MAAC Semis and Championship coverage
New kids, Fairfield, ride senior to advance to Championship vs. Siena
Fairfield was the only semifinal participant that wasn’t in at least one of the last two MAAC Championships. Matter fact, they haven’t played on MAAC Championship Monday since the 2003 season.
But down the stretch, the No. 2 seed Stags looked like the experienced team that had been through tight semifinal games before.
Niagara, the No. 6 seed, held a 58-51 lead with over seven minutes in the game and looked poised to ride senior guard Tyrone Lewis to a MAAC Championship rematch with Siena.
From that point on, Stag forward Anthony Johnson and cast tightened up on defense, limiting Niagara to five points for the remainder of the game.
No. 2 Fairfield scored 18 more and won 69-63. Johnson scored nine of those points to move Fairfield (22-9) on to tomorrow’s Championship bout with No. 1-seed Siena (26-6).
“I looked Anthony Johnson in the eyes and said, ‘It’s time for you to be dominant. I’m not ready to send you back [home] yet,’ “ said Fairfield head coach Ed Cooley. “He’s a winner, and when someone tells me ‘I got your back coach,’ I have to believe in the big fella.”
Fairfield went into halftime with a 31-29 lead, but Lewis, Niagara’s do-everything guard that has dominated the league since for four years, hit a 3 on Niagara’s first possession out of intermission to give the Eagles a 32-31 lead. Niagara held the lead for most of the second half and looked like it’d take care of the younger Stags.
The Stags, with just one senior starter surrounded by freshmen and sophomores, rode that lone four-year player to victory. Johnson instilled his will on the smaller Purple Eagles to advance to his first championship game.
“I’ve been wanting to play in a championship game since my freshman year seeing Tyrone Lewis win [2007 MAAC Championship game] MVP on our floor,” said Johnson, who finished with 21 points and 8 rebounds. “I’ve felt one we get there, we’d perform.”
It wasn’t a one-man show for Fairfield. The Stags received great minutes – 34 of them – from freshman point guard Derrick Needham. The MAAC Rookie of the Year finished with 17 points and matched the older Lewis’ great play. On successive nights, Needham out-performed Lewis and Canisius’ all-star guard Frank Turner to lead his team to the championship game.
“I feel we have great guards in our league, and I could be one of them,” Needham said. “My preparation for all MAAC guards is to watch what they do.”
But for Needham and the rest of Fairfield, a stiff challenge lies ahead. Siena has been dominant in the Times Union Center and brings a 37-game home win streak into Monday’s battle. Fairfield competed with Siena on both regular season battles, but lost 81-73 in Fairfield, and 69-67 at the TUC in February.
Cooley doesn’t expect to make any big changes regarding gameplan and roster, but his team will be ready to go, and that Siena homecourt advantage won’t intimidate his guys.
“We can play on the moon, we can play on the streets… all we’re trying to do is give ourselves an opportunity to continue to advance,” Cooley said. “We don’t care where the game’s played. If they want to host it, god bless them. We want to be host spoilers.”
16-0 run sends Siena to another MAAC Final
Rider tried to run with the No. 1 Siena Saints during the two regular season meetings. It lost both of those games by 48 points combined.
So in the team’s semifinal matchup Sunday, the Broncos changed the pace. Switching defenses, patient offense, double teams in the post, and anything else to keep Siena off guard and letting them explode offensively was implemented.
Rider’s plan worked in the first half. Senior forward Ryan Thompson, whose other brother Jason led Rider to the ’08 MAAC Championship (they lost to Siena), shined and scored 15 of Rider’s 30 first-half points as Rider held a two-point lead.
But you can’t hold these Saints down for 40 minutes, and a 16-0 run midway through the second half sent the Saint faithful towards the Times Union Center box office to pick up MAAC Championship tickets. Siena was led by four double figure scorers and advanced to Monday’s final with a 72-62 win over Rider.
“We were sputtering on offense in the first half, but kept playing,” said Siena head coach Fran McCaffrey. “We could have gotten behind by a lot more [in the first half].”
No. 5 Rider held a 30-28 halftime lead at halftime, and unlike Manhattan was able to stay with the Saints for a majority of the second half. Siena started stepping the pace up with a full-courtpress, but the Broncos sliced it with ease and took advantage with open lay-ups and dunks.
But Siena, like they have all season long, hung around and eventually took a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. A Clarence Jackson 3-point shot gave Siena a 49-48 lead with 11:11 left in the game. It was in the middle of a 16-0 run that helped give the Saints all the drive they’d need to finish the game.
During the run, unsung hero Ryan Rossiter began imposing his will on the Bronco bigs. The 6-foot-9 junior finished with 10 points and 18 rebounds, and during the run was snatching everything in sight. He also capitalized on a couple effective post moves to get Rider forward Mike Ringgold off his back for open shots.
Rossiter was the open one rebounding the ball for Siena in the first half. He enter the locker room with 10 of Siena’s 18 rebounds, while Rider had 26 rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
McCaffrey challenged his guys to be more assertive on the boards in the second half, and Franklin and company responded. Siena won the rebounding battle 39-38, which helped the Saints pull away.
Guard Ronald Moore also contributed when needed. A pass-first point guard who has averaged 6.6 points a game, Moore scored when no other Saint was making baskets and he finished with 15 points. He managed the game well in the second half and took advantage of what the Rider defense allowed him to do.
“I though the way Moore attacked the zone in the second half was phenomenal,” McCaffrey said.
For Rider, Thompson finished his career out with 21 points on 8-for-17 shooting. Ringgold contributed 20 points and 14 rebounds in the loss.
Siena will play the winner of the No. 6 Niagara- No. 2 Fairfield semifinal game.