The Canisius women’s basketball team continued its defensive improvement Friday night and shut down Niagara, 52-41.
It was the lowest total by a Canisius opponent this season, and it was the lowest scoring total for Niagara in the Purple Eagles’ last 75 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference games, dating to the 2013 season-finale.
Niagara got 20 points from forward Victoria Rampado and 11 from forward Kaylee Stroemple. The rest of Niagara’s players managed only four field goals.
“I thought defensively we really did what we wanted to do,” said Canisius coach Terry Zeh. “Make them jump shooters, try to keep Rampado and Stroemple from getting post touches. I thought we did a really good job of that.”
The win moved Canisius to 8-16 overall and 7-8 in the MAAC. Niagara fell to 6-18 and 3-12.
After ranking ninth in the MAAC in points allowed and eighth in three-point defense last season, Zeh made a defensive switch. He adopted a “pack-line defense,” a variation of a man-to-man in which the off-ball defenders sit back inside the 16-foot mark on the floor to deny penetration. The on-ball defender still goes out to defend the ball handler.
Canisius entered Friday’s game ranked fourth in points allowed and was No. 1 in three-point defensive percentage.
“I think it really started to change after Christmas,” Zeh said. “We went through preseason and the non-conference games, and we weren’t committed to it the way we needed to be. Now we’ve been committed to it and it’s working and making things difficult on people.”
“It think it’s a good change for us,” said Canisius senior guard Lauren D’Hont. “It still involves ball pressure. It took us a little while for us to realize that. Once we got that aspect of it, it’s working for us.”
Canisius is holding foes to 58.8 points a game in the MAAC, down six from last year. Niagara went 2 for 20 from three-point range. The Griffs are holding MAAC foes to 26.3 percent behind the arc. Last year foes shot 32.7 percent.
“The pack line, trying to get the ball inside, was a bit of a challenge today,” said Niagara coach Jada Pierce.
Canisius got 16 points from sophomore forward Sara Hinriksdottir and 14 from D’Hont.
The Griffs had 16 assists on 21 field goals. They’re averaging assists on 65 percent of their baskets, fourth best in the MAAC.
“I was really pleased with our movement against their zone,” Zeh said. “It was different attacks this time than it was last time. We got to the middle and to the basket last time. I thought getting the ball along the baseline this time was better for us. We got Lauren the ball down there. She threw some nice passes.”
Battle of Bridge: Canisius is on a six-year winning streak in its all-sports, head-to-head competition with Niagara called the Battle of the Bridge. Canisius has won the competition eight of the past 10 years. The Griffs held a 13-5 edge in points this season prior to the men's game. Men’s and women’s basketball games count two points each.
Series: The Griffs have won seven of the past eight. Canisius beat Niagara twice in the regular season last year but then lost to the Purple Eagles in the first round of the MAAC Tournament, 65-64. Canisius leads the series, 56-35. Under Zeh, Canisius is 22-9 vs. Niagara.
In the house: Attendance was about 700 at the Koessler Athletic Center.
Up next: Both teams have five games left in the regular season. Canisius travels to New Jersey to play Rider Sunday. Niagara visits Marist Sunday.