Niagara’s win vs. rival Canisius latest turn in tight MAAC race

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Expected to be a highly competitive race before the season began, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference has not disappointed its followers to this point in the season.

And on Sunday the tips of Canisius guard Billy Baron’s fingers proved to be the difference between Niagara remaining alone in first place and dropping into a tie with Iona.

Baron’s shot as time expired was originally thought to be good, giving the Golden Griffins a 67-66 win and moving them to within a game of the Purple Eagles and Gaels. But after reviewing the shot (the picture of which can be seen below, thanks to @ryanrestivo) the officials determined that Baron did not get the shot off in time.

The end result: a 66-65 Niagara victory with Marvin Jordan, whose three-pointer with four seconds remaining gave the Purple Eagles the lead, playing the role of hero.

For Jordan this would be an appropriate ending as he scored 23 points off the bench on an afternoon that saw point guard and second-leading scorer Juan’ya Green score eight points (he did finish with eight assists) and third-leading scorer Ameen Tanksley shoot 1-of-9 from the field.

Baron would finish with nine points on 4-of-14 shooting but the play of Chris Manhertz (17 points, 15 rebounds) and Isaac Sosa (14 points) allowed the Golden Griffins to hold the lead for much of the day despite the Rhode Island transfer’s shooting struggles.

The wild finish in Buffalo capped a day that began with five teams separated by two games in the loss column at the top of the MAAC standings and finished with three: Niagara (9-1), Iona (8-2) and Loyola (MD) (7-3).

Iona, who has won eight of its last nine games, beat Loyola 79-71 in Baltimore with Lamont Jones leading the way offensively (24 points) and forward David Laury posting his third straight double-double (ten points, 14 rebounds) and fifth of the season.

Dylon Cormier (18 points, seven rebounds) and Robert Olson (14 points) led the way for the Greyhounds but Erik Etherly (3-of-12 FG) struggled and as a team Jimmy Patsos’ team shot 8-of-18 from the foul line. Iona, by comparison, hit 20 of their 25 free throws.

Canisius and Rider, both 6-4 in MAAC play, aren’t out of the race with eight games remaining but climbing to the top of the standings will be difficult. With Iona having beat Niagara 83-72 way back on November 28, the rematch this Thursday at Niagara takes on added importance.

If Baron’s disallowed shot is a harbinger of things to come, look for the MAAC race to go right down to the wire.

Photo credit: Niagara University (Marvin Jordan); video from maacsports.com

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: