Thursday night worked out quite well for Niagara as it took a big step toward the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season championship with an overtime win over Iona.
The Purple Eagles (14-8, 10-1) can put some more distance between their league foes with a win at 3 p.m. today (Radio 1520 AM) at the Gallagher Center against defending MAAC Tournament champion Loyola (Md.), which highlights a full slate of Big 4 games.
Canisius (14-8, 7-4), which remained in the hunt with a 91-79 victory over the Greyhounds Thursday, are prepared for a potential shootout against the Gaels (14-8, 8-3) at 7 in the Koessler Center (Radio 1400 AM). Meanwhile, St. Bonaventure (9-10, 2-4 Atlantic 10) has taken two of its last three heading into its 4 p.m. matchup against Duquesne (7-13, 0-6) at the Reilly Center (TWC 25, Radio 1450 AM), while the University at Buffalo (8-13, 3-4 Mid-American Conference), winners of three of four, play at West Division-leading Western Michigan (13-7, 5-2) at 7 (Radio 1230 AM).
Niagara was thought to be a year away but has won seven straight and has a two-game lead over second-place Iona, last year’s MAAC regular season champion, a three game lead over Canisius and Loyola and 3½ over Rider (11-11, 6-4), which played at Fairfield on Friday.
“The championship goes through Iona and Loyola,” Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. “They went to the NCAA Tournament last year so until someone else goes, those teams, in my mind, are the co-champions. I have a ton of respect for Iona and of course Loyola too and let’s see what happens from here on in.”
With seven league games remaining, it looks like Niagara’s time, especially after its last two wins over Canisius and Iona, which were won in the final seconds and in overtime, respectively. Antoine Mason scored a career-high 30 points and Juan’ya Green added 26, including the winner in overtime, to beat the Gaels, 93-90.
“Other teams are up on us, but we dig deeper and keep on fighting through,” Niagara center Devon White said. “A win is a win, no matter whether it’s by a point or by 20 points.”
The horror of last Sunday’s loss to Niagara was fresh in the minds of the Golden Griffins, who started strong against Loyola but the let the Greyhounds back in the game before winning, 91-79. A high-scoring affair is expected against the Gaels, who have won eight of 10, including a 97-87 victory over the Griffs on Jan. 13.
“I think this game gives us good momentum,” Canisius center Jordan Heath said. “Loyola’s a great team and it gives us good momentum going into Iona and kind of get revenge on them.”
Elsewhere, the UB women (7-13, 5-2) will try to continue their impressive march through the MAC with a 2 p.m. matchup at Akron (13-7, 4-3) in a showdown between two of the top teams in the East Division (Radio 1340 AM).
Niagara (9-11, 4-5) concludes its four-game road trip at 2 p.m. against Rider (10-10, 5-4).