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5 things we learned on MAAC Opening Night(s)

Iona is chaotic good, freshmen upstarts in the league, and more from the first games from MAAC squads

Siena PG Zek Tekin
Sarah Hamilton/Siena Athletics

Three days into the season, each MAAC team has played once. This is the perfect time to evaluate what perceptions may have shifted around the league before we go any further. Here’s five things that we learned from around the conference during the season openers:

  1. Zek Tekin has taken a step

Siena lost the services of eight of its top nine scorers in the offseason, and added just one currently eligible player in the transfer portal. While Michael Eley’s breakout was imminent, Zek Tekin’s may prove more crucial to the team’s success.

Tekin, who scored just 2.1 points per game last year, looked very aggressive as a ball handler, decisively looking for ways to score in Siena’s season opener. He’s put on muscle, with head coach Carm Maciariello noting that “he’s not a schoolboy anymore,” and it showed.

No longer is Tekin simply there because you need somebody to bring the ball up, he’s focused on making his voice heard. He took 10 field goal attempts, nearly a quarter of his total from last season, and scored 16 points. The Turkish sophomore also doled out four assists.

2. Yaw Obeng-Mensah is more versatile than advertised

UMBC transfer Yaw Obeng-Mensah matched his career total of 3-pointers made on Monday, draining both of his attempts. While with the Retrievers, he was used primarily in the post and running in transition. In his Niagara debut, he showed off the vision, handles, and shot.

Just a minute and a half into Niagara’s game against Notre Dame, Obeng-Mensah put the ball on the floor going baseline and dished a pass through traffic to Ahmad Henderson II in the opposite corner for a 3. On the next possession, Obeng-Mensah hit a trey from the exact same spot.

When he noticed a defender sagging off of him, he immediately put on a speed burst, driving to the basket for a layup from the top of the key. In high-low actions with big man Harlan Obioha, he was able to parse the defense and make the entry pass.

Obeng-Mensah finished with 13 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. It’s clear that his athleticism is going to cause problems in the MAAC, especially with his further developed all-around skillset.

3. Manhattan has the requisite toughness

In his first game as head coach of the Jaspers, John Gallagher took his team to Bryant, and won as a double-digit underdog. The roster is full of tough players with something to prove. Seydou Traore plays with an edge physically. The freshman grabbed 11 rebounds in his first college game to go along with 12 points. He’s powerful in the lane, but has a graceful mid-range jump shot. Fellow freshman Jaden Winston scored eight points, getting to the line four times, and grabbing three rebounds.

Despite shooting just 1-16 from three, Manhattan ground out the victory by winning the rebound battle and keeping Bryant out of the paint. The Bulldogs shot just 25% at the rim, with Traore, Daniel Rouzan, and the Jaspers’ interior defense giving them fits. St. Bonaventure transfer guard Brett Rumpel even swatted two shots.

The entire Manhattan team bought in and played physical defense, but nobody fouled out. The Jaspers got lucky with Bryant shooting 8-20 from the foul line, but a win is a win at the end of the day.

4. Iona is talented, but chaotic

With a completely new team learning a completely new system, it was predictable that Iona would struggle for consistency and fusion early in the season. The Gaels and the Cougars of Charleston ran up and down the court playing extremely hard, and extremely competitive, but neither team looked completely in sync.

For Iona, Greg Gordon attempted 23 shots, all of them came inside the arc. The six-foot-five Dyersburg State transfer was taking it upon himself to get downhill, which he did at a high level. His athleticism and physicality was on display, but the offense shouldn’t be quite as reliant on his drives. Gordon is extremely talented, and finishing with 18 points and 14 rebounds should not be scoffed at, but it was disjointed. The Gaels had just seven assists on 29 field goals, relying way too much on self-creation.

Even then, Iona's talent was apparent. There were moments of individual brilliance not just from Gordon, but from Idan Tretout, and a variety of other pieces.

However, even with Iona’s strange offensive performance, it managed to come within inches of a victory on the road in a hostile environment against a great Charleston team. Anderson’s system emphasizes a full-court press to speed the game up, and it completely mucked up the game. Iona made Charleston look disjointed offensively as well. Pat Kelsey’s team finished with just 0.97 points per possession, a mark that would’ve been their lowest mark all of last season (excluding the NCAA Tournament).

5 (this is a loaded one). This freshman class is special

Over the last few seasons, the MAAC hasn’t quite been a haven for freshmen. Just six freshmen over the last two seasons played over 50% of their team’s minutes. There’s a good chance that that number is exceeded just this year

As detailed earlier, Manhattan started two freshmen in its win over Bryant, but the Jaspers weren’t the only ones with a youth movement.

Marist started two freshmen, Jadin Collins and Josh Pascarelli. While the ladder struggled, the former was extremely impressive. Collins played 29 minutes in the Red Foxes’ win over Army, dropping 12 points, four assists, four rebounds, and three steals. The New Jersey native was effective in transition, and functioned well alongside sophomore guard Isaiah Brickner.

Niagara put Notre Dame on upset alert, leading for 26 minutes before wilting away late. Even as the Purple Eagles’ roster is loaded with grad students, it was the lone freshman who led them in scoring. Ahmad Henderson II, my preseason pick for freshman of the year, scored 14 points with seven rebounds, draining two threes. He showed off his burst and handle leading the NU offense for 34 minutes.

Injuries forced Fairfield to elevate two freshmen into the starting lineup, and both had strong debuts. Michael Rogan led all MAAC freshmen with 18 points, draining four threes. He redshirted last season, but Jay Young told me in the offseason that he was feeling a little bit of regret towards that decision. Peyton Smith struggled to deal with Boston College’s star Quinten Post, but he more than held his own offensively, with 12 points and six rebounds.

None of the freshmen for Siena were major standouts on Monday against Holy Cross, but the Saints have high hopes for their class. Bralyn Smith got the start and scored 7 points with 5 rebounds. He’s expected to be one of the most reliable shooters on the roster. Michael Ojo played 22 minutes off the bench, and led the team with a +7 rating. In order for Siena to reach its ceiling, especially with Sean Durugordon’s waiver being denied, they need major contributions from the first years.

For the Mount, Dallas Hobbs and DeShayne Montgomery each stood out in the convincing loss to Maryland. Iona also had four freshmen see the floor, with Jean Aranguren and Jeremiah Quigley producing well.

Rider and Quinnipiac played against non-Division I opponents but each had their freshmen impact the game. For the Broncs, DJ Dudley scored 10 points in just 12 minutes, while Ruben Rodriguez and Ife West-Ingram also shined. For the Bobcats, Ri Vavers recorded 15 points and 7 rebounds, knocking down all three of his three-pointers.

And finally, Saint Peter’s guard Armoni Zeigler had the play of the night. He capped off his ten-point debut with a highlight reel poster in the loss to Seton Hall.