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Niagara’s 9-1 start in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference might have some fans thinking the Purple Eagles are primed to run off and hide. Not so fast. Next up on the schedule are the league’s two preseason favorites: Iona and Loyola.

“Any league you play in seems like the toughest in the country but, man, I tell you it just seems like every night …” Mihalich said after Sunday’s 66-65, thrill-a-second road win over arch-rival Canisius.

Iona holds down second place in the MAAC at 8-2 following Sunday’s 79-71 road win at Loyola, which sits alone in third at 7-3. The Gaels (14-7 overall) are explosive on the offensive end. Guard Momo Jones is third in the country at 22.3 points per game for a team that ranks fourth nationally in scoring at 81.8.

“It’s a good way to start this tough part of the schedule,” Iona’s Tim Cluess said after the victory at Loyola. “We know we have our work cut out for us next weekend against two high-level teams in our league and being on the road for like four or five days for that. But right now I just want our guys to enjoy the moment.”

Iona has won eight of nine in conference since opening with a stunning 64-62 loss at Saint Peter’s (6-14, 1-9). The Gaels already own home-court victories over Niagara (83-72 on Nov. 28) and Canisius (97-87 on Jan. 13). They’ll be at the Gallagher Center at 7 Thursday night and at the Koessler Athletic Center at 7 Saturday night.

Defending champion Loyola (15-7 overall) had coach Jimmy Patsos at a loss following the Iona game.

“Without naming names, I have a couple of guys who don’t buy into the concept that it’s us versus them,” Patsos said. “We were playing for first place today and we didn’t want to dive on the ground for a loose ball. I take full responsibility for that, but don’t ask me to understand it.

“For 40 minutes, they were more emotional than we were. It’s an emotional game, college basketball. You’re not going to beat a team with two or three guys [playing well]. We have eight guys [in the rotation], we need six, [but] we had four show up today and that’s not enough.”

The Greyhounds, who leave for the Patriot League after this season, open at Canisius at 7 Thursday night and finish their Western New York swing at Niagara at 3 p.m. Saturday. Niagara won the first meeting, 62-61, on Dec. 5. It will be first meeting between between the Greyhounds and the Griffs.

Next step

Canisius junior forward Chris Manhertz had five rebound baskets while scoring a career-high 17 against Niagara Sunday. Jordan Heath, the Griffs’ 6-10 center, didn’t score a single field goal off feeds into the low post. It’s hard to see Canisius realizing its full potential unless it works its big men into the offense.

“We should have done a better job, us guards, of really penetrating that matchup zone and getting to the hoop and taking advantage of that junk defense they were playing,” Billy Baron said.

He’s right. The Griffs struggled offensively against Manhattan’s “junk defense” before working the offense inside-out, with Manhertz, Heath and Freddy Asprilla getting touches and either going to the hoop or kicking it out. Granted, like most college teams Canisius is guard-oriented. But when you have weapons inside — and they do — they go to waste unless opposing teams are forced to honor them.

Green pastures

BN Big 4 Player of the Week: Juan’ya Green, Niagara’s sophomore point guard, averaged 14 points, 9.5 assists and 7 rebounds against just four total turnovers as the Purple Eagles continued to sizzle with a pair of road victories. Marvin Jordan hit the big shot against Canisius when Green’s drive-and-kick that got him the look.

Futility redefined

Northern Illinois has a promotion going at a couple of home basketball games that gives fans a chance to win a car by participating in a halftime contest.

It’s assumed that the contest does not involve shooting a basketball. Because if there was someone in the student body capable of doing that, well, they’d be on the team.

As good as the Huskies were in football field (MAC title, Orange Bowl), that’s how bad they’ve been on the hardwood. The new low arrived Saturday when NIU broke its own NCAA record for fewest points in a half in a 42-25 loss to Eastern Michigan.

The Huskies scored four first-half points (they had five against Dayton Dec. 1) and shot 1 of 31 from the field for the half and, for the game, were 8 of 61 from the field and 1 of 33 from behind the arc.

“Our guys played hard,” Huskies second-year coach Mark Montgomery said. “Unfortunately, we just couldn’t make a shot. We just needed someone to make a basket to get our team going, but I wouldn’t say that we were taking bad shots. We had makeable open shots, they just wouldn’t go in. But our guys kept defending, kept playing hard.”

The Huskies (4-14, 2-4 MAC) are young and a bit of an enigma. They were coming off a 74-61 win over Central Michigan (which plays at UB Wednesday), lost in overtime to West preseason favorite Toledo and beat Bowling Green (which thumped Kent State). The Huskies visit Alumni Arena on Feb. 9.

UB completes its week with the first of two straight Michigan trips. The Bulls are at West-leading Western Michigan (12-7, 4-2) on Saturday night.

Note: With Toledo on academic probation and ineligible for the MAC Tournament the conference will send the top five teams to Cleveland on byes with the remaining six teams playing first-round games on campus sites.

A-!0 ambush

Niagara’s Mihalich gets no sympathy from the Atlantic 10 coaches when he speaks to the competitiveness of the MAAC. Charlotte went into Saturday 16-3 overall and tied for the conference lead and came out in a five-way tie for second following a resounding 82-54 loss at George Washington.

“I don’t know if our guys totally understand what it means when people want to play well against you, and to GW’s credit, they were ready to go,” Charlotte coach Alan Major said.

“When you reach a certain point, you have a little bit of success, you’ve really got to bring it because people want to really step up and match themselves against where you are.”

Then there’s La Salle. The Explorers stunned No. 9 Butler (playing without scoring leader Rotnei Clarke) at home, then beat No. 19 VCU for their first back-to-back wins over ranked opponents since they won the NIT in 1952,

La Salle coach John Gianinni surely expressed the minority opinion when he said, “If you think we’re surprised you’re nuts.”

St. Bonaventure (9-10, 2-4) has a golden opportunity to move up in the standings when it plays its first game in a week Saturday against visiting Duquesne (7-13, 0-6). The Dukes have lost eight straight, all by margins of seven or more.

email: bdicesare@buffnews.com