Tag Archives: 2010 MAAC Tournament

Derek Needham of Fairfield: MAAC Freshman of the Year

If you are a casual basketball fan, not too familiar with names and class standing, and you saw Derek Needham play this season, you’d be shocked to learn he was named the MAAC Rookie of the Year. This is not because you wouldn’t think he was deserving, but because you didn’t think he was eligible.

Needham has played beyond his freshman standing since he took the court for Fairfield. He is averaging 16.3 points, 5.2 assists, and 1.8 steals per game, all in the top five in the conference and first among freshmen. He’s also pulling down 3.3 rebounds per game, an impressive number for a 5’11” point guard.

The numbers, while incredible, don’t tell the whole story. Needham is a leader for Fairfield, no small feat considering the Stags finished in second place in the MAAC after posting a 13-5 record. You often hear announcers and even coaches talk about a “freshman wall,” but if one existed for Needham, he bulldozed right through it.

After winning the rookie award and being named to the All-MAAC second team, Needham elevated his game even more in the conference tournament in Albany 10 days ago, proving he belonged right up there with the league’s backcourt stars, most of whom are upperclassmen. In Fairfield’s first game against Canisius, Needham played all 40 minutes and dropped a game-high 29 points, outperforming senior point guard Frank Turner, who scored 15 before an unfortunate incident led to his ejection with five minutes remaining. The Stags won 67-57.

Against Niagara and senior guard Tyrone Lewis, a name associated with clutch play in the MAAC tournament, Needham was outscored by Lewis 20-17, but Fairfield won 69-63 to advance to the final. Lewis had to watch the final 1:28 from the bench after fouling out.

During Fairfield’s postseason run, Needham admitted he owes some of his success against the elite, veteran guards in the league to imitation. “When we watch film, I like to watch them,” he said. “I feel we have great guards in our league, and I can be one of them. My preparation is to watch what they do and maybe take some of their moves.”

The Stags came out on the wrong side of an overtime game against No. 1 seed Siena, but Needham’s 16 points and three assists led the team. Playing all 45 minutes, he outperformed the Saints’ Ronald Moore, who scored nine and added six assists.

Siena head coach Fran McCaffery was certainly impressed with Needham’s play throughout the season. “Phenomenal point guard,” he said. “One of the best freshman point guards I’ve seen in my 27 years.”

In fact, every MAAC coach, media member, and fan who had an opinion on Needham had a positive thing to say. And why wouldn’t they? The freshman from Dalton, Ill. is a star on the court and appears to be a great kid off of it. The person who knows Needham as well as any of these people, Fairfield head coach Ed Cooley, had the highest of praise. He was asked whether he knew Needham would be this good so quickly.

“When we recruited Derek I told my boss, ‘We’ve got a point guard. We’re going to give him the ball right away. We feel he can be good,'” Cooley said after his team had advanced to the championship. “But that kid’s a really special talent. Hell no, I didn’t think he was that good; you’d call me a liar.”

To expect a freshman to achieve the level of success Needham has is unreasonable, but Cooley obviously saw a lot of traits he liked, even if some of them have blossomed earlier than anticipated. “Not only is he good (as a player), he’s a great person…unbelievable character, natural-born leader. And that’s really what our program has been missing, and to get a freshman to be able to do that, you can’t ask for more than that. He’s a home run recruit.”

Needham and the Stags came up just short in their quest for an NCAA Tournament appearance, but they’ll still get a taste of the postseason in the College Insider Tournament, which starts tonight. Fairfield plays at George Mason.

With the 2011 MAAC Tournament moving to Fairfield’s home arena in Bridgeport, the Stags have hopes of their soon-to-be sophomore star leading them to a much bigger postseason stage.

Marist Womens Basketball: A MAAC Dynasty

ALBANY, N.Y. — The big story on the women’s side is that Marist is the MAAC Tournament Champion for the fifth straight year after defeating Fairfield 66-49 early Sunday afternoon. But before I get into that, it would be unfair not to mention Fairfield’s unbelievable run to the MAAC title game. To win nine games in a row and get itself to the final after all the injuries this season was truly incredible. Winning its third game in three days with a virtually non-existent bench was simply too tall of a task. However, if it weren’t for the overwhelming excellence of the opponent, the Stags may have been able to do it.

The fact that the opponent was top-seeded Marist was no surprise. There hasn’t been a MAAC Tournament final in the last seven years that hasn’t involved the Red Foxes. The most amazing part, though, is of course the consecutive championships. Consider that on the men’s side the most consecutive titles won is three (by LaSalle). It may seem like the Saints have been dominating for a long time, but the Siena men have only won two in a row and are appearing in only their fourth straight final.

In other words, the Marist women’s basketball dynasty is unlike any other in MAAC hoops history. Leading the way is 6′ forward Rachele Fitz. The senior has done nothing but win since arriving on campus. Marist head coach Brian Giorgis said, “If there’s a better player in the history of this league, I’d like to meet her.” Hard to argue with him considering Fitz’s resume which, after this weekend’s wins and awards, includes four MAAC regular season and conference titles, three MAAC Player of the Year awards, and two MAAC Tournament MVPs, to name a few.

She is averaging 18 points and eight rebounds this season. Despite some foul trouble that kept her on the bench for a period in the first half, Fitz still scored 15 in the title game, shooting seven-of-12 from the field. She is modest enough to deflect praise to her teammates and coaching staff, but anyone involved with women’s basketball in the MAAC knows about her great career. A couple of wins in the upcoming NCAA Tournament and even more people in the college basketball community will know too.

Fairfield eliminates the Gaels from one tournament, helps them get into another: Iona may have lost to the Stags on Saturday, but Fairfield’s loss to Marist in the title game guaranteed that the Gaels would receive an invite to the NIT. Per NCAA rules, if the regular season champ also wins the conference tournament, then the second-place team automatically gets an NIT bid. Therefore, Marist’s win clinched a spot for Iona.

Iona head coach Anthony Bozzella, good friends with Giorgis, was appreciative of the Red Foxes accomplishment. Said Giorgis: “I already got a text that said ‘congrats and thanks.'”

Niagara Eliminates Iona, Feels the Gaels Pain

ALBANY, NY. — Last night here at the Times Union Center, the No. 6 seed Niagara Purple Eagles defeated the No. 3 seed Iona Gaels. Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich was all too familiar with the outcome.

“Two years ago we were in this game, the three-six game,” Mihalich said. “(Tonight) was like history repeating itself. We lost to Marist. We finished third, Marist finished sixth, and these guys — Tyrone Lewis and company — learned from that painful experience.”

The two matchups and their results are amazingly similar. In the 2008 MAAC Tournament, Niagara was the young team that went 12-6 in conference to earn the three seed. Marist was the six seed, but had the veterans that so often reign supreme in postseason play, starting four seniors and a junior. Many thought Marist would be a difficult matchup for the Purple Eagles and they were right, as the game went down to the wire. Back and forth throughout, Marist took the lead for good with just under two minutes left and won 66-62.

Compare that to last night’s (or should I say, this morning’s) game. Iona, at 12-6, was the young, inexperienced three seed with the unlucky Tournament draw. Yes, the Gaels had already beaten Niagara twice this season, but the Purple Eagles have been playing their best basketball of late. College basketball coaches always talk about peaking in March, and that’s certainly what Mihalich’s squad is doing. With a completely healthy roster, Niagara is clicking after a mid-season slump that saw them lose six of seven conference games.

Of the five players who saw the most minutes last night for Niagara, four are seniors and one is a junior. Contrast that with Iona’s underclassmen-heavy roster (two freshmen and a sophomore started) and you’ve got the makings for another “upset,” at least in terms of seeding. Sure enough, Niagara reclaimed the lead with just under two minutes remaining and never looked back. Even the final score, 68-64, was nearly identical to the Niagara-Marist outcome.

The post-game chatter was focused primarily on Niagara’s advantage in one of the areas you can’t coach: experience. “Our seniors are winners. Our seniors have been there before,” Mihalich said. “Somebody said to me this morning, “It’s going to be the up-and-coming stars against the current stars — the seniors — and it was going to be a battle of wills. And thank goodness our seniors did what they had to do at the end, whether it was a defensive play, taking a charge, or making foul shots.”

The most clutch player was certainly the senior guard Lewis, who had a game-high 21 points and added 10 rebounds. His three-pointer with 1:47 to play put Niagara up for good, and he was perfect from the free throw line, including going six-for-six in the final 1:25 to preserve the victory.

“I think (experience) is huge,” Iona head coach Kevin Willard said. “They’re an experienced team. We beat St Peter’s (in the regular season finale) and they told me we got Niagara. They were picked second in the conference for a reason.

“Experience is tough. We had our chances though.”

Iona fans can rest assured knowing that in just a couple of years it will be the Gaels who have the experience that is just so critical in these conference tournaments.