Once again, the No. 1 seed in the MAAC will not make the NCAA Tournament — a streak which goes back to 2010. A weekend of upsets and tight games took down the top three seeds, leaving the Iona Gaels and the Fairfield Stags to play for the automatic bid on Monday night.
Rider kicked off the madness by losing 66-55 to the St. Peter’s Peacocks. The Peacocks lost twice to Rider in the regular season and were down 25-17 after 15 minutes. However, Rider’s typically high-powered offense did absolutely nothing after that. The Broncs allowed a 10-0 run to close out the first half and were completely cold in the second (0.80 points per possession for the game).
Next, No. 2 seed Canisius completely gagged one away against Quinnipiac. The Golden Griffins were controlling the game and up seven with 13 minutes left, but they also allowed a crucial run to let Quinnipiac back into it. The Bobcats, trying to make their first NCAA Tournament, fought back furiously and won it, 72-69.
On Saturday, it was No. 3 seed Niagara’s time to lay an egg. Niagara’s fast-paced style backfired completely as Fairfield ripped the Purple Eagles for 90 points. Tyler Nelson went off for 27 points two nights after scoring 28 in Fairfield’s first-round game against Marist. It was never really close. That result meant that all three teams that played in the First Round won their next game. In the next game in the Times Union Center, Iona dispatched Manhattan 72-60 behind crunching defense and 23 points from Zach Lewis.
Sunday night saw more drama. St. Peter’s came out firing once again as significant underdogs to Iona. The Peacocks were up 30-20 at halftime and 39-25 with 15 minutes left. The No. 9 seed looked ready to book a trip to the final, but Iona responded with a wild 11-2 run that made it a five-point game. After that, the Gaels chipped away and asserted control over the game, advancing to their sixth consecutive MAAC Championship Game.
The other game was less interesting, but Fairfield’s Tyler Nelson proved himself as the player of the tournament thus far with a 19-point performance. The Bobcats were simply overmatched, as the Stags controlled much of the game.
With that, Iona will play Fairfield at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN. Iona has to be the favorite given its experience and recent play, but the Stags beat Iona 103-100 in the regular season, so you can’t count out Fairfield just yet. Hopefully we get an equally entertaining game tonight.