Niagara eliminated from MAAC Tournament by Siena, 71-54

By Nick Veronica

MAAC All-Rookie selection Dominique Reid scored a career-high 24 points but ninth-seeded Niagara couldn’t overcome 9.1 percent three-point shooting in a 71-54 loss to eighth-ranked Siena Thursday in the play-in round of the MAAC Tournament.

Senior guard Evan Hymes led Siena’s balanced attack with 14 points while Ryan Oliver had 13 off the bench. Siena, the host team, advanced to face top-ranked Iona at noon Saturday. The winner of that game gets the Canisius-Monmouth winner.


Niagara finished the year 8-22 overall — a record that was buoyed by a four-game winning streak that closed out the regular season. Niagara endured losing streaks of nine, seven and four games this year and lost 17 of its first 20 games with an extremely young team.

Niagara returns every player next season and will still only have one senior, Rayvon Harris, barring any transfers.

Leading scorer Emile Blackman scored 13 points Thursday for Niagara on 5-of-11 shooting while Wesley Myers added nine points and was the only Purple Eagle to hit a three-pointer as the team went 1-for-11 from deep. No one else scored more than four points (full box score).

Niagara managed only six assists on 20 field goals.

NU coach Chris Casey is now 0-5 all-time against Siena.


Postgame interviews: Niagara 82, Canisius 71

By Nick Veronica

Interviews from Niagara’s road win over Canisius, which stretched Niagara’s winning streak to three games…

Canisius coach Jim Baron

Jim Baron said he knew his team’s “mindset was gonna be fragile” coming into the game. I asked him what he meant by that since Canisius entered the night on a three-game winning streak.

“We were picked 10th,” he said, referencing the MAAC’s preseason poll.

Well you’re fifth right now, I said.

“We got two guys, two starters out, so we’ve been very fortunate to win those games the way we won,” Baron countered.

Translation: Everything Canisius needed to go right went right in those wins. The Griffs are toast from here on out if they don’t have their A-game.

Canisius’ Jeremiah Williams and Josiah Heath

Tuesday was the final Niagara game for Canisius seniors Josiah Heath and Jeremiah Williams, barring something wild in the conference tournament.

“Really wanted that one,” Williams said. “Really did.”

“Disappointed,” Heath added. “We got outplayed. That’s what happens.”

Niagara’s Chris Casey, Ramone Snowden, Emile Blackman

“You saw the togetherness in that run, and that’s the way they are every day,” NU coach Chris Casey said of his team’s blistering start to the second half.

Blackman was humble about his big alley-oop: “It was a great play call, great screen by Ramone. I told him it was his basket. I got the points but it wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t set it.”

Postgame video: Canisius 77, Niagara 64

By Nick Veronica

Interviews from Canisius’ 77-64 win over rival Niagara, the Griffs’ third straight victory at the Gallagher Center…

Canisius coach Jim Baron

Jeremiah Williams played well at point guard Saturday in a 77-64 win over Niagara. Canisius coach Jim Baron did not want to hear about it.

“Don’t start with all this, ‘players’ and ‘who’s this’,” Baron said, squashing the idea that he may tinker with his starting lineup. “We need everybody.”

Baron also said that former Niagara University president Fr. Joseph L. Levesque was his elementary school principal.

Niagara coach Chris Casey, guard Matt Scott

Chris Casey denied having Niagara legends Frank Layden, Hubie Brown and Calvin Murphy in the stands had any impact on him. He is yet to beat his crosstown rival.

Canisius players Jermaine Crumpton, Josiah Heath

Niagara Falls native Jermaine Crumpton spoke about playing a game minutes from where he grew up.

“I lived down the street,” he said. “I liked the Purple Eagles growing up.”

But he wasn’t recruited by Niagara. He made them pay Saturday, finishing with 13 points.

Despite major losses, Chris Casey confident in Niagara’s offense – Video

By Nick Veronica

Niagara had the worst record in the MAAC last season at 3-17. Leading scorer Antoine Mason took his 25.6 points per game to Auburn and second-leading scorer Marvin Jordan graduated. Tahjere McCall, Joe Thomas and Aaron Bodie also transferred out, leaving the Purple Eagles with no seniors and just one junior, Rayvon Harris, who has only started four games in his career.

That would seem to point to a bleak outlook in Lewiston, but coach Chris Casey doesn’t see it that way. Despite those factors, he says his offense will be better in 2014-15 than it was last season.

niagara_logo_big“I think we’re going to score the ball as well if not better than we did last year, through more guys on the floor that can score and through better team play,” Casey said Wednesday at the First Niagara Center during Big 4 Media Day.

“I also think we’re going to have better shot-making, some more guys on the floor that can make a shot. I think we have a number of guys who can score the ball. We’re stressing team play, ball movement, everyone involved.”

Niagara ranked fifth in the conference last year in points per game (75.3) and field goal percentage (.429) thanks in large part to Mason, who was the nation’s second-leading scorer. However, he also tied for first nationally in field goals attempted and missed the most shots in the country while averaging only 1.5 assists per game.

So when Casey looks at his offense, he sees a less one-dimensional team that is more willing the share the ball.

“I think we’re going to be a more team-oriented offense,” he said. “I think we’re gonna have more guys who can make shots, I think the ball’s going to move better. Antoine did a lot of good things for us but I think when you get more guys on the floor who can score and more guys who are willing to move the basketball, you end up with a better situation offensively because there’s more guys out there that are a threat.”

That line about “more guys who are willing to move the basketball” is possibly a slight against Mason but was the theme of Casey’s interview Wednesday. The Purple Eagles will certainly need to take it to heart – they’ll have to do better than last year’s 10.0 assists per game, which ranked 334th nationally.

Other Niagara notes:

— The throwback jerseys the teams will wear to the Big 4 doubleheader are great. But if you look closely, Niagara’s jerseys are the only ones without true Buffalo Braves colors. The stripes down the uniform are purple and black. Multiple sources told me that was a bit of a sticking point for the Niagara brass. “We weren’t going to wear them any other way,” one Niagara source said of having purple on the jerseys. So while Canisius will be in a nice Columbia blue, St. Bonaventure will be decked out in Braves’ orange and UB wears white the light blue trim, Niagara will have Braves-type stripes with their own traditional colors.

— Guard Wesley Myers and forward Ramone Snowden were named to the Big 4 Preseason Second Team.

— Casey had good things to say about the work Myers and Snowden put in this offseason: “They both had very good final 10 games of the season. … They worked extremely hard in the summer, both have put on some size and strength in the weight room, they’ve continued to work on their games in the summer, they both worked diligently. They both have winning attitudes. They come in, they work, they want to be good and they want to win.”

Niagara opens the season at ACC power Pitt on Nov. 14.

Antoine Mason heads to Auburn

By Nick Veronica

auburnlogoFormer Niagara standout Antoine Mason announced in a series of tweets today that he’ll play his final year of college basketball at Auburn.

Mason led in the country in scoring average for much of last season before being passed by Creighton stud Doug McDermott. Mason finished the year averaging 25.6 points per game while hitting 44.0 percent of field goals.

Mason graduated from Niagara in the spring and will be eligible immediately. He’ll have to adapt to a more team-centric role under Bruce Pearl at Auburn. Mason had one of the country’s greenest lights last season under first-year coach Chris Casey.

Mason had his father, former NBAer Anthony Mason, call Casey in May to inform him that Antoine was transferring. Casey had said the week before that Mason was going to return to Niagara.

Here’s what Mason tweeted after his visit to Auburn last weekend:

And here’s what he tweeted Wednesday:

Mason was reportedly deciding between Auburn and Providence. His hashtag #chiponmyshoulder in the first tweet may be a reference to being left off the All-MAAC First Team last season. The league’s coaches apparently felt Niagara’s poor record was a reflection on the player its offense revolved around.

Auburn finished 12th in the 14-team SEC last year, going 6-12 in conference and 14-16 overall.