MAAC Basketball Tournament 2011: First Round

BRIDGEPORT, Conn.—The 2011 MAAC men’s basketball tournament got underway last night. Play continues today, starting at 2:30 (see bracket at bottom). Here is a recap of last night’s action:

No. 9 Marist 73, No. 8 Niagara 61

In a mild upset, Marist beat Niagara to advance to the quarterfinals, where they will play No. 1 seed Fairfield today at 4:30.

Niagara only had five conference wins, but notched four of them in February. The Purple Eagles entered having won five of their last seven. “Obviously we laid an egg tonight,” Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich said.

It was the final game for Anthony Nelson, Niagara’s lone senior. Nelson is the first player in Niagara history to have over 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 600 assists and 200 steals in his career. He is the school’s all-time career assists leader and is leading the country in steals this season.

“I’m in awe of Anthony Nelson,” Mihalich said he told his players in the locker room after the loss. “His playing days are not over. Whoever gets to coach him will be a lucky guy and whoever gets to play with him will be a lucky player.”

When the coach was asked how he would replace Nelson, Milahich said: “You’re trying to make a bad night worse, huh? We’ll find a way, but we’re going to miss this guy. There may never be another Anthony Nelson.”

Like Niagara, Marist is a very young team. Of the eight Marist players who saw the most action last night, three are freshman and four are sophomores. The college basketball statistical website KenPom.com has a formula that uses eligibility class weighted by minutes played to determine a team’s experience. By this measure, Marist is 10th least experienced team in the country (out of 345 schools).

“This is a good step in the right direction for kids who had never won in March,” Marist head coach Chuck Martin said of the victory.

The Red Foxes lost both their games to Fairfield this season, but the match-up at the Arena at Harbor Yard was close until the final minutes. “We competed in that game, so hopefully that makes these guys feel like they can play with them if we limit our mistakes,” Martin said. “There’s going to be a team somewhere in the country that’s going to do something crazy. Let it be us.”

No. 7 Siena 68, No. 10 Manhattan 66 (OT)

This was likely Barry Rohrssen’s last post-game press conference as Manhattan’s coach.

Siena’s last two MAAC Tournament games have gone to overtime. Last year they beat Fairfield in overtime in the finals, and in an opening-round game this year they needed an extra session to beat Manhattan.

Mr. Big Shot, freshman Michael Alvarado, hit a contested jumper with five seconds remaining to tie the game and send it to overtime. Here’s the video proof:

As the last-place team in the conference, it wouldn’t have been too surprising for the Jaspers to mail it in, especially after a seven-point halftime deficit. But in what was, in all likelihood, Barry Rohrssen’s last game as Manhattan’s coach, the Jaspers battled to the end.

Alvarado’s game-tying basket came after Siena’s Owen Wignot dove across the baseline to tip the ball to teammate Clarence Jackson for a layup. It was one of two huge plays that Wignot made in a critical moment. Although the junior had not made a three-pointer since Feb. 7 (he had missed 11 in a row), he drilled a deep ball from the corner to put Siena ahead with 1:28 left in overtime, the final points of the game.

In its final possession of the game, Manhattan tried to set a ball screen to free Alvarado for another game-tying (or game-winning) shot. The Saints would not let the star freshman beat them, trapping him and forcing him to give it up. Alvardo passed to George Beamon, whose three-pointer at the buzzer rolled off the rim.

“We had practiced that all week,” Siena head coach Mitch Buonaguro said of the final defensive stand. “I thought it really helped. It came in big.”

Siena tied a MAAC Tournament record with its 10th straight victory. To get No. 11, it will have to beat Iona, no easy task, especially given the overtime victory that came just minutes before midnight. Then again, Siena is the only team that features players who have won a MAAC championship.

(Click to enlarge)

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