Niagara hoops back in action

Niagara University men's basketball returns to the floor today in Poughkeepsie after the first in-season COVID-19 detour in its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference schedule.

The Purple Eagles (3-3, 3-1) were scheduled to play at Iona this weekend before the Gaels announced their second coronavirus pause Tuesday afternoon. That evening, the MAAC announced Niagara would be taking on Marist (5-1, 3-1), which was scheduled to be off, instead.

"We just worked together with all the different dynamics that go with (the schedule change)," said NU coach Greg Paulus.

Paulus pushed back Wednesday's scheduled practice to allow he and his staff more time to review some Marist film. The Purple Eagles snuck in an early practice Thursday before hitting the road.

In the Red Foxes, NU will face an opponent coming off a sweep of Manhattan. They also swept two non-conference games with Binghamton and split a MAAC series with Canisius.

Marist is allowing just 60.7 points per game, very much in the image of head coach John Dunne, who built a reputation for defensive basketball in 12 seasons at Saint Peter's before making the rare in-conference shift ahead of the 2018-19 season. Four of the Red Foxes' five wins have come by five points or less.

"They're playing really well," Paulus said. "Coach Dunne has done a really great job in the MAAC conference. I think one of the things you see is they're really well-coached and they do a great job of being balanced on the offensive end, and they're a really good defensive team and make it hard to score."

The Purple Eagles went 1-2 against Marist in Paulus' first season, dropping both regular season meetings before earning a 56-54 win on Raheem Solomon's last-second layup in the first round of the MAAC tournament.

It turned out to be both teams' final game, as COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the rest of the college basketball season.

The teams will also play Saturday. Both games are scheduled for 2 p.m.

Women to debut

NU women's basketball is set to play its first regular season games today and Saturday when it hosts Iona (3-4, 2-2) in a pair of 1 p.m. starts.

Niagara opened the year with a 75-63 exhibition win over Division II Mercyhurst on Nov. 30. Their scheduled season opener, Dec. 5 vs. Binghamton, was canceled "out of an abundance of caution" by both teams, per Niagara's Twitter account.

On Dec. 9, two days before opening MAAC play, Niagara announced its women's basketball team would be taking a COVID-19 pause due to a positive test among the program's Tier 1 personnel.

There will be a brand new look to this year's Purple Eagles, who lost their top seven players from last season in terms of scoring and minutes played to either graduation or transfer.

Hockey drubbed by Robert Morris

The struggles continued Thursday for NU hockey, which fell 6-1 to Robert Morris at Dwyer Arena.

The Purple Eagles (1-5-2, 0-4-2 Atlantic Hockey) lost their fourth straight in regulation, and fifth straight if you include a shootout loss to Mercyhurst on Dec. 16.

The first period Thursday was relatively even until the Colonials (6-3, 4-1) got on the board with 33 seconds left. RMU scored twice in a 55-second span in the 12th minute of the second, then blew the games open with another late tally, this time with just 2 seconds until the second intermission.

Niagara has been outscored 36-23 on the year, giving up an average of 4.5 goals per game. It'll try to right the ship Sunday and Monday, when it hosts Air Force.

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