Niagara Chris Casey Challenged Antoine Mason To Lead

When he first arrived and met with players individually, first-year head coach Chris Casey knew to task junior Antoine Mason with being a leader on this year’s team.

“I need to take a leadership role,” Mason said was Casey’s message. “This is basically my team that I have to set the tone and lead by example.”

Casey coached Mason’s brother, Anthony Jr., as an assistant at St. John’s, so the two had previously met. But the first time Casey had the opportunity to speak at length with Antoine was when he inherited the job in April.

Mason may be the nation’s leader in scoring, but he said Casey’s message was clear: Lead the whole team. The junior said he cares much more about wins than about leading any statistical category and that he has to be more vocal.

“I lead by example in practice and then in games, but I have to talk a little bit more,” Mason said. The junior is aided by senior Marvin Jordan, graduate transfer Marcus Ware, and senior Joe Thomas who help guide a roster filled with six freshmen.

Not only is the roster filled with young players, but Mason and his teammates have found the freedom to attack in Casey’s up and down system. However, the junior is the only player averaging double-digit points per game on the team and Casey said he would like to see that change.

“I kind of go by the rule of everybody’s status is the same, but everybody’s role is different,” Casey said. “For [Mason] to be good offensively, other guys have to also have to score otherwise he’s playing one against five.”

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Antoine Mason leads the nation in scoring, but if his team wants to make a run in the MAAC they will need more contributions from his teammates.

In order for the Purple Eagles to open up on offense, Casey said he would like to see the progress from the lineup around Mason. Monmouth transfer Ware, who has battled through an ankle injury this season, has started to come on.

“Marcus was slowed for a period of time with a pretty good ankle injury, but he gutted it out and played with it and it slowed him a little bit,” Casey said. “It took away a little bit of his explosiveness and his finishing ability around the basket. He is now, in the last couple of weeks, he seems 100-percent healthy.”

The graduate transfer has scored double-digit points in the last three games and started the last four games. Meanwhile, freshman Wesley Myers has also joined the lineup in the last four games and begun to show more aggressiveness.

“Wes has done some good things for us,” Casey said. “Each game he’s becoming a little more aggressive offensively, which is something that we want because he is talented offensively.”

“There’s got to be some other guys that can put the ball in the basket, in order to open it up for Antoine. The more the wealth is shared, the better it is for our team.”

Jordan is the team’s leading three-point shooter and second leading scorer to Mason with 9.9 points per game. Freshman Ramone Snowden has been consistent all season, averaging 8.3 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game.

The first-year coach said he would like to see his defense get better during this stretch to help convert in their up and down style.

“There’s some games where we defended really well and then there’s games where it hasn’t been consistent from half to half,” Casey said. “We have to improve on defense, has to be consistent and rebounding has to be consistent. We’re not at that point yet, but that is something that we need to do, so stops and rebounds gets us out running when we can run. If we don’t get stops and rebounds, we can’t push the ball so that’s something we emphasize and something we’re trying to improve on.”

Ryan Restivo covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com