Niagara University's Greg Paulus was named the recipient of the 2019-20 Joe B. Hall Award on Monday night, earning recognition from CollegeInsider.com as the best first-year coach in NCAA Division I men's basketball.
"I am honored to have been selected as the recipient of the Joe B. Hall Award,” Paulus said in a statement. “It is a privilege to represent Niagara University as the head men's basketball coach. Niagara is a special place with passionate people. I am grateful to our players, coaching staff, and administration for their belief, hard work, and support. I am proud of our student-athletes, team and program for our growth in year one."
Paulus took over for Patrick Beilein just one week before the start of the regular season. His Purple Eagles slumped to a 2-9 record in the early, non-conference portion of their schedule but came together in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play.
They opened 4-2 and were tied for first place six games into the MAAC season. They won 10 games against conference opponents, including a victory over Marist in the postseason tournament. It was their first MAAC tourney win in three seasons.
"The easy choice would have been to go with a coach that racked up a good win total or contended for a league title,” CollegeInsider.com’s Angela Lento said in a press release. “Niagara had to make a coaching change just days before the start of the season. It would have been easy for the team to just pack it in and get ready for next season, but Greg Paulus did is a terrific of keeping the team together."
The Purple Eagles ranked statistically in the top 25 in the nation in fewest turnovers per game (10.6), fewest total turnovers (338), turnover margin (3.3) and 3-point field goal percentage (.372), leading the MAAC in all four categories. Niagara had the best assist-to-turnover ratio (1.13) in the MAAC as well. Under Paulus’ tutelage, sophomore Marcus Hammond had a career-season en route to being named first team All-MAAC.
Niagara also excelled in the classroom. It posted a program-best 3.18 GPA in the 2019 fall semester and had eight student-athletes with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Justin Roberts and Steven Levnaic garnered MAAC All-Academic Team honors at the end of the season.
Other finalists for the award were: Lennie Acuff, Lipscomb; Shane Burcar, Northern Arizona; Quinton Farrell, Presbyterian; Dane Fischer, William & Mary; Joe Gallo, Merrimack; Todd Golden, San Francisco; Eric Henderson, South Dakota State; Juwan Howard, Michigan; Willie Jones, North Carolina A&T; Carmen Maciariello, Siena; Jay McAuley, Wofford; Bryan Mullins, Southern Illinois; Mike Schrage, Elon; and Danny Sprinkle, Montana State.
Hall was a longtime Kentucky assistant before replacing the legendary Adolph Rupp as head coach. In his first season, he went 20-8, won the Southeastern Conference and went on to reach the NCAA regional finals.
Hall coached the Wildcats from 1972 to 1985, going 297-100 with four SEC Coach of the Year awards and one National Championship (1978).