Saint Peter’s Chazz Patterson became the first guard in six years to win the MAAC’s Defensive Player of the Year award Friday morning. Later this evening, a young man with the potential to replicate that feat in the years to come will take on the toughest assignment of his career.
Niagara sophomore Chris Barton will draw the defensive assignment on Monmouth’s Justin Robinson when the teams meet at the Times Union Center in the MAAC tournament quarterfinals Friday night. Over those 40 minutes, Barton will attempt to do something no one has been able to accomplish this season: stop the MAAC Player of the Year.
“I want Justin Robinson, and I’m going to take that challenge defensively,” Barton said following the Purple Eagles’ 88-69 opening round win over Quinnipiac. “That’s the first thing that’s on my mind. If we stop or limit him, I feel like we have a great chance to get that W tomorrow.”
Robinson has averaged a league-leading 19.7 points during his senior season, and has exploded in both meetings with Niagara this year.
The Hawks’ captain earned a double-double on 21 points and 11 turnovers against just three assists in the teams’ first meeting in mid-January, then poured in 27 points on 7-of-9 shooting from 3-point range a month later. Behind those efforts, Monmouth swept Niagara in the regular season by an average of 12.5 points.
The Hawks’ February 16 victory clinched their second consecutive MAAC regular season title. Monmouth clinched both titles at home over the Purple Eagles.
Barton enters Friday night on a defensive hot streak, helping to limit opponents’ top options. The sophomore helped limit Fairfield’s Tyler Nelson to nine points on 2-10 shooting in Niagara’s regular season finale, then held Quinnipiac’s leading scorer and MAAC Rookie of the Year Mikey Dixon to just eight points Thursday night.
“Chris Barton has really bought in to trying to take away the other team’s best scorer,” Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said after Thursday’s loss. “I thought he was incredible in Niagara’s last home game against Tyler Nelson. Within their man-to-man, he’s face guarding the other team’s best scorer. Off the ball, on the ball, working hard to deny.”
Barton’s defense will be the thing to watch Friday night, but his offensive game has enjoyed a solid boost in his sophomore campaign as well. He has increased his average from 4.2 to 6.8 ppg since his freshman year and impressively raised his shooting average from 35.3% a year ago to 44.5% in 2017.
“This year, I’m just more comfortable,” Barton said. “That just comes with the experience of playing. Last year I had wet feet, but this year having one year under my belt, I’m just much more comfortable with my shot and everything else.”
The Michigan native has also drawn from the talent around him and more than doubled his 3-point average from 2016. After shooting 23.6% from long distance in his freshman campaign, Barton has knocked down 49% of his attempts from behind the arc this year.
“What really helped me out this year was the addition of Kahlil Dukes,” Barton said of his point guard and USC transfer. “He does a great job of setting me up, so with that I’m always ready to shoot. Last year, I wasn’t always ready to shoot because I didn’t know if the ball was coming my way or not. But now I know, with Dukes and Matt [Scott] and all my teammates, they’re going to look for me and I’m going to be ready to shoot. It’s just a matter of knocking them down.”
Whatever offensive production Barton provides will likely be of little impact if he can’t find a way to slow down Robinson. One glimmer of hope is the fact that Barton has already been on the court during a game in which Robinson was held in check.
Monmouth’s captain has been held to single digits just five times in the last two years, and three times against MAAC opponents. The first of those five occurrences? An 8 point effort at Niagara early in his junior season.
“My mentality is go out there in attack mode,” Barton said of Friday’s meeting with Robinson and the Hawks. “That’s on defense and offense. I feel like I’m the team’s best defender.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.