It was supposed to be Amy Getman's night -- Niagara's lone senior in her final appearance at the Gallagher Center.
Instead, it was a freshman's coming-out party.
Jessica Kemp paced the Purple Eagles, scoring a career-high 26 points in an 85-82 win over Canisius in front of 359 Thursday night.
The win secured at least sixth place for Niagara (10-16, 7-10) in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, thus avoiding the tournament pre-quarterfinals. Canisius (7-18, 4-13) guaranteed itself a spot in a pre-quarterfinal game.
Kemp created havoc on the defensive end, racking up six steals and pestering the Griffs' guards. Four offensive rebounds aided her scoring outburst. And she iced the game for Niagara by hitting two foul shots with 7.1 seconds left.
"Being the only senior, it was nice to see one of the younger players step in with the same kind of intensity that I have," said Getman, who had 19 points and five rebounds in her final Gallagher Center game. "Jessica really got after it on the boards."
"Coach has given me opportunities this year, and I'm starting and I felt I hadn't really been doing anything," Kemp said. "Tonight, with Amy Getman's last game and Katie Murphy sick, I knew I had to step it up."
Murphy battled the flu during her 38 minutes of point guard duty and though her 1 for 13 shooting was woefully off her 12.6 scoring average, she did dish out nine assists and grab four steals.
The Purple Eagles' defense kept them in the game in the first half and frustrated Canisius in the second. Niagara had 19 steals and scored 37 points off 35 Griff turnovers.
That helped negate a hot-shooting night for Canisius. The Griffs hit 8 of 11 three-pointers and shot 64.5 percent en route to a 50-44 halftime lead. They finished the game shooting 54.5 percent, led by junior Shauna Geronzin's 27 points.
"We had too many turnovers," Canisius coach Mike Decillis said. "Every turnover equals a shot you could have gotten. We just don't take care of the ball."
"We were shooting very well, still it was our turnovers which cost us the game," Geronzin said. "In the second half, they picked up their defense a lot . . . and when we got the lead we were pushing and rushing too much."
Canisius took its largest lead, 70-61, with just over seven minutes to play. But a pair of turnovers put Niagara on a run, highlighted by a Getman three-pointer that brought the Purple Eagles within two. Kemp hit a three-pointer of her own to give Niagara its first lead of the second half.
Tricia Breznitsky kept Canisius in the game in the final minute, bringing the Griffs within one, but Niagara hit its free throws to cap the win.
"I didn't even know what the score was when I hit that three," Getman said. "I guess I should have known, but I was so consumed by playing defense that I really didn't know what the score was."
"I told Amy that was the best game I've seen her play in her four years," said Niagara coach Bill Agronin. "She's scored more points, but by far, it was her best defensive game."
Junior forward Jessie O'Donohue added a career-high 19 points for Niagara, which avoided a sweep in rivalry week with Canisius after the Griffs won the battle of men's hockey and men's basketball.
"We put intangibles up on the board in the locker room," Agronin said. "We had Amy's last game here. Canisius beat us by 20 points last time we played. Sixth place was on the line. We didn't want to get swept by Canisius this week. And earlier today I wondered if we put too much on them. Well, they came out and handled it."