Another week gone in the MAAC, and we’re finally starting to see some separation between the league’s 11 squads. Canisius put its stamp on first place with a season sweep of Iona while Rider strung together three victories to join the Golden Griffins at seven league wins despite continued struggles at the free throw line.
In the bottom half of the league, Fairfield seems to have finally woken up while Monmouth got its star player Micah Seaborn back, and Brian Parker got back on the court for the Red Foxes after a one-game absence.
As always, plenty to dive into in this week’s edition. And away we go!
1) Canisius (13-8, 7-1 MAAC) – 68-59 W @ Manhattan (1/19); 84-82 W @ Iona (1/21)
The Golden Griffins leap back into the top spot this week after completing the season sweep of Iona and improving to 7-1 in league play for the first time since 1996-97. If you weren’t paying attention to college basketball back then, a guy by the name of John Beilein was coaching Canisius at the time. The sweep of Iona marks just the second time Tim Cluess’ Gaels have dropped both regular season meetings against a league foe.
Isaiah Reese has scored 20 or more points in each of his last three games and currently leads the squad and ranks sixth in the MAAC with 16.5 ppg. Redshirt senior Jermaine Crumpton sits just behind at seventh in the league with 15.9 ppg.
Meanwhile, freshman Takal Molson has jumped to the forefront of Rookie of the Year talk alongside Rider’s Jordan Allen. Junior Jibreel Faulkner has also had a strong impact of late, scoring double figures twice in five games since returning from an NCAA suspension which held him out of the first 16 games this season.
2) Iona (12-8, 6-2 MAAC) – 76-73 W @ Monmouth (1/19); 84-82 L vs. Canisius (1/21)
The Gaels earned a hard-fought win at Monmouth Friday night behind 18 point from junior guard Rickey McGill. Iona led by 13 late in the first half, but Monmouth fought back to tie the game at 47 with 13:45 to play. The Hawks led by three with 1:30 to play, but the Gaels closed on a 6-0 run including E.J. Crawford’s go-ahead jumper with 32 seconds left to pull out the victory.
On Sunday, Iona trailed Canisius by 10 with 5:14 to play, but a furious 8-0 rally brought the Gaels within two before Jibreel Faulkner’s dunk with 1:51 remaining gave the Golden Griffins enough space to survive.
Iona’s interior two-headed monster of Roland Griffin and T.K. Edogi has been exceptional at holding down the paint this season after the graduation of Jordan Washington from last year’s squad. Griffin shot 6-7 for 15 points against Monmouth while Edogi was 7-9 from the field for 16 points and 10 rebounds against Canisius.
The Gaels are set for a rivalry game this week when they take on local foe Manhattan Saturday in the headline matchup of the MAAC tripleheader at Nassau Coliseum.
3) Rider (14-7, 7-2 MAAC) – 88-84 W @ Saint Peter’s (1/18); 60-57 W vs. Marist (1/20); 90-88 W @ Fairfield (1/23)
The Broncs fit three games into this week, and added them all to the win column by a combined nine points. Redshirt freshman Dimencio Vaughn came through with a career-high 34 points on 13-18 shooting with a 5-6 mark from beyond the arc to help the Broncs down Saint Peter’s while Tyere Marshall and Jordan Allen added 15 and 13 respectively.
It was Anthony Durham’s turn to play hero against Marist as the Broncs squandered a 16-point first half lead and actually trailed by four with 12:27 remaining. Durham later hit a pair of free throws to put Rider up by three with 10 seconds remaining, and came through with the block on David Knudsen’s tying attempt as time expired.
The spotlight shifted back to Vaughn on Tuesday night. With the score knotted at 88 in the waning seconds, Vaughn got a third-effort layup to fall through the net with 8.5 seconds remaining. The basket capped an 8-0 run and proved the difference maker, as Vaughn finished the night with a team-high 20 points with a personal-best 13 rebounds.
Milestone: Tuesday’s win gave Rider head coach Kevin Baggett 99 career victories. He will try to reach the 100 win milestone Friday night when his Broncs take on Saint Peter’s.
4) Manhattan (10-10, 5-3 MAAC) – 68-59 L vs. Canisius (1/19); 68-57 W @ Saint Peter’s (1/21)
The Jaspers were held in check by Canisius, but got back in the win column behind Zavier Turner’s first career double-double on 20 points and 10 assists at Saint Peter’s. Manhattan held the Peacocks under 30 points in each half and forced 22 turnovers to run away with the victory.
Manhattan leads the MAAC in forcing turnovers during league play, but has curiously struggled to hold on to the ball on the offensive end. The Jaspers coughed it up 23 times themselves against Saint Peter’s and had 19 giveaways against Canisius. According to Kenpom.com, Manhattan’s 23.5% defensive turnover percentage ranks among the top 15 in the nation, but its 24.7% giveaway rate on the offensive side is among the nation’s 10 worst.
The Jaspers have been able to shoot and defend the deep ball effectively this season. Manhattan leads the MAAC with a 41.4% mark from behind the arc during league play while allowing opponents to shoot just 32.0%, second-best in the conference.
5) Niagara (12-9, 5-3 MAAC) – 81-73 W @ Quinnipiac (1/18); 104-85 L @ Fairfield (1/20)
The Purple Eagles were flying high on a five game winning streak after taking down Quinnipiac thanks to a 25-5 second half run, but laid an egg in the second half of the Connecticut road trip against Fairfield.
Point guard Kahlil Dukes has scored 20+ points in each of his last four games and has officially taken over the top spot on the team with 21.2 ppg. Dukes transferred from USC following his sophomore season, and has been spectacular since joining the Purple Eagles. The Hartford native stands just 45 points shy of 1,000 for his Niagara career.
Niagara’s pace and defensive issues came around to bite them as they allowed 58 first-half points to Fairfield. The Stags’ 104 total is actually just the third-highest allowed by the Purple Eagles this season. Chris Casey’s squad previously allowed 107 to Minnesota and 106 to Buffalo, and gave up another 101 to UMass. On top of that, opponents have broken the 90-point threshold another five times.
The Purple Eagles play host to Manhattan Wednesday night, but will then head out on the road for five of their next seven.
6) Quinnipiac (7-13, 4-4 MAAC) – 81-73 L vs. Niagara (1/18); 76-69 W vs. Siena (1/21)
The Bobcats led Niagara 51-41 with 15:20 left to play, but a 25-5 swing in favor of the Purple Eagles handed Quinnipiac its fourth loss in five games. Cam Young led the squad with 18 points and added his third career double-double with 10 rebounds. Chaise Daniels added 16 points while Isaiah Washington shot 3-5 from downtown to finish with 12.
Quinnipiac got back in the win column Sunday and won by more than two points for the first time this season with a 61.4% shooting performance against Siena. Daniels had his best game since returning from a three game leave in late December with a game-high 17 points on 6-9 shooting while freshmen Rich Kelly and Jacob Rigoni added 16 and 15 respectively.
The Bobcats’ 15 three-point attempts were the fewest they’ve taken all season, but for once they didn’t need to rely on the deep ball. Quinnipiac shot an astounding 22-29 (75.9%) inside the arc en route to its first season sweep of Siena since joining the MAAC in 2013.
Quinnipiac will head to Marist Thursday, then face in-state rival Fairfield for the first time this season Saturday in the first game of the MAAC tripleheader at Nassau Coliseum.
7) Fairfield (7-12, 2-6 MAAC) – 104-85 W vs. Niagara (1/20); 90-88 L vs. Rider (1/23)
The Stags turned in their best performance of the season with a 104-point outburst against Niagara to end a five-game slide. Five players finished in double-figures, led by Tyler Nelson’s 28 points. Freshman Jesus Cruz added a season-high 19 as Fairfield posted its highest point total since scoring 113 at Maryland-Eastern Shore in November 2015.
Fairfield nearly made it a perfect week, but fell just short in the final seconds against Rider Tuesday evening. With the Stags trailing by two, Nelson stepped to the free throw line to shoot a pair. He had made his previous 34 free throws, but missed the first off the front of the rim, leaving the Broncs to prevail by the final margin.
Despite its 2-6 league record, Fairfield has seemed to turn a corner. Nelson has scored 20+ points in three straight games and has officially taken over the top spot in the MAAC with 21.2 ppg, percentage points ahead of Niagara’s Kahlil Dukes.
Redshirt freshman Aidas Kavaliauskas has been a revelation for Sydney Johnson’s squad of late. Kavaliauskas sat out the first 13 games of the season, but posted consecutive points-assists double-doubles last week at Marist and this week against Niagara.
With another reliable option in the backcourt and an offense that seems to have hit its stride, the Stags could be the team to watch in the second half of the conference season.
8) Saint Peter’s (8-11, 2-6 MAAC) – 88-84 L vs. Rider (1/18); 68-57 L vs. Manhattan (1/21)
Saint Peter’s finds itself in the midst of a four-game skid heading into a tough contest at in-state rival Rider on Friday. The Peacocks had been undefeated on their home court at the Yanitelli Center this season, but fell there in both meetings this week.
Against Rider, Davauhnte Turner exploded for a career-high 34 points on 6-10 three-point shooting and five assists while Nick Griffin poured in 17 and Nnamdi Enechionyia dished out a career-best eight assists. However, the Broncs shot 54.5% from the field and 10-16 from three-point range to overcome a six point halftime deficit and get away in the second frame.
The Peacocks’ 22 turnovers against Manhattan were a season high and too much to overcome despite forcing the Jaspers into 23 of their own. Junior forward Sam Idowu poured in 17 points, but Saint Peter’s shot just 36.2% from the field and 6-22 (27.3%) from beyond the arc in the loss.
9) Marist (4-15, 2-5 MAAC) – 68-65 L @ Siena (1/18); 60-57 L @ Rider (1/20)
Brian Parker sat out the Red Foxes’ narrow loss at Siena with a sprained ankle suffered in the opening minutes against Fairfield. In his stead, David Knudsen knocked down four of six from behind the arc to lead all scorers with 17 points.
Knudsen added another 18 points at Rider and again knocked four three-pointers, but needed a career-high 15 attempts to do so. Overall, Knudsen has given Mike Maker’s squad a great boost and is averaging 19.7 ppg over his last three contests.
Parker returned against the Broncs and led all scorers with 19. Marist got out to an awful start and trailed 25-9 midway through the first half, but fought back to seize the lead 34-32 on a pair of Austin Williams free throws with 14:00 remaining. However, Rider battled back and Knudsen’s bid for a game-tying three at the buzzer was swatted away by the Broncs’ Anthony Durham.
Marist continues to play well on the perimeter, as its 29.7% three-point defense during league play leads the MAAC. Oddly, the Red Foxes shoot 53.2% from inside the arc this season but have struggled to a league-worst 46.4% average during conference play.
10) Monmouth (5-13, 1-5 MAAC) – 76-73 L vs. Iona (1/19)
The struggles continue for Monmouth, which gave Iona a strong showing Friday night, but nonetheless fell to 1-5 in league play for the first time since 2011-12 when a member of the Northeast Conference.
One sign of good news for the Hawks is the return of star guard Micah Seaborn. The preseason first-team All MAAC selection had missed the previous three games with a sprained left ankle suffered at Saint Peter’s on New Year’s Eve, but suited up to score nine points against the Gaels, all from behind the arc.
Ray Salnave led the squad with 16 points on 5-6 shooting while fellow rookies Deion Hammond (13) and Melik Martin (12) joined him in double figures.
Monmouth has a favorable schedule ahead of it and will look to rebound this week with a home contest against Siena Thursday before facing off against Marist at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday.
11) Siena (6-15, 2-6 MAAC) – 68-65 W vs. Marist (1/18); 76-69 L @ Quinnipiac (1/21)
The Saints picked up their second MAAC win behind Jordan Horn’s 15 points to take down a Marist squad playing without lead guard Brian Parker due to an ankle injury. Fellow freshmen Roman Penn and Prince Oduro joined Horn in double figures with 12 and 11 points respectively.
Defensive breakdowns marred Siena’s loss at Quinnipiac, but Horn reached double figures once more and junior forward Evan Fisher burned the Bobcats for 13 after posting a career-high 21 in the teams’ first meeting. In a bit of a surprise, freshman Manny Camper entered the day with just 23 total minutes and zero points to his credit this season, but put through a frenzied 10 points in the final 2:28 of regulation.
Often overlooked, sophomore guard Khalil Richard has been solid for Jimmy Patsos’ squad off the bench. Richard averages 8.1 ppg this season, but had 12 points against Marist and 14 at Quinnipiac while shooting a combined 6-8 from three-point range.
The Saints are back in action Thursday at Monmouth.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.