Men’s Basketball Splits Weekend

The University men’s basketball team snapped a nine game losing streak by besting the Purple Eagles of Niagara University at the Multipurpose Activity Center (MAC), 75 – 50 on Friday, Feb 28 only to enter another losing streak as they fell to Siena College, 70 – 54 on Sunday, March 2.

When asked about putting a halt on the losing streak, one that spanned over 35 days, head coach King Rice said, “Someone said, ‘Yeah, the monkeys’ off your back.’ It wasn’t a monkey. It was a gorilla, a giraffe, an elephant, a pelican, a zebra and anything you see at the zoo. A hippopotamus, they were all on my neck and mainly because I felt like we have a solid team and we were so close in so many games and when you don’t win the close ones, it could’ve kept going the long way.”

The Hawks received a very strong performance from junior guard, Andrew ‘Red’ Nicholas, who scored 27-points on 10-for-13 shooting. Nicholas also contributing to holding Antoine Mason, one of the nation’s leading scorers, to 15-points while shooting 6-for-13.

MU also got a strong showing from junior guard, Deon Jones, who 16-points on 5-for-10 shooting. Free throw shooting, which has been somewhat of an Achilles’ heel for the Hawks, was also strong with an overall effort of 17-for-23 shooting.

“We just settled down on offense and moved the ball better than we have in the past,” Nicholas said. “The way we were getting the ball inside early, it spread them out and they were just having trouble keeping with us. I just tried to take the right shots today. If you take the right shots, they have a better chance of going in.”

Rice jokingly added, “Red just said, ‘If you take the right shots, they have a better chance of going in.’ He said it without me even saying it. Thank you, Jesus.”

The night also showcased the return of junior guard, Max DiLeo, to the lineup. DiLeo, the vocal leader and heart of the team, has sat out the last five games while nursing an ankle injury. Though he was not much of an offensive factor, his defensive presence was felt by drawing two charging fouls and dishing out two assists while energizing the Hawks’ defensive efforts.

“Max being in a uniform gives our team a lot. We wanted to take him and not keep him in the game a lot in the second half when we had a lead. We knew when he first started playing that he wasn’t going to have his explosiveness. He gives us energy, he’s one of the leaders of our team and he makes everybody comfortable when he has his uniform on, so I thought he did a great job tonight,” Rice said.

The Hawks’ defense was pesky from the opening tip, by speeding up the Niagara guards with their full-court pressure and forcing some bad shots. Niagara shot 13-for-42 from the field while shooting a pedestrian 1-for-13 from behind the arc.

The Hawks also managed to force 24-turnovers, including six on behalf of Mason. Overall, MU shot 51 percent from the field, while their defensive efforts held Niagara to a 31 perfect shooting performance.

The blue and white also had strong contributions from their freshmen big men, Zac Tillman and Chris Brady. Though both combined for 11-points and 10-rebounds, the 6-foot-10 twin towers played a huge role with their stern defense and their presence under the basket.

When asked about the presence and maturation of Tillman and Brady, Deon Jones said, “It definitely opens things up for the perimeter guys. When you throw it in, you’re going to get something. They’ve gotten so much better since the beginning of the year. When you’re out on the perimeter, the defender is going to slack off a little bit and try to help in the post and that just frees us up.”

Rice added, “What you have to understand is, these guys are doing awesome and they don’t even understand their bodies right now because they’ve lost so much weight to get in shape and be able to play. They’re not even sure how to move because they’re 50-60 pounds lighter.”

The Hawks dropped their regular season finale on the road to the Siena Saints and finished the regular season with a record of 11-20 (5-15 MAAC).

Nicholas and Jones notched a double-figure night for the Hawks with Nicholas sinking 18-points and Jones landing 14-points.

Even this effort was not enough for MU as Siena took an early 17-6 lead within the first ten minutes of play and by half, the Saints led 35-23.

Siena led MU in field goal percentage as the Saints went 23-for-54 while the Hawks were 19-for-58.

The blue and white controlled the three point shots at 30 percent while Siena shot 18.2 percent. All MU’s three pointers came from Nicolas.

The Hawks now travel to Massachusetts to begin play in the MAAC Conference Tournament, where they will hold the ninth seed in the tournament. Their first opponent will be in-state foe Rider University. The Broncs, who defeated MU twice this season, finished with a 13-16 (9-11 MAAC).

Opening tipoff is scheduled for Thursday, March 6 at 5 pm.