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OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS FOR GRIFFS, PURPLE EAGLES

Canisius and Niagara each have a great opportunity to make a move up the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings tonight.

The Golden Griffins (12-8, 4-7) host conference leader Iona (17-6, 10-2) at the Koessler Center (7, Radio 1520), while the Purple Eagles (11-10, 8-4) welcome second-place Marist (14-8, 9-3) to the Gallagher Center at 7.

Canisius completed a sparkling 8-1 non-conference record with a 62-60 win over the University at Buffalo Tuesday.

But the Griffs have been perplexing in MAAC play. They have lost three of their last four conference games, including two in which they blew double-digit leads in the second half.

Despite Tuesday's emotional win, Griffs coach Mike MacDonald doesn't expect a letdown tonight.

"No matter what happened (Tuesday), I think we'll be ready to play," he said. "We're back in conference play and we're playing the best team in the conference. Iona is a real good team that's won five in a row. We're going to have to be at the top of our game to play with them."

Iona won the last meeting, 85-73, and has won six of the last eight games with the Griffs. The Gaels are athletic and deep. Senior forward Nakiea Miller (14.8 points per game), junior guard Dyree Wilson (14.1 ppg.) and senior guard Earl Johnson (12.3 ppg.) lead a balanced scoring attack. Wilson had 20 points and a career-high 17 rebounds in the earlier win over Canisius.

Miller (8.8 rebounds per game) is third in the nation in field goal percentage (68.7), forward Greg Jenkins ranks 14th overall and first nationally among freshmen at 63.4 percent and Johnson is 10th in the country in three-point percentage (53.4).

Sophomore Maceo Wofford (Jamestown) has given Iona a solid contribution in the backcourt.

"They share the ball and they defend," MacDonald said. "They are playing with a lot of confidence and (coach) Jeff (Ruland) has them playing together."

Niagara has rebounded after a shaky beginning in MAAC play. The Purple Eagles have won four of their last five games and can tie Marist for second place with a win tonight.

"We don't need anybody to help us," NU coach Joe Mihalich said. "We might not be saying that in a couple of weeks, but we are right where we need to be. If we do what we've got to do from here, we'll be OK."

If history is any indication, the game should be tight. The Red Foxes lead the series, 5-4, including a 59-56 win on Jan. 13. Seven of the meetings were decided by eight points or fewer.

Marist has a solid inside-outside punch in forward Drew Samuels and point guard Sean Kennedy. "They are having All-MAAC seasons," Mihalich said.

Samuels leads the team in scoring (17.4 points) and rebounding (8.9), while Kennedy is third in the nation in assists (8.7 per game), while averaging 9.5 points per game.

"Samuels is a beast," Mihalich said. "He's too quick for our big guys and too big for our quick guys. . . . Marist is a tough team all around."

The Purple Eagles are not in the best shape. Point guard Daryl Greene still is laboring with tendinitis in his ankle, but is expected to play.

Fortunately for Niagara, forward Michael Schmidt is playing his best ball of the season. The reigning MAAC player of the week is averaging 19.5 points over the last four games to complement guard Demond Stewart, who averages 23.1 points against MAAC opponents.

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