Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tourney Openers: Last Will Be First

ALBANY, N.Y. - The first day of the MAAC tournament at the Times Union Center in Albany on Thursday was a good day to be an underdog.

Women's teams from Niagara and Loyola, the bottom two teams in the regular-season standings, both won their first-round games here as the conference event opened.

No. 10 seed Niagara was a 71-67 winner over No. 7 Rider, while No. 9 seed Loyola earned a 68-63 victory over No. 8 Manhattan.

The games were the only ones played on Thursday as the event kicks into high gear on Friday with four quarterfinal round women's games, followed by two opening-round men's contests.

We'll see how well lack of form continues to hold up, but it was in evidence on Thursday.

Niagara entered the event with just a single conference victory (1-17). And, ironically, the lone previous positive result came against Loyola, which also advanced on Thursday.

The Purple Eagles pulled away from a 50-50 tie with 9:36 remaining with a 14-4 run over the next 5:35 with seven of those points coming from 5-foot-8 freshman foward Ali Morris.

Rider, which finished 7-11 in regular-season conference play, pulled back within 64-62 later in the contest, before Morris delivered another three-pointer.

The Broncs got it back to wihin two once more, but could never get closer.

Niagara's work appeared to be the result of an inexperienced team playing well by the end of the season.

Its starting lineup Thursday included freshman Morris (19 points), sophomore Liz Flooks (14 points) and junior Jennifer McNamee (19 points).

Rider's senior forward Shanice Parker led the Broncs with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, but the rest of her team conspired for 14-of-60 shooting from the floor, 23 percent.

Thursday's other winning team, Loyola, had just a single victory in its 14 league contests, but displayed plenty of calm under pressure in its opening-round decision.

After trailing, 50-47, with 11:49 remaining, the Greyhounds got scoring from six different players down the stretch, including seven points in the final 10 minutes by junior forward Kaitlin Grant.

Grant finished with a game-high 24 points and 11 rebounds, the scoring output matching her career high.

Senior guard Siobhan Prior added 18 points and sophomore forward Meredith Tolley chipped in with 11.

Manhattan was led by senior guard Annie McIntyre's 17 points, 15 of those coming on 5-of-12 shooting for beyond the 3-point stripe.

Loyola, though, did its best late work on the defensive end, holding the higher-seeded Jaspers to just two points for the eight minutes following when Manhattan had its 50-47 edge.

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