MAAC tournament hosts third rivalry matchup

By Robert Janish

Senior Sports Reporter

The Griffs ended their 2015-16 home schedule in the form of a gritty, defensive 54-45 win against the Niagara Purple Eagles last Thursday. “That’s a big deal for us,” junior Lauren D’Hont said about sweeping Niagara prior to the game.

Freshman Maria Welch added “beating Niagara is the best thing and when we win, it’s going to be fantastic” and a win against Niagara “is really going to help us,” in terms of going forward, especially into the MAAC tournament.

Sophomore Margret Halfdanardottir led the team against the Purple Eagles with 13 points, followed close behind by Junior Lauren D’Hont with 12. D’Hont, however, helped lead the charge in the second half, hitting two quick, yet important three-pointers that helped turn the tide in favor of the Griffs in their rivalry matchup.

Head Coach Terry Zeh added that a win against Niagara “doesn’t make any difference if it’s by one point, two points, we just want to be on the winning side.” He also said “I think we’ve added some nice momentum” as the team headed into the MAAC tournament.

The team then went on the road to conclude the regular season against the Marist Red Foxes, who sit in third in the conference standings with a record of 13-6 prior to their victory last Saturday.

Even though Marist is one of the MAAC’s top teams. a win would do wonders for this club going forward into the first round of MAACs in Albany. However, that would not be the case as the team fell 67-55.  This loss on the road closed out the Griffs regular season.

D’Hont and freshman Maria Welch led the Griffs in scoring with 13 points and 12 points, respectively. In her final regular season game as a Griff, senior Crystal Porter had a respectable game, earning nine points, four rebounds, and five assists in her 27 minutes of play.

As a result of their place in the standings, they faced Purple Eagles for the third and most important time this year in the first round of the tournament.

Zeh says that due to their recent matchup, not many mysteries exist between the teams heading into their tournament encounter. “There’s not a lot of preparation because we both just played each other and no one’s making major changes in a week, so basketball-wise, your preparation is very much the same.”

Senior Crystal Porter said they’re not looking past Niagara, but are aware that Quinnipiac would be their opponets should the Griffs pull out a third win against their rivals.

“We want to be prepared for the next game, but definitely Niagara is first on our list, we have to get through them before we get to Quinnipiac, and we’re for sure not looking past them,” she said.

With their shortcomings the last couple years in the tournament and going one-and-done, Zeh hoped that this year they could change that, and the Griffs would go further into the weekend. “We want to win each game and just take it one game at a time.”

“This game is way more important than the last two wins,” said Porter, regarding how this game stands out from the other two. She added it’s because if they can’t beat Niagara again, the other wins this year don’t really matter. “It’s all about the tournament wins and how far you get.”

Zeh concurred, saying that it’s not all about playing and beating the Purple Eagles; there is more to the tournament than just this rivalry game. “You lose now and your season’s over, so I don’t view it at all as a third win over Niagara, I view it as the MAAC tournament game and we want to keep going.”

But the Griffs didn’t keep going. They didn’t advance further in the tournament. Yesterday morning, the Griffs lost to the Purple Eagles in the first round 64-65. Another one-and-done.

This Niagara vs. Canisius game was very similar to when the two teams played each other the first time this season. The first game went into overtime and the Griffs won 68-66. Close all the way until the end.

The Griffs even had multiple shots towards the end of the game. Welch hit a three-pointer with just under one minute left to make the game 65-64 in favor of the Purple Eagles. The Griffs then had two opportunities to jump ahead of their rivals. They missed both.

The Griffs got the ball and called a time-out with 10 seconds left. The inbound play led to Cooley shooting a three. She missed the shot but the ball went out of bounds, off of the Purple Eagles. the clock now read 6.5 seconds remaining and the Griffs still had the ball; and then another miss and thus the loss.

Obviously the Griffs would have liked to win the game and moved on in the tournament. That’s the goal every season but now that the season is in fact over, the Griffs need to look to the future and that entails developing players.

“let’s continue our growth and development.” Zeh said prior to the tournament.

Zeh holds the belief that every game, regardless of the final result, is positive in terms of player development and team chemistry as well. “The more experiences that those young players can get, then the better off you are the next time you’re in there.”

Zeh still remains proud of his team. The season as a whole has been a ride for the Griffs. But as Zeh looked back on the team’s season before the tournament, he is proud of the resolve they showed.

“You’re looking at a team who started out with really high expectations and playing great basketball,” Zeh said “but the injuries caused us to play differently and they just kept fighting and adjusting and stay together.”

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