#3 seed Iona and #4 seed Siena both rolled into the semifinals, which means the MAAC Tournament has gone nearly entirely chalk (#9 seed Niagara did beat #8 Quinnipiac), and the top four seeds will square off Sunday at the Times Union Center in Albany.
#3 Iona 88, #6 Rider 70
Iona coasted into the semifinals with a relatively stress-free victory over Rider on Saturday night. Tim Cluess stuck with his “revamped” starting lineup that features Deyshonee Much and a less than 100 percent Schadrac Casimir, and it paid immediate dividends once again. Casimir and Rickey McGill combined for 47 points, with the 25 from McGill setting a career high for the sophomore. Jordan Washington added 16 points, which pushed the senior over the 1,000-point mark for his career. Promising freshman point guard Stevie Jordan led the way for Rider with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
McGill scored 13 of his 25 in the first eight minutes of the game, as the Gaels raced out to a 35-13 lead on a three by Casimir. Rider pieced together a 14-2 run after head coach Kevin Baggett picked up a frustration technical, but the Gaels took a 49-35 lead into the half.
Rider began the second 20 minutes hot, using a 7-0 run to cut the lead to single digits. Following a Cluess timeout, Casimir connected on (what proved to be) back-to-back dagger threes. The Iona lead never slipped below double digits again, and the Gaels advanced with an impressive 18-point win. Cluess has guided the Gaels to at least the semifinals in all seven seasons of his tenure at Iona.
#4 Siena 78, #5 Fairfield 66
#4 seed Siena advanced to the semifinals with a 12-point win over #5 seed Fairfield in a game that was seemingly never in doubt, but also never really out of reach for the Stags either. Javion Ogunyemi paced the Saints with 24 points and 9 rebounds, and Brett Bisping added a double-double with 12 points and 11 boards. Tyler Nelson led the Stags with 25 points.
The evening didn’t start out on a high note for Jimmy Patsos, as high scoring sophomore wing Nico Clareth was ruled out with an injury. But the Saints’ flex offense had, for the most part, generating quality looks both inside and off turnovers. Clearly Siena’s ability to score at the rim consistently was a concern for Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson, as he started a jumbo lineup with Jonathan Kasibabu, Matija Milin, and Amadou Sidibe, who clearly wasn’t 100 percent.
Siena took an 11-point lead into the half thanks to an early 16-0 run, but Fairfield quickly cut it to six once the second half began. The Stags’ rally was spurred by a (questionable) Marquis Wright technical foul, which was also his fourth personal foul. From there, Ogunyemi hit a three, which was just his fifth triple of the entire season, and the Saints never looked back, pushing the lead as high as 15 with under seven minutes to play. This is the second consecutive semifinal appearance for the Saints under Patsos.
The semifinals begin with #1 Monmouth in a true road game again vs #4 Siena. The Saints may have home court advantage, but Monmouth had Saturday night off, while the Saints will have roughly 14 hours to prepare for a team that swept them in the regular season. Justin Robinson scored 60 points in those two games, and has totaled 76 points in his last two trips to Albany.
#2 St. Peter’s and #3 Iona take the TUC stage second in a matchup of the league’s most efficient defense and most efficient offense, respectively. The Gaels swept the regular season games, but the first win was the opening league game over three months ago, and the second came after a rally in OT.