LEWISTON – Junior guard Joanna Smith scored 26 points Monday night to lead the University at Buffalo women’s basketball team to a 57-48 victory over Niagara University.
The 5-foot-8 Smith, a native of Southaven, Miss., has been carrying a struggling UB offense this season. She entered the game averaging 13.8 points a game. UB was averaging only 53.4 points per game, the lowest total in the Mid-American Conference.
Smith tied her career scoring high, set earlier this season in a win over Clemson.
The game was tied, 35-35, with 2:30 left in the third quarter when Smith scored 10 straight UB points to give the Bulls a 45-39 cushion.
Smith made 20 starts last season and averaged only 5.6 points a game. But she found her offense late in the year, averaging 15 points over the final six games of the season.
UB got eight points from junior guard Camera Miley. Sophomore forward Mariah Suchan had 12 rebounds for the Bulls.
Niagara was led by sophomore forward Kaylee Stroemple, who had 18 points. The Purple Eagles shot 40 percent in the first half but were held to just 29 percent shooting in the second half. UB shot 56 percent in the second half.
Slow start: UB scored just 32 points in its previous outing, a 27-point loss at St. Bonaventure. That was a 12-year scoring low for the Bulls. UB opened Monday’s game even colder, falling behind 15-4 after the first quarter. However, UB picked up the pace in the second quarter and pulled within 27-23 by halftime. Smith kept UB in the game with 10 first-half points. Stroemple hit three three-pointers in the first half for Niagara.
Records: UB snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 7-3. Niagara is 1-8.
Polls: UB is picked to finish tied for last in the six-team East Division of the Mid-American Conference. Niagara was picked to finish last in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Injured: Niagara’s best player, Victoria Rampado, sat out her seventh straight game due to a shoulder injury. Rampado averaged a team-high 12.6 points per game last year and was a first-team preseason all-conference pick.
Larcenous: UB entered the game ranked 30th in the nation in steals, averaging 10.8 a game. The Bulls averaged 10.4 steals a game last year, which ranked second in the MAC.
Big addition: UB will get a major addition to the roster for the second semester when Grand Island native Cassie Oursler becomes eligible. Oursler transferred to UB from Robert Morris last December. She was Western New York player of the year for Grand Island in 2013 and is likely to step into the starting lineup right away.
Thin roster: With Rampado out, Niagara was down to nine players on the roster. Two scholarship players who began the season no longer are on the roster: sophomore Simone Hobdy, who played the first five games, and freshman Nada Radonjic, who played in the first two.
Early signees: Niagara announced the signing of three high school players to letters of intent for next season. They are Morgan Baughman, a 5-10 guard from Carlisle, Pa.; Maggie McIntyre, a 5-foot point guard from Mantua, N.J.; and Jai Moore, a 5-9 guard from Brooklyn.
In the house: There were about 150 in attendance at the Taps Gallagher Center.
Up next: Niagara visits St. Bonaventure at noon Wednesday. Niagara’s MAAC season starts at home Jan. 2 against Siena. UB plays at Sacred Heart University on Dec. 29 in Fairfield, Conn. UB’s MAC season starts Jan. 2 at Eastern Michigan.