The Niagara University men’s basketball team controls its destiny in the hotly contested race for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season championship.
The Purple Eagles received a huge boost from Iona, which defeated second-place Loyola (Md.) on Friday, 90-86, to remain in sole possession of first place.
Niagara (12-5) can now clinch the MAAC championship and the automatic bid to the National Invitational Tournament with a win today at home against Saint Peter’s (3-14). Tip off is 3 p.m. at the Gallagher Center.
Niagara is in search of its first regular-season title since 2005.
On Friday, Lamont Jones scored 35 points to lead Iona. Jones, a transfer from Arizona, was 11 of 15 from the field and 9 of 11 from the free-throw line for the defending MAAC regular-season champs. Loyola (Md.) advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season after winning the MAAC Tournament title.
On Thursday, Canisius junior guard Billy Baron scored eight of his game-high 23 points in overtime as the Golden Griffins outscored Saint Peter’s, 16-4, in overtime en route to a 77-65 win. Niagara didn’t fare so well in their last game against Rider as Juan’ya Green’s game-high 27 points were not enough to lead Niagara as it fell, 68-59, to Rider to snap a three-game winning streak.
Loyola, Canisius and Rider are now in a three-way tie for second place a game back of Niagara. The Golden Griffins host Rider at 2 p.m. at the Koessler Center, while Loyola ends its regular season at noon Sunday at home against Manhattan.
The MAAC Tournament begins next week in Springfield, Mass.
Elsewhere, St. Bonaventure (13-13, 6-7 Atlantic 10) faces Charlotte (18-9, 6-7) in a pivotal matchup at 7 p.m. at the Reilly Center filled with postseason implications.
This week, the Bonnies moved from sole possession of 12th place into a four-way tie for ninth. One of those three teams the Bonnies are tied with is Charlotte, with the others being George Washington and Saint Joseph’s.
Bona does not have the head-to-head tiebreaker on George Washington, but does on Saint Joseph’s. Only the top 12 teams qualify for the A-10 Championship March 14-17 in Brooklyn.
In junior college, Erie County Community College men’s and women’s teams have key playoff games today.
The men, the No. 2 seed in the Region III Division II tournament, will play rival Niagara County Community College at 1 p.m. in Rochester with the winner playing in the final on Sunday. The regional winner hosts a district championship on March 9 for the right to move on to the NJCAA Division II nationals.
The Kats women (19-5) play host to Jamestown CC in the Region III Tournament semifinals at 1 p.m.
SWIMMING & DIVING: The University at Buffalo’s Brittney Kuras captured the 200-yard freestyle crown during the Mid-American Conference Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships at Alumni Arena.
Kuras, a senior, finished the event in 1 minute, 47.83 seconds and barely edged sophomore teammate Jessica Powers, who came in second at 1:48.27. The Bulls also won the women’s 800-yard freestyle relay in a school-record 7:22.04.
Powers and Kuras were joined on the team by sophomore Becky Evangelista and freshman Paula Stoddard. UB is in fourth place as the competition enters the final day with 286 points. Miami (Ohio) is in first followed by Ohio University and Bowling Green.
MEN’S HOCKEY: Canisius (12-18-5, 11-13-2) took control of the game with a three-goal, five-minute spurt in the first period and then held on for a 6-5 victory at RIT in Atlantic Hockey. It’s the first time in school history the Griffs have won consecutive games at Ritter Arena.
Cody Freeman scored twice, while Ben Danford, Ryan Bohrer, Matt Grazen and Stephen Miller scored for Canisius, which ended a five-game losing streak.
Elsewhere, Niagara (21-7-5, 20-4-2) dropped a 5-2 decision to Air Force as the Falcons erased a two-goal deficit with five unanswered goals.
Hugo Turcotte scored twice for No. 13 Niagara, which has a rematch with Air Force tonight in Colorado Springs.
BOWLING: The Erie Community College women’s team sits atop the team standings at the NJCAA Bowling Championships in Cheektowaga heading into the final day of the competition. The Kats lead at 7,747, while Schenectady County CC leads Vincennes (Ind.) on the men’s side.