Forget the high-rent district. Niagara better start worrying about simply earning a top-five finish in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
MAAC leader Siena strode into the Gallagher Center Monday night and crushed Niagara, 90-69, emphatically ending NU's 19-game home winning streak against conference foes and likely dashing its hopes of repeating as the MAAC's regular-season champion.
"I feel like we owe our fans an apology. I'm embarrassed," said NU coach Joe Mihalich. "On nights like that, it starts at the top. The first thing I'm going to do is look in the mirror and examine everything I did.
"That's what we try to teach the players: When things aren't going well, take a look in the mirror, examine what you're doing and see what you can do better. It starts with me."
Perhaps. But Mihalich can't shoot, defend or rebound.
The Purple Eagles hit a paltry 16 of 62 from the field (5 of 25 from three-point range). They allowed Siena to hit 46 percent, including 10 of 24 from beyond the arc. Siena also had a 55-40 rebounding advantage and a 35-10 edge in second-chance points. About all Niagara did well was hit 32 of 41 from the free-throw line, but that hardly mattered.
Siena (15-6, 9-2) used a 12-0 run to take a 12-3 lead. The Saints led at halftime, 45-33, and the margin was never under double digits in the final 18 minutes.
Niagara (11-7, 5-4) blew a chance to move into second place in the MAAC and stands fifth, behind Manhattan (7-4), Iona and Fairfield (both 6-4). Rider (5-5) and Marist (4-6) are looming in the Purple Eagles' rear-view mirror.
A near-capacity crowd of 2,042 was groaning early as the Purple Eagles missed 12 of their first 13 shots -- many from close range -- en route to their second 21-point loss to Siena in 14 days.
"We couldn't finish a play," Mihalich said. "All that team needs is a little bit of an opening and we've found that out twice now."
Guard Daryl Greene led Niagara with 17 points. Fellow guard Demond Stewart had 15 -- but was just 3 for 16 from the field. Nate Bernosky added 13 and Terry Edwards chipped in 11.
"I'm very surprised," Greene said. "I thought we were ready for the game but when we came out, it seemed like we weren't."
Greene wasn't much of a factor in this game. After equaling his career high with 31 in the first meeting, he got some extra attention and managed just 10 shots from the field, making four.
"I didn't take as many shots or attack the way I should have," Greene said. "It wasn't as much what they did as what I didn't do."
It was Siena's first two-game sweep of its annual Western New York swing since the 1992-93 season. Prior to Saturday's overtime win at Canisius, the Saints had lost 11 of their previous 12 games here against the Griffs and Purple Eagles.
"Buffalo has been like a death trap to us in the past," said Siena senior forward Corey Osinski, who collected a game-high 20 points. "We knew all their fans would be there and they were yelling at us before the game. Really, the first five minutes were big for us and we knew that."
The Saints' dominance prevented that as Niagara lost to a MAAC foe at Gallagher for the first time since Iona won here, 81-67, on Jan. 17, 1998. Fans were streaming to the exits with eight minutes to go.
"To come out tonight with kind of focus we showed -- especially in the first half -- says an awful lot about these guys," said Siena coach Paul Hewitt. "They were very, very sharp and played with an awful lot of energy. We executed our defensive game plan well and didn't have many mental breakdowns."
"They had much better energy than us and I can't figure out why," Mihalich said.
Mihalich has a few days to find some answers. Niagara is off until playing Friday at Loyola and Sunday at Iona.