Can the nation’s top returning scorer, having carved out his numbers and reputation in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, make a seamless transition to the Southeastern Conference? Antoine Mason obviously believes he can do just that.
Mason announced on his Twitter account Wednesday that he is officially leaving Niagara and heading to Auburn to spend his final season of eligibility. As a fifth-year senior he is free to play next season.
Mason, a 6-3 guard, led the nation in scoring much of last season before placing second to Creighton’s Doug McDermott. McDermott averaged 26.9, Mason 25.6.
Niagara knew it was coming. The school announced earlier this month that Mason was pursuing other options for his final season of eligibility. Providence and Boston College were among the other schools he considered before making a commitment to Auburn, which is going into its first season under Bruce Pearl, the former head man at Tennessee.
Sources close to the program say that Mason’s departure might help hasten Niagara’s development under coach Chris Casey, who just finished his first year at the helm. While Mason’s talents are obvious, the Purple Eagles rarely struck an offensive balance with him on the floor last season and likely would have followed the same path if he returned. Instead, Casey can get to work building the team to his style with his players.
The retooling has been massive since coach Joe Mihalich departed for Hofstra after the 2012-13 season. All-conference guard Juan’ya Green and swingman Ameen Tanksley followed Mihalich to Hofstra while forward T.J. Cline transferred to Richmond. The overhaul also includes the transfer of sophomore guard Tahjere McCall after last season.
In the SEC, Mason will be up against bigger, stronger guards in a conference dominated last year by Final Four teams Kentucky and Florida.