Six MAAC teams won their BracketBuster games this weekend. Most importantly, though, the top four MAAC programs all emerged victorious.
The weekend tipped off with Niagara (22-7, 12-4 MAAC) playing host to Illinois State (22-6, 11-5 MVC). The Purple Eagles' swarming defense was too overwhelming for Osiris Eldridge, Champ Oguchi, and the rest of the Redbirds, who shot a meager 37.9 percent from the floor and four-of-18 from deep.
The Purple Eagles forced 15 turnovers and recorded 15 steals, five above their season average.
Overall, it was a successful game for Joe Mihalich's team. They improved to 22-7 and defeated an Illinois State team that was hyped to be one of the top teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, which is notorious for being among the toughest mid-major conferences in the country.
Niagara lost by 17 at MAAC foe Siena, but the Purple Eagles have an opportunity to take revenge this Friday when Siena travels to the Gallagher Center, where Niagara is 9-2.
Niagara stands a chance of getting an NIT bid, especially after defeating Illinois State.
Manhattan (16-11, 9-7 MAAC) is alone in fourth place and used its defense and an explosive second half to beat William & Mary (9-18, 4-12 CAA), 54-39. The Jaspers forced 16 turnovers and held the Tribe to 27 percent shooting from the floor and three-of-23 from long range.
Patrick Bouli suffocated W&M's leading scorer, David Schneider, holding the guard to seven points on two-of-12 shooting from the floor.
Manhattan only scored 19 points in the first half, but their defense only allowed 20. Fortunately for the Jaspers, the defense remained intact in the second half, but the offense was fluid and affective. Manhattan shot 57 percent in the second half and was led by Darryl Crawford (17 points), Chris Smith (12 points and 13 rebounds), and Antoine Pearson (11 points).
Starting center Herve Banogle left the game early with an injury. The senior from Cameroon corrals 5.7 rebounds per game, so the Jaspers desperately need him back for Friday's game at Fairfield.
Manhattan is hot, having won five of its last six games, and looks to ride the momentum into the conference tournament in the beginning of March.
Siena (22-6, 15-1 MAAC) is rolling. To put it in Kenny Hasbrouck's words, the Saints are "clicking."
The Saints have been unbeatable at home all season long and Saturday's game against Northern Iowa (18-10, 12-4 MVC) was no exception.
Sparked by Clarence Jackson's hot hand and the Panthers' cold touch, Siena rode a 40-19 lead into halftime.
It looked like Fran McCaffery's team could have run away with the game, but their defense let up in the second half, when the Panthers scored 56 points. Fortunately for the Saints, their offense was consistent.
The final score, 81-75, is not as impressive as a 20-point rout would have been, but the Saints should be able to use this victory to enhance their tournament seed.
It's been a question all year long as to whether or not Siena has any chance of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. A loss on Saturday would have shattered any hope, but if they win out until the MAAC championship, they have a chance.
Rider (16-11, 10-6 MAAC) defeated UMBC (12-15, 6-8 America East), 71-65. Ryan Thompson (16 points and nine rebounds) was the star for the Broncs, as usual, but he was complemented by Justin Robinson (15 points) and Harris Mansell (15 points).
The Retrievers are weak this year and Rider should have handled them easily, but turnovers and poor three-point shooting hindered the Broncs for most of the game. Rider won because it got to the charity stripe more than its opponent did.
The Broncs had lost two MAAC games in a row before upsetting Niagara in dramatic fashion, and they have two winnable games against Loyola Md. and Fairfield to close out the regular season. One win would secure the Broncs' spot in third place.
The MAAC Tournament begins on March 6.