but his energy, defense, minutes and ball-handling are infinitely valuable to Niagara’s glut of guards. We’re glad he dodged a serious injury.
(Photos courtesy of Robin David Brown from the Niagara vs. Canisius game—see the full gallery here).