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Five Things: A Renewed Rivalry, Niagara Eagles Eliminated, And Elite Stag Defense

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By Andrew Kahn

The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference held their men’s and women’s basketball tournaments at the MassMutualCenter in Springfield, MA, this past weekend. The neutral site served as host of the MAAC tournies for the second straight year. The men’s side was wide open coming in and the results bore that out—a 4 seed and a 6 seed will play for the title tonight.

1. Rivalry Renewed In Final

Iona-Manhattan will meet in tonight’s final (9:00 ET, ESPN2) in Springfield. They could have saved some time by staging the game somewhere in the New York City area. The campuses of Iona, in New Rochelle, and Manhattan, in the Bronx, are separated by fewer than 10 miles. The teams split their regular season meetings, most recently a one-point, double-overtime victory for Manhattan on Feb. 15.

(Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus /Getty Images)

(Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus /Getty Images)

2. Stags’ Suffocating Defense

In a game where points were at a premium, Sydney Johnson couldn’t contain his emotions after his point guard, Derek Needham, hit a three-pointer to give Fairfield a 35-34 lead over Rider. After the ball went through the net (Needham’s only make in seven three-point attempts), Johnson dropped to his knees and slapped the floor with both hands, imploring his guys to defend. It worked—Fairfield got a stop and won 43-42 to advance to the semifinals. It was the second fewest total points in a MAAC Tournament game and tied for the fewest by a winning team. An even crazier stat: Rider turned the ball over 21 times and didn’t record a single assist. Said Needham about his coach’s emotional display: “That’s sign language for ‘We need a stop.’”

3. Purple Eagles Eliminated

The top seed in the tournament, Niagara, won its opener against Siena but fell to Iona in Sunday’s semifinal, 79-73. By winning the regular season title, Niagara will be heading to the NIT. “The dream this weekend was to be cutting down the nets,” Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said, “but the NIT is a special thing to be a part of.” The Purple Eagles have one of the youngest teams in the country, meaning they are in a good position to make another run in the years to come.

(Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/ Getty Images)

(Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/ Getty Images)

4. Siena, Anosike Ousted

Before losing to Iona, Niagara eliminated Siena on Saturday. The loss marked the end O.D. Anosike’s college career. Anosike won a MAAC title as a freshman but the Saints have struggled the past few seasons. The 6’8” forward was well-respected in the conference and led the country in rebounds last year. This year he is second at 11.4 per game, just a fraction behind the leader. True to form, he pulled down 10 boards in the loss, and added 13 points.

5. Iona Women Advance To Title, Too

The Iona women are also playing for a championship today (at noon on ESPNU). While the men will be favored to win, the women are big underdogs despite being the No. 2 seed. Why? Marist has won seven straight MAAC Tournament titles and its coach, Brian Giorgis, has never lost against Iona coach Tony Bozzella, beating him 26 straight times.

Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local who has written for ESPN the Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at http://andrewjkahn.com. Email him at andrewjkahn@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.

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