Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The Niagara men’s basketball team, the No. 1 seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, punched its ticket to the semifinals with a 74-62 win over No. 9-seed Siena on Saturday afternoon in Springfield, Mass.
Sophomores Antoine Mason and Juan’ya Green led the way for the Purple Eagles (19-12, 13-5) offensively. Mason finished with 21 points, going 10 for 10 at the free throw line, and Green chipped in 15. The two combined for 10 steals in the game.
“We found a way to win. I don’t think it was our best game we played all year. Guys made plays when they had to and we are just happy to be one of four teams to be around (today)” said Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich in a release. The Purps advance to their 10th semifinal appearance during his tenure.
NU forced 20 Siena (8-24, 4-14) turnovers which led to 32 points for the Purple Eagles, marking the eighth time this season Niagara has forced at least 20 turnovers.
The Purple Eagles got going early in the game, led by Mason, who drained a 3-pointer eight minutes in to ignite a 11-3 NU run that lasted almost four minutes.
The Purps took a 32-31 advantage into the locker room, but would build a double-digit lead right out of the gates in the second half. Siena would close the gap with 11:27 left at 44-42, but NU made timely baskets and came up with enough stops on the defensive end to hold off the Saints.
NU went 22 of 27 from the charity stripe as a team in the game.
Niagara faces Iona today at 2:30 p.m. in a semifinal showdown. The Gaels eliminated Canisius on Saturday, 89-85, to advance. Tip is set for 2 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN3.
For the third year in a row, the Niagara women’s basketball team’s season ended with a playoff loss to Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference power Marist.
Last season, the Purple Eagles took the eventual champions to double overtime in a semifinal loss.
In Saturday’s MAAC tournament game in Springfield, Mass., Niagara fell behind by double digits late in the first half and never recovered in a 61-36 loss.
“We did a great job defensively and we really stayed committed to the game plan,” interim head coach Corinne Jones. “Our players listened, they executed, but the ball just didn’t go in the hoop for us tonight.”
Niagara led 6-4 early and the game was tied 8-8 at the first timeout. The Red Foxes then went on a 9-0, but Niagara got within 17-12 with 6:40 left in the first half. Marist closed the half on a 7-0 run and never looked back.
“We stuck to what we do on defense and we took pride,” Jones said. “We had small goals down the stretch in the second half and we really wanted to keep them around 60 points, that was our goal, and you just can’t control whether that ball goes in or not, and today it just wasn’t going in.”
Kayla Stroman led the Purple Eagles with 13 points and seven rebounds. Kelly Van Leeuwen had eight rebounds.
Niagara’s 15 wins this season were the most since the 2005 team won 17.
“Our group has had a great year and I want to make sure we all understand that this game does not define us for the season,” Jones said.
The Purple Eagles traveled to the MAAC tournament without head coach Kendra Faustin, who gave birth to her second child Feb. 27.
— Jonah Bronstein