Saturday, February 13, 2010

What Opening Ceremonies?

As much as I like the Olympics (and to me only college basketball might be better than Olympic hockey), I can never watch the Opening Ceremonies for either the Winter or Summer Olympics. It's talking heads all over the place and people walking in carrying flags. Yawn. The two times I changed the channel from Fairfield-Rider or Siena-Niagara to turn on the Olympics was to watch Chris Collinsworth interview snowboarders. Chris Collinsworth knows snowboarding about as much as Shaun White knows about hitch and go patterns.

So, after realizing there was no Olympic hockey on, I went back to my first love. It was an interesting night. I watched the Stags-Broncs game to get a scouting report on Rider, since Hofstra will be hosting a BracketBuster game with them next Saturday. I had already seen Fairfield play vs. Hofstra and the Stags have a pretty good team as attested to by their now 17-8 overall record.

Last night, the Stags were missing one of their best players, Yorel Hawkins who put up 22 points vs. Hofstra early in the season, is out for the rest of the season due to a knee injury in their first game vs. the Broncs. But two players stepped up for Fairfield last nigh as the Stags won in overtime 79-75. Senior forward Anthony Johnson had a monster game with 27 points and 14 rebounds, with 10 of those rebounds on the offensive end. He also was 13 of 15 from the free throw line. Freshman Derek Needham, who perhaps might be one of the best freshmen I have seen live this season, added 20 points for Fairfield.

But the player I wanted to watch was MAAC preseason player of the year, Ryan Thompson, the younger brother of former Rider Bronc and now NBA star Jason Thompson. The storyline for Thompson was set thanks to the longtime solid MAAC/NEC duo of Doug Sherman and Rob Kennedy who were broadcasting last night on ESPNU. Thompson has struggled for most of the season. His FG percentage is down a full tenth of a point from last season (50.9 percent last season, 40.9 percent this season), as well as his three point FG percentage (42.2 percent, 32.2 percent this season) and his scoring average as well (18 last season, 16.1 this season).

Kennedy talked last night about Thompson had been tentative on offense for a good part of the season and was trying to get his teammates involved. Only in his last five games had Thompson returned to his scoring self. In three of those five games, Thompson had 25 or more points and Rider's record during those five games were 4-1.

Last night, Thompson at times did seem tentative. He did have 18 points, though only on seven FG attempts. He had three 3 pointers plus was 7 of 8 from the foul line. However, what kept Thompson from scoring 20 plus points was a play late in the second half. With about two and half minutes left in the game Thompson was double teamed in the corner. Attempting to get out of the double team, Thompson swung his elbow and hit a Stags player. The referees called an offensive foul then reviewed the play to see if it was a flagrant foul. The referees determined that it was a flagrant foul and ejected Thompson from the game.

Still the Stags did not give up. They came back to tie the game on a coast to coast layup by Justin Robinson with four seconds left to force overtime. However in the overtime, Mike Evanovich nailed a three and the Stags never looked back. The Broncs would only score four points in overtime, all of which were scored by Novar Gadson. With the win, Fairfield tied Iona for second place in the MAAC (Iona inexplicably lost at home to Manhattan).

So after the Fairfield-Rider game, I avoided the temptation to change to NBC to watch Chris Collinsworth interview a Zamboni driver, and turned on Siena- Niagara. Last season Siena-Niagara was the hot MAAC rivalry as the teams finished 1-2 in the MAAC, split the season series and played in the MAAC championship game, won by Siena 77-70. This season, the Saints have still been the top dog, entering the game undefeated in the MAAC at 14-0.

However, the Purple Eagles, despite returning three of their top scorers, have struggled after an 8-4 start. Niagara came into the game 13-13 having lost nine of its last fourteen games and was sixth in the MAAC. I talked about their recent struggles after a road loss at Canisius.

When Siena took a 35-26 lead with 7:05 left, it looked like Niagara was going down to another defeat. But then the Purple Eagles channeled their 2008-09 season and finished the half on a 13-1 run to take a 39-37 lead. Siena would hang in there and take an early 50-46 second half lead with 15:46 left. But Niagara channeled that 2008-09 karma one more time and responded with a 24-3 run over the next five plus minutes to take a 70-53 lead with 10 minutes left. Niagara would win 87-74 as Tyrone Lewis, Bilal Benn and Kashief Edwards combined for 59 points on 23 of 40 shooting (the Purple Eagles shot 54 percent overall from the field).

Despite their first MAAC conference loss of the season, the Saints clinched sole possession of the regular season conference title after Iona's inexplicable loss at home to Manhattan. The Saints also had their 15 game winning streak snapped in the loss, the longest winning streak in the nation to that point. Ryan Rossiter did have 23 points and 12 rebounds for the Siena.

Also Cornell, one of my favorite teams in the country, got completely stunned by Penn on the Quakers home court 79-64. It was a perfect storm unfortunately for the Big Red. The Quakers shot 11 of 21 from beyond the arc and 56 percent overall. Cornell also had an off game shooting wise, shooting only 33 percent in the critically decisive second half.

Perhaps this might have to do with the College Gameday crew having an "All Access" feature on the Big Red today. Whelliston talked about this in one of his earlier articles on the Mid Majority this season. Kyle talked about how a mid major team will suddenly get ranked, then all of the Sports Bubble media would descend on that team and throw it off its focus. If I can find the article, I will update this post with a link to it. I believe this what exactly happened to Cornell and explains partially why they lost last night.

Cornell now absolutely needs to defeat undefeated Princeton on the Tigers' home court tonight, otherwise the Big Red will be down two games to Princeton in the standings. A two game gap in the standings in a weak Ivy League might be too much to overcome.

Finally, since I am pressed for time, I can't give the West Virginia - Pittsburgh triple overtime game the attention it deserves. But that's what ESPN, CBS Sportsline etc are all for. I did watch the end of the regulation and all three overtimes. It was further proof of how really tough the Big East is as a conference.

After DeSean Butler tied the game at 93 in the third overtime, I really honestly thought they were heading for a fourth overtime and were heading into Syracuse- UConn territory. But Pitt hit five of their six free throws down the stretch and pulled the win out. You can watch the replay on ESPN360 and I highly recommend you doing so. It was a dandy of a game.

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