Junior Antoine Mason is no longer known just for his strong basketball lineage. He has been making national headlines by leading the country with 26.6 points per game.
“It’s a good accomplishment, but I’m worried about wins more than actually leading the nation in scoring,” Mason said.
The third-year Purple Eagle has played the ninth most minutes of any player in the country and his propensity for attacking the basket has improved with the new rules that allow for more offense.
“You can’t really get so close to you or like bump you, like they usually could, so I just take advantage of that,” Mason said. “Especially that I have a quick first step, I make sure that I get them off their feet and then they have to foul me.”
Mason ranks second in the nation in drawing fouls on opponents, he averages 8.5 fouls drawn per 40 minutes according to Kenpom.com. Through 23 games, he has already set new career highs in free throws made (197), two-pointers (152) and three-pointers (37) made.
The junior said that one of his keys this season has been to get to the free throw line.
“Getting to the line is one of my goals,” Mason said. “It actually slows the game down for us, so we can catch a breather or it gives us time to like collect ourselves. Getting to the line is important.”
He began accomplishing his goal as soon as the start of the season at Seton Hall when he set career-highs at the free throw line, making 15 of 20 shots.
At his current pace, Mason is all but assured to surpass Calvin Murphy’s record for free throws attempted of 288 from the 1967-68 season. His 495 free throws made for his career already rank fourth all-time.
First-year head coach Chris Casey briefly met Mason in 2003 when he was an assistant coach under Norm Roberts at St. John’s. Casey coached Antoine’s brother, Anthony Mason Jr., during his six-season stint at the Big East school, and said that Antoine has done a great job adjusting to the new style of play.
“Good players figure out how to adjust,” Casey said. “They figure out how to adjust during the course of a game, depending on how the game is being called, they figure out how to adjust to an opponent during the course of a season.”
“I think it’s definitely helped him, he’s a very aggressive offensive player. He’s good at getting into the lane and drawing contact. He’s good at getting to the rim and drawing contact, he’s got some savvy in those areas, so there’s no question that it’s benefitted him.”
The Purple Eagles have been known to call upon the junior late in the shot clock, who said that since high school he “always wanted the ball at the end” to make plays.
However, teams are starting to adjust to his game the second time around, but Mason said he is working on making sure he keeps opponents on edge.
“The last two games I thought I was really predictable,” Mason said. “I’ve been in the gym trying to change my game and switch it up a little bit, because if you’re unpredictable, people can’t really guard you or have a feeling against you while playing.”
Mason said he felt like kept making the same moves in the Purple Eagles losses on the road at Siena and Marist this past week. He also reached the free throw line a season-low two times against the Red Foxes.
Despite Mason’s nation-leading scoring numbers, Niagara has started 3-9 in conference play in Casey’s first season. Mason said he would “definitely” trade leading the nation in scoring for more victories and Casey said that they don’t talk about the junior’s scoring title chances at all and want to emphasize team results.
“Other than me being happy for him, because he gets some recognition for his effort that he puts in which is a lot of effort, we never talk about that,” Casey said. “That’s never discussed. It’s never the modus operandi to what we’re going to do with our team, it’s not part of the fabric of what we’re trying to figure out.”
“Me, like him, it’s not so much trade that for wins, we just want wins. We want wins and we prepare the best we can to try to figure out how to win.”
Ryan Restivo covers the America East conference, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com