Friday, March 8, 2013

Niagara Women Win To Earn Another Shot At Marist

A year ago the Niagara women's basketball team took perennial league powerhouse Marist into double overtime of a late regular-season game and, then, forced the Red Foxes to win in single overtime when the teams met again in the semifinal round of the MAAC's post-season tournament.

It was enough for conference coaches, in their preseason poll, to predict Niagara would finish second (behind Marist, of course) this season.

Instead the Purple Eagles failed to meet those expectations, finishing 9-9 in conference play and in fifth place in the final standings.

But, the opportunity for redemption, of sorts, is in place after Niagara's 59-54 quarterfinal-round victory over Rider here at the MassMutual Center Friday afternoon.

The victory gives Niagara yet another post-season chance to topple Marist.

The Purple Eagles claim to be ready for the challenge.

"We'll just concentrate on taking care of what we do," said assistant coach Corinne Jones, filling in for Niagara's head coach Kendra Faustin, who is on maternity leave. "We just have to be solid defensively, to stay down (in their defensive stances), talk on defense and rebound. On the other end we have to put the ball in the hoop.

"Tomorrow (against Marist) is just another game. We have nothing to lose. We know what to expect and we'll be ready."

Junior center Lauren Gatto, who had big games against Marist last year, is familiar with Niagara's battles with the Red Foxes.

"We absolutely think we can win," said Gatto, Niagara's leading scorer. "We go in thinking that nothing that happened in the regular season (Marist victories by 20 and 27 points) matters any more. We know that we're capable of beating them."

The Purple Eagles had to hold on to beat No. 4 seed Rider to get that opportunity.

The winners had a 17-point edge, 43-26, with 9:07 remaining before Rider began a late-game rally that got it to within three, 57-54, and in possession of the ball for a potential game-tying shot. But, senior guard Sironda Chamber's three-point try with five seconds left was blocked by Niagara's Meghan McGuinness.

The Broncs then had to  foul McQuinness, and she made a pair (she was 6-for-6 from the line in the closing 2:10) to secure the victory for Niagara.

Rider finishes 15-15 overall after a 10-8 conference season that was its best since it had the same record in the 1999-00 season.

"This obviously wasn't the way we wanted our season to end," said Rider coach Lynn Milligan. "But we won't let this define our season."

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