GAME NOTES: Off to their best start in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play in more than a decade, the Niagara Purple Eagles find themselves matched up against the Canisius Golden Griffins at the Koessler Center in Buffalo on Sunday afternoon.
Having won eight of their first nine MAAC decisions this season, the Purple Eagles haven't had this much early conference success since the team opened 9-1 in 1998-99.
Since losing to Notre Dame on the road a few days before Christmas, the Purple Eagles have been virtually untouchable, winning five straight and seven of the last eight outings overall. The team was in action on Friday night and took out the Siena Saints, 78-69, on the road. Needless to say, with an 8-1 mark in conference play Niagara is at the top of the league standings.
As for Canisius, currently tied with Rider for fourth place in the MAAC with a record of 6-3, it is currently enjoying a three-game win streak thanks to a 67-50 romp over Rider two nights ago. This is the third, 3-game win streak for the team so far in 2012-13.
Of all the opponents on Niagara's schedule for this season, Canisius is the one that the Purple Eagles have had the most success against, posting a 99-73 record in the relationship over the years. In the last 20 matchups, Niagara has dominated with wins in all but three of those encounters.
These same teams are set to meet each other once more in the regular season in just a few weeks on Niagara's home floor.
Against Siena at the Times Union Center two nights ago, Juan'ya Green led the way for the visitors as he came dangerously close to a rare triple-double with 19 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds. Antoine Mason accounted for another 17 points and Ameen Tanksley 14 points and seven boards for the Purple Eagles, who turned the ball over a mere three times in the meeting. In conference play, Niagara is now averaging just under 10 miscues per contest, which has allowed the group to produce 74.7 ppg and create a scoring advantage of more than 12 ppg right now. Mason (18.2 ppg) has done the most damage versus the rest of the MAAC, followed by Green (17.2 ppg) who is a 41.7 percent shooter beyond the arc and has also averaged more than five assists per outing.
The Canisius defense went to work against the Broncs a few nights back, allowing the hosts to convert just eight field goals in both the first and second halves, en route to the 17-point decision in New Jersey. While Rider had just one player score in double figures, all but one of the five starters for Canisius achieved the feat, led by Jordan Heath and Billy Baron with 17 points apiece, the former also clearing 13 rebounds and the latter coming up a board shy of his own double-double. Isaac Sosa tacked on 12 points and Chris Manhertz had 10 and eight rebounds as the team crushed the Broncs on the glass by a 42-22 margin. Sporting the same starters in every MAAC game thus far, the Griffs are paced by Baron (14.7 ppg) in scoring and assists (53), while Manhertz (7.7 ppg) supplements his scoring with 11.4 rpg.
Canisius has been just as strong at home as the Purple Eagles, which is why the Golden Griffins should not be counted out so quickly in this meeting. Given that Canisius ruled the glass in the last outing, expect the team to make another go of it in the paint on Sunday afternoon as well.