As of about 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, Feb. 18, the race for the conference's 2008-09 regular-season championship came to an end.
Second-place Niagara's 90-87 loss at Rider dropped the Purple Eagles three games behind front-running Siena with two regular-season games remaining and clinched the regular-season title for the Saints.
That means Siena is assured of participating in a national post-season tournament this season. The MAAC's regular-season champion is guaranteed a berth in the NIT, provided it does not capture the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA's, which it can only do by winning the league's post-season tournament.
Niagara, currently at 21-7 overall, will still likely finish with a mid-20's victory total and, in this humble blogger's opinion, will deserve an NIT berth should it not win the MAAC's post-season tournament and the resultant NCAA bid.
Here's an interesting tidbit from Wednesday's game ... It marked the first time all season that Niagara allowed 90 points in a league contest, and just the second time overall this season it gave up that many points. Only Tennessee-Chattanooga, a 99-84 winner over the Purple Eagles earlier this year, had also scored at least 90 vs. Niagara this season.
Niagara had held opponents under 60 points in each of its past five games, a first for a Niagara team since the 1949-50 season. The last five games, though, did come against Manhattan, Iona, Saint Peter's, Fairfield and Canisius, teams that are the lowest five in the MAAC in terms of points scored this season.
Niagara's defense wasn't at its best at Rider on Wednesday. Rider made 54.8 percent of its shots in the contest, including an impressive 61.9 percent (13-of-21)from three-point land. That kind of shooting by the winners had the Purple Eagles behind by 19 points with 5:10 remaining.
Still down by an 84-74 score with 3:21 remaining, Niagara's junior guard Tyrone Lewis then scored 10 straight points for his team to bring the Purple Eagles to within 86-84.
Junior reserve Demetrius Williams then made three free throws late in the game to give Niagara an 87-86 lead with 27 seconds remaining.
And, then, Rider's 6-foot-6 junior point guard Ryan Thompson drove the lane and dished out to senior guard Harris Mansell, who drained the game-winning three-pointer with six seconds remaining. Niagara couldn't get off a shot after that, committing a turnover that allowed Mansell to tack on a free throw with a second remaining for the game's final score.
The outcome enabled Rider, currently in third place in the conference standings (10-6) to clinch a spot in the top six, ensuring it won't have to participate in an opening-round game among the bottom four finishers in the conference tournament.