Lewis Helps VCU to Resume-Building Win Over Princeton

By Kevin Sweeney

JeQuan Lewis had perhaps the finest game of his career, and VCU won a battle of potential top-50 RPI teams over Princeton at Siegel Center. Lewis’s 25 points and 12 assists, a career high, helped the Rams to a 81-70 win for their 6th win in 7 games to open the season.

In their first game since returning from the Bahamas following a 5th place finish at the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Rams started very sluggishly, and Princeton took advantage. The Tigers ran out to a 16-0 run to open the game, silencing the packed Siegel Center. The Rams responded, though, and it was Lewis who woke them up. He scored 5 points, and set up a big three by De’Riante Jenkins to help get the Rams going. As the half wore on, the teams traded buckets, with Lewis and Princeton’s Devin Cannady making big play after big play for their teams. However, momentum seemed to shift in the favor of VCU when Jenkins threw down this posterizing jam:

That dunk came at the beginning of what would turn into a 12-2 half-closing run that tied the game. Princeton was also dealt a big blow near the end of the half, when starting center Hans Brase had to leave the game with a knee injury. He would not return.
The game remained remarkably close for the entirety of the second half, as neither team was able to take more than a three point lead for over 16 minutes. However, in the final 6 minutes, the Rams made their push. Trailing by 2, senior guard Jordan Burgess made a layup to tie the game and just over a minute later, drained a triple to give the Rams a lead they would never relinquish. Lewis made a pair of throws on back-to-back possessions that extended VCU’s lead from six to an insurmountable ten with just 59 seconds to play. A Burgess dunk in transition punctuated the victory, sending the Rams fans home with a victory they didn’t see possible five minutes into the game.

Lewis was one of 4 Rams in double figures. Mo Alie-Cox contributed 15 points off the bench, while Samir Doughty posted 12 and Burgess added 11. Cannady’s 18 points off the bench led the way for the Tigers, while Spencer Weisz added 14.
Princeton has a week off before traveling to Hawaii for games Tuesday and Wednesday against Cal & Hawaii, respectively. VCU will travel to Miami for a Saturday matchup with Illinois.

Albany Holds Off Hard-Charging Siena to Capture Albany Cup

By Kevin Sweeney
If that was the only time the Albany Cup will be played at SEFCU Arena, Great Danes fans will certainly have a fond memory.

Albany dominated the first half and was able to slow down a huge Siena rally to earn a 81-72 win Saturday night and reclaim the Albany Cup. David Nichols had a career-high 29 points for the Great Danes.

In a game in which everyone new emotions would run high, Albany took control early, using stifling defense to slow the Saints’ offense to a halt. The Danes consistently double-teamed Siena senior forward Javion Ogunyemi whenever he touched the ball, forcing the Saints to do all their work from the perimeter. Meanwhile, both teams racked up fouls, registering 23 fouls in the opening period. The turning point in the half came with 6:45 to play, when Nico Clareth missed a dunk for Siena and Albany responded with a layup at the other end. If Clareth had converted, it would have extended a 7-0 run for the Saints and cut their deficit to two. Instead, the Danes came with an 11-0 run, giving them full control of the game. Overall, Albany finished the half on an 18-4 run, going into the half with a 38-20 lead and all the confidence in the world.

However, Clareth made it clear that this game wasn’t over as he headed down the tunnel at the half:

Clareth backed up his talk with his game, almost single-handedly carrying the Saints back into the game. Siena came out of the half strong, and quickly seized momentum in the game. First, it was point guard Marquis Wright, scoring 11 points in the first seven minutes of the half after being slowed in the first half due to foul trouble. However, Siena was never able to make a huge run, as Nichols and sophomore guard Joe Cremo hit big shot after big shot to keep the Saints at bay. Then, it was the Clareth show. After going 0-7 from the field in the first half of his first game following a 3-game suspension, Clareth found his stroke, hitting four 3’s in the span of just over 3:30 of game action to hold off an Albany run that could have sealed the game. The Saints continued to chip away at the deficit, cutting it to just 4 with a tough fall-away jump shot with 1:34 to play. However, that was when the comeback stalled. Clareth missed a jumper and nearly chased down Cremo for a magnificent block, but was called for goaltending. Clareth took a hard fall and hit the basket stanchion, landing in a heap. Luckily, he was fine and returned to the game, but the Danes were able to get a stop, sealing the game.

Clareth had 16 points, all in the second half, while Wright had 18 points. Nichols’s career-high 29 led the Danes, while Cremo posted 20 points.

The Saints are back in action on Wednesday, when they travel to Olean to take on St. Bonaventure. Albany stays home for a Wednesday matchup with Holy Cross.

Stakes High, Tensions Higher in Albany Cup

By Kevin Sweeney

The Albany Cup has always been one of my favorite mid-major rivalries. The game, which has been played every year since the turn of the millennium, pits Siena of the MAAC and Albany of the America East.

However, this season’s game will be much different than it has been in years past.  For the first time, the game will played at SEFCU Arena on the campus of the University of Albany, rather than downtown at the Times Union Center, where Siena plays its home games. This move has brought frustration to the Capital Region, as the game typically draws over 10,000 fans but will be capped at around 5,000 thanks to the change in location.  In order to limit demand for tickets, prices are very high, as the cheapest seat is going for $40, with center sections with chairbacks costing $6o. These exorbitant prices has led to anger from fans, as it now would cost a family of 4 $200 to attend a mid-major basketball game.

If tensions weren’t high to begin with, the two head coaches have certainly escalated them to another level.  The barbs began with Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos saying that this was the only time that the game would ever be played at UAlbany, and then made fun of Albany’s large number of JUCO players on their roster.

He continued to jab at the Danes the following week, this time making fun of their supposedly weak non-conference schedule:

These types of comments weren’t out of character for the boisterous Patsos, who is known for his on and off-court antics throughout the college basketball world.  However, the response for Albany’s coach Will Brown certainly raised some eyebrows. The usually subdued Brown responded, suggesting that Patsos, who has seen two key players in Nico Clareth and Lavon Long suspended early this season, has lost control of his program and that Patsos should go run a comedy show, not a basketball team. At one point, he even said this:

The emotions have seemed to cool off over the past few days, with both coaches being very complimentary of their opponent.  With the game upon us in just under 24 hours, we finally get to see these teams settle things on the floor and it should be very entertaining.

Siena hasn’t had a dream start to a season they entered with high expectations, starting 2-3.  However, the Saints are finally at full strength, as Nico Clareth’s 3-game suspension for a violation of team rules is complete, and Lavon Long is in his third game back from his identical 3-game ban.  The Great Danes are 3-2, but one of those wins was over D-3 Oneonta State, so take that for what you will.

Projected Starters:

Siena

  • G: 6’1 Marquis Wright: 19.8 ppg, 4.4 apg
  • G: 6’0 Khalil Richard: 6.4 ppg, 50% 3-point FG%
  • F: 6’7 Lavon Long: 16.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg
  • F: 6’8 Brett Bisping: 8.6ppg, 7.4 rpg
  • C: 6’10 Javion Ogunyemi: 15.6 ppg, 2.6 bpg

Albany

  • G: 6’0 David Nichols: 16.4 ppg, 2.2 spg
  • G: 6’2 Marqueese Grayson: 8.4 ppg, 57% 3-point FG%
  • G: 6’4 Joe Cremo: 16.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg
  • F: 6’7 Greig Stire: 7.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg
  • F: 6’8 Mike Rowley: 6.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg

3 Things to Watch:

  1. Clareth vs Cremo: Ever since these two guards walked onto their respective campuses, there has been a debate over which team had the better now-sophomore sensation.  Clareth provides so much energy for the Saints with his play and antics on the floor, as he is known for his flamboyant celebrations after big plays. Cremo is much more of a quiet leader, a hard worker who is willing to get dirty to get the job done.  While Clareth won’t start, he will likely play around 30 minutes and get the assignment of guarding Cremo. I expect Clareth, who is coming off the suspension, to come into the game with an incredible amount of energy. If he can stay focused, I think he will have a HUGE night, potentially tipping things in the Saints’ favor.
  2. Rebounding Battle: Siena was an excellent rebounding team a year ago, but despite not losing any major contributors from their frontcourt, have struggled on the boards this season.  On the other hand, Albany has dominated the glass all year, winning the rebounding battle in every game they’ve played except for a blowout loss to Cincinnati.  The Saints must limit the Danes’ opportunities, especially on the offensive glass, where a missed rebound can lead to easy points.
  3. Crowd: Although there are still a few (<50) unsold seats right now, SEFCU Arena will likely be bursting at the seams tomorrow night, as fans continue to purchase standing-room only tickets.  However, the question will be the breakdown of fans.  Siena has always drawn extremely well, and will likely have a strong turnout of fans, despite the high price tag. The students for UAlbany, who will likely be returning from their Thanksgiving break right around gametime, might be the deciding factor on crowd noise.  If the nearly 1000 student seats are all full, the Danes will likely have a strong home court advantage.  Otherwise, it might feel like a neutral site or even a Siena home game.

Pick

This game will be close wire to wire. Both teams are very talented, and I wouldn’t be surprised if both teams win their respective conferences. I think the Saints get it done on the road, 81-77.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Marquis Wright have an absolutely huge game, and Siena has the athletes on the perimeter to shut down the Danes’ guard duo of Nichols and Cremo when it matters most.

Seton Hall Holds Off Quinnipiac at AdvoCare Invitational

By Kevin Sweeney
Desi Rodriguez had 23 points & 11 rebounds, and Seton Hall fought off a pesky Quinnipiac squad 90-79 in a consolation bracket game at the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando, Florida. Rodriguez was one of five Pirates to post double figures in scoring. 

Quinnipiac, who was picked 10th out of 11 teams in the MAAC, was not expected to put up much of a fight in this stacked tournament field. However, for the second straight night, the Bobcats put a scare in an NCAA Tournament hopeful, hanging with Gonzaga last night before standing toe-to-toe with the Pirates tonight. 

The Bobcats came out firing in the early stages, draining three 3-pointers in the first 2:24 to take a quick 11-3 lead. The guard tandem of Daniel Harris and Reggie Oliver dominated the game early, scoring 16 of the their team’s first 20 points as Quinnipiac stretched their lead to 20-10. However, the Bobcats’ lead was short lived, as Seton Hall went on a 16-2 run to open up a 26-22 lead with 8:22 to play in the half. Quinnipiac had no answer for Rodriguez, who scored 12 points and single-handedly took over the game during that stretch. However, Quinnipiac was able to stabilize things, trading punches with the Pirates for the rest of the opening half, going into the break trailing 46-39. 

Seton Hall seemed to be on the verge of blowing the game open early in the second half, but Quinnipiac continued to hang tough. An 11-3 run by the Pirates extended their lead to 15 with 12:45 to play in the game. When faced with adversity, the Bobcats fought back with vengeance, immediately going on a 13-0 run to cut their deficit to just two. Freshman guard Peter Kiss gave the Bobcats a huge lift off the bench, scoring 13 of his career-high 19 points in the second half. Kiss was 4-4 from downtown and hit multiple tough shots to keep his team in the game. 

A huge momentum-shifting play in the game was strange sequence with 8:41 to play in the game. After Seton Hall’s Khadeen Carrington missed a layup, Michael Nzei grabbed the offensive rebound and scored despite being fouled hard by Quinnipiac’s Phil Winston. After review, Winston was called for a flagrant 1 foul, giving Nzei two free throws. He made both, giving the Pirates a 7 point lead. Today was definitely a coming-out party for Nzei, a 6-8 sophomore forward who hadn’t scored more than 5 points in a game all season. Today, he posted 19 points and 12 rebounds, providing a huge boost for a Seton Hall team that was without forward Ishmael Sanogo due to a shoulder injury and had Angel Delgado in foul trouble all night. 

“When he knows he’s going to play, he plays so much more freer and looser.” Seton Hall coach Kevin Williard said on Nzei’s impact, per SHUHoops.com. “He has to do that more often, it’s great to see.”

The 4-point possession was truly a turning point in the game. After that, Quinnipiac was never able to cut the deficit to one possession. They continued to hang around, but didn’t seem to have the energy to make one more run. 

Kiss’s 19 points led the way for the Bobcats, while Harris added 18 and Chaise Daniels posted 14 points & 11 rebounds. In addition to the strong performances by Rodriguez and Nzei, Carrington had 17 points, and freshman sensation Myles Powell had 12 points off the bench. 

Both teams conclude their time in Orlando on Sunday, with Quinnipiac taking on Indiana State for 7th place and Seton Hall facing Stanford for 5th. 

Fast Start Pushes Fordham Past Rider

By Kevin Sweeney

Fordham raced out to an early 18 point lead and withstood a second half push by Rider to snatch a 73-62 win Wednesday in an afternoon matinee at Rose Hill Gymnasium in the Bronx. It’s the fifth straight win for the Rams after being blown out by East Tennessee State to open the season. 

It was a sleepy start to the game for both teams, as it took nearly two and a half minutes for either team to get on the board. Once the Rams got on the board, however, they couldn’t be stopped. They opened the game on a 24-7 run, using pressure defense to force 7 Rider turnovers in the first 10 minutes. Those giveaways gave Fordham plenty of easy baskets at the other end. Rider began to figure things out offensively as the half went on, feeding senior forward Kahlil Thomas with regularity. Thomas dominated, nearly posting a double-double in the first half alone with 11 points and 9 rebounds in the opening stanza. Despite Thomas’s efforts, the Broncs were unable to provide much of a dent into their deficit, trailing 42-27 at halftime. 

The second half was when the Broncs made their move. They were able to cut the Fordham lead to single digits early in the half on a layup by Xavier Lundy. A 7-0 run in just 50 seconds by the Broncs made it just a seven point game with 13:11 to play in the game. However, the Rams were able to keep Rider at bay, never allowing their lead to go below five at any point in the second half. Every Rider run seemed to be answered by a big play by Fordham sophomore point Joseph Chartouny, who posted 17 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, and 4 steals. Chartouny had 2 steals, an assist, and 3 points during a huge 7-0 run by the Rams to regain control of the game after Rider cut their lead to 5. Rider continued to fight, but were dealt a big blow when starting point guard Stevie Jordan, the MAAC Rookie of the Week, fouled out with 4:30 to go. Rider didn’t score for three minutes after Jordan’s departure, allowing Fordham to ice the win. 

Thomas led the way with 21 points and 14 rebounds for the Broncs, who are back in New York City Saturday for a matchup with Wagner. Jimmy Taylor added 19 for Rider. Fordham will look to continue their winning streak Saturday with a home tilt with UT-Arlington. Today’s win is the 1500th in school history for the Rams. 

Yale Hangs Tough But Falls to Pittsburgh

By Kevin Sweeney

Yale stood toe-to-toe with another perennial power, but couldn’t pull out a resumé-boosting win over Pittsburgh Tuesday night at the “Oakland Zoo”. The Bulldogs were in it the entire way, but Pitt was able to pull out a 75-70 victory behind Michael Young’s 24 points and 10 rebounds. 

The first half was extremely close throughout, as neither team was able to extend more than a 7 point lead at any point. Yale began the half with a slight edge, snatching a seven point lead with just under ten minutes to play in the half with three’s on back-to-back possessions by Alex Copeland and Miye Oni. However, Pitt responded with an extended 17-5 run over 8:03 of game time to take the lead. It was Young who keyed the run for the Panthers, scoring 8 of the team’s 17 points during the run.  A 3-point play by Copeland with a second to play in the half narrowed the Pitt lead to just two at the half. 

Pitt began to get separation on the Bulldogs in the early stages in the second half, extending their lead to eleven with 13:21 to play in the ballgame. The Panthers were able to use their size advantage on the inside to get good looks and get to the free throw line, where they shot an excellent 18-23 on the game. 

“In the second half, we took the ball to the paint, got to the line, and it was the difference tonight.” Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings said. (@Pitt_mbb/Twitter)

Yale did not go quietly though, using the 3-point shot to stay in the game. At one point, the Bulldogs hit three’s on three consecutive possessions, a 9-2 run that cut the deficit to 57-53 with 5:48 to play. However, Pitt had the answer, with Cameron Johnson draining 3 triples in the span of 1:07 to give the Panthers a nine point lead at the final media timeout. 

The pesky Bulldogs continued to fight, clawing back within three with 49 seconds to play on a 3-pointer by Blake Reynolds. However, instead of trying to get a stop and get the ball back, Yale elected to foul right away, and Pitt continued to make its free throws, making it very difficult for Yale to come back. 

Sam Downey led the way for Yale with 17 points, while Copeland contributed 16 points off the bench. In addition to Young’s 24, Pitt got 20 points from Jamel Artis and 15 from Johnson. 

Cincinnati Dominates Penn State Behind Washington’s Double-Double

By Kevin Sweeney

After 3 straight strong performances, optimism was starting to grow for Penn State.

Today was a different story. 

The Nittany Lions were dominated from the opening tip by a Cincinnati team that played with palpable frustration following Saturday’s tough loss to Rhode Island. Kyle Washington continued his impressive first season with the Bearcats, posting a double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds. 

Cincinnati stifled the Penn State offense in the first half, allowing just 10 points in the first 17:00 of the game. The Bearcats’ outstanding length and athleticism showed up on the defensive end, where Penn State was unable to drive to the basket. The Nittany Lions were forced to settle for jump shots, and shot just 3-14 on shots outside the paint in the opening period. Meanwhile, Cincinnati used a balanced scoring attack to extend as much as a 22 point lead in the first half. A 9-2 spurt in the final 3 minutes of the half by Penn State gave them some semblance of life, trailing by 15 at the break. 

Any hope of a comeback for the Nittany Lions quickly dissipated at the beginning of the second half, as the Bearcats quickly reclaimed control of the game in the opening stages of the period. Washington controlled the offensive glass, giving the Bearcats numerous second chance point opportunities. Penn State never got the deficit below 15 in the second half, and Cincinnati cruised to an easy victory to claim 3rd place in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. 

Bright spots are hard to find for the Nittany Lions, but the play of guard Shep Garner was impressive. He recorded 20 points in the game, and was named to the all-tournament team for his efforts. 

Penn State will look to rebound on Wednesday vs Colgate, while Cincinnati will also play Wednesday, at home against Samford.