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Niagara women come up short in quarterfinals

ALBANY – The season-long, short-handed battle of the Niagara University women’s basketball team came to an end in the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament on Friday afternoon.

Niagara dropped a 74-51 decision to top-seeded Quinnipiac, the defending MAAC champion. Quinnipiac improved to 23-7 and advanced to a semifinal game on Sunday.

Niagara succumbed to the superior depth of the Bobcats, whose bench outscored the Purple Eagles bench, 41-1. Quinnipiac has 11 players averaging 15 minutes or more. Niagara, which lost all-conference forward Victoria Rampado three games into the season, has just six players averaging 15 minutes or more. Niagara has only eight healthy players on scholarship.

Niagara finished its first season under coach Jada Pierce at 8-23.

“I want to thank the entire team; they did an excellent job this year of bringing it every single day,” Pierce said. “They knew it was going to be a tough battle, especially when we were down to eight players, but they practiced hard every single day.”

Powerhouse: Quinnipiac went 17-3 in conference and ranked No. 1 in scoring in the MAAC. The Bobcats, who have made the NCAA Tournament two of the past three years, won their 18th straight game. They are 105-27 over the past four seasons.

Rebuilding: It was the 11th straight non-winning season in the MAAC for Niagara. The Purple Eagles knew they would be rebuilding after losing four significant contributors from last year’s 14-17 team. Pierce took over in late June for Kendra Faustin, who quit to take over Division II Ferris State. Niagara beat Canisius, 65-64, in Thursday’s first round.

Slow start: Quinnipiac jumped to a 17-4 lead after Niagara made turnovers on six of its first seven possessions. The Bobcats led at halftime, 33-21. Niagara pulled within 45-39 with 2:25 left in the third quarter. But the Bobcats turned it into a rout early in the fourth quarter.

“We knew coming into it that it would be the David-vs.-Goliath situation, especially after playing yesterday and playing our guts out to beat Canisius,” Pierce said. “But we believed from the beginning we could do something. The margin for error is very small.”

Top scorers: Niagara got 19 points from junior guard Tiffany Corselli. She scored 22 in the win over Canisius after averaging 8.4 ppg during the season. Senior guard Taylor McKay added 12 for Niagara. Quinnipiac got 24 from 6-foot-2 sophomore Sarah Shewan.

Corselli, who ranked 12th in the MAAC in three-pointers this season, made 10 of 21 threes in the final two games. She figures to be one of the offensive leaders for the Purple Eagles next season.

“I think this is something that should catapult her into the offseason and next season,” Pierce said. “There’s still some things she needs to work on. I think she needs to play with a high level of confidence knowing she got a lot of minutes this year.”

Seniors: Niagara graduates two seniors. Center Sam Lapszynski averaged 11.9 points and 8.6 rebounds and made second-team all-MAAC. McKay averaged 9.7 ppg.

Returning: The Purple Eagles should be improved in Pierce’s second season because Rampado, a second-team all-MAAC player as a sophomore, will be back. She and sophomore Kaylee Stroemple, who averaged 12.1 ppg, will form a strong post duo. Sophomore point guard Jamie Sherburne returns with Corselli in the backcourt.

Recruits: In December Pierce added 5-11 forward Adila Gathers, a transfer from St. Francis, Pa. Gathers made second-team All-Western New York in 2014 for Buffalo Tapestry Charter School. Pierce added three prep recruits in the early signing period: 5-9 wing Jai Moore from Brooklyn, 5-foot point guard Maggie McIntyre from New Jersey and three-point shooting wing Morgan Baughman of Carlisle, Pa. Pierce expects to add two more prep recruits this spring to bring the roster to 13 players.