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