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Pregame Prep: Niagara aims for sweep at Canisius

PREGAME PREP

Niagara at Canisius

8 p.m., Koessler Athletic Center

Radio 550, 1230

Records: Canisius 15-10, 8-6. Niagara 8-17, 5-9.

The Set-Up: Canisius is tied for third with St. Peter's in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with six games to go in the regular season and needs a win to stay in the driver's seat for a first-round bye in the MAAC Tournament. Niagara stands was looking good after three quality wins in late January (St. Peter's, Canisius, Rider), but then lost at Fairfield and Quinnipiac, and not pretty. Niagara is too far out to get a first-round bye, and where it finishes (between sixth and 10th) doesn't matter much. But the Purple Eagles don't want to enter the MAAC Tournament on a big tailspin. And after Canisius they play Iona home, at Monmouth and Siena and St. Peter's. A difficult stretch.

Last meeting: Niagara won, 91-84, on Jan. 23. Canisius came out flat and got dominated. Niagara shot 53 percent, it's highest percentage in its last 33 MAAC games.

Keys: Since the debacle at Niagara, the Canisius defense has improved over the last four games. The Griffs need to contain forwards Dominic Robb and Marvin Prochet inside and defend the three-point line. Niagara is shooting 39.9 percent behind the arc, led by guard Kahlil Dukes (16.2 ppg) and forward Matt Scott (17.4 ppg). Dukes is second in three-point percentage and fourth in threes per game. Scott is 13th in threes per game. Guard Chris Barton (6.5 ppg) doesn't shoot a ton, but he's 20 of 35 (.571) on three-pointers. The Griffs must close-out on perimeter shooters. Meanwhile, if Niagara's forwards (Robb and Prochet) can get Canisius' two forwards (Phil Valenti and Jermaine Crumpton) in foul trouble, it's a big problem for Canisiius because the Griffs' front-court depth is weak. Niagara needs to crash the boards and limit turnovers. Canisius is very good (best in the MAAC) at forcing them.

On Point: Griff freshman point guard Malik Johnson has 14 assists and 2 turnovers the past two games and made the winning basket to beat St. Peter's Monday.

Said Reggie Witherspoon on Johnson: "He’s been playing great. He’s a guy who pretty much plays as hard as he can every second he’s on the floor and at both ends of the floor. For him to be that poised while he’s playing that hard, that’s led him to have 14 assists and two turnovers in two games on the road."

Pretty O: The Canisius offense is fun to watch. Canisius is fifth in the nation in assist rate, with assists on 64.5 percent of its baskets.

Rankings: Niagara's Scott and Canisius' Kassius Robertson both average 17.4 ppg, tied for fourth in the MAAC. Scott is fifth in rebounding. Dukes is ninth in scoring and seventh in assists. He's first in free-throw shooting and second in three-point percentage. Crumpton is seventh in scoring (16.6). Canisius' Phil Valenti is 18th in scoring 13th in rebounding and 13th in FG percentage. Niagara's Robb averages 9.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and leads the MAAC in blocks at 2.6.

Witherspoon on Niagara's strenghts: "Multiple guys that can shoot. Not hesitant about shooting it and shooting it from distance, driving it. What we saw was they were very aggressive. The only way to take them out of that comfort zone of aggressiveness is for us to play harder."

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