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Memory Lane

We're an hour before tipoff in lovely downtown Bridgeport, home of the P.T. Barnum museum. It occurs to me that tonight's Niagara-Siena game on ESPN2 will be my ninth MAAC Tournament final, eight of them involving our two local teams. In typical Buffalo fashion, our teams are 2-5 during that stretch. Here's my three favorites memories of MAAC title games:

1. Canisius over Fairfield, 1996 at Albany. The two previous Griff teams were favorites and didn't even make the final. The '96 team wasn't expected to go far because of Darrell Barley's thumb injury. But John Beilein's team pulled together and ground out three tough wins. I'll never forget Mickey Frazier sitting on top of the basket, as he'd told Beilein he would do at the start of the season.

2. Niagara over Rider, 2005 in Buffalo. Joe Mihalich finally got over the hump when the Purple Eagles blew out Rider before a highly partisan crowd. The fans stormed the floor after the win, giving their best imitation a real basketball town. Mihalich climbed on the ladder, snipped the net and turned to his ill mother in the stands. "For you,'' he said.

3. Manhattan over Niagara, 1993 in Albany. Who knows what might have happened if Jack Armstrong's finest team had managed to get to the NCAA Tournament? This was the first final Mike Harrington and I covered. At halftime, with Niagara up 10, he uttered the now-famous words, "Twenty minutes to Tucson''. Tucson was the site of a subregional. Actually, it took Niagara 12 years to get there.

---Jerry Sullivan

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