The good feelings are growing at Canisius. The desperation is deepening at Niagara.
Such is the aftermath of the Golden Griffins' 89-69 pasting of the Purple Eagles on Saturday in the Gallagher Center. It was the worst beating they've inflicted on their longtime rivals since 1994 and their most resounding ever on Monteagle Ridge.
The Griffs improved to 2-1 overall by taking the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference opener for both teams. Save for a couple hundred Canisius fans, a crowd of 1,653 sat in stunned silence as Niagara fell to 0-3 for the first time since the 1989-90 season.
"I was very pleased with the way we came out and executed what we had to do," Griffs coach Mike MacDonald said. "I couldn't ask for more."
MacDonald got all he asked for from his two seniors as they were dominant. Swingman Hodari Mallory poured in 22 of his career-high 27 points in the second half while point guard Brian Dux collected career highs in points (24) and assists (10) for his first double-double.
"This year, it's on me and Dux's shoulders," said Mallory, who is averaging 22 points. "With (injured senior forward) Toby Foster out, there's a little more extra we have to do. I'm just trying to lead the team the best I can."
"I'm disappointed with how poor a job we did on them," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. "Shame on us that they played as well as they did. They were just terrific."
Niagara's offense was not. The Purple Eagles hit just 20 of 69 for the game (29 percent) and were 7 of 29 from three-point range. And that was after a decent second half.
The first half was horrific. The Purple Eagles hit three of their first six shots to take a 7-2 lead. Then they went cold. Barren, frosty, arctic cold. Canisius went on a 13-2 run and this one was over.
The Griffs' tightly packed zone defenses made life miserable for the Purple Eagles, who trailed, 39-28, at halftime after shooting only 18.4 percent (7 of 38).
That made it the worst field-goal percentage for a half for a Canisius opponent, snapping the mark of 18.8 percent (6 for 32) set by Oswego State in 1984.
"I don't feel like we took horrible shots in that first half," Mihalich said. "We had some clean, naked looks at the basket."
It was another strong defensive effort by Canisius, which is holding opponents to 67.6 points and just 35.6 percent from the field.
"Maybe they missed some shots but I'd like to think we made them miss some too," MacDonald said. "I've been impressed with our defense so far."
The win gave Canisius a measure of revenge for last season, when the Griffs lost three times to Niagara in a 16-day span late in the year, ending in the semifinals of the MAAC Tournament in Albany.
"We came in with a little 'nudge' on our shoulders about that," Mallory said. "But we're going to come out and play hard against everybody."
Dux consistently killed the Purple Eagles with penetration down the lane, driving to the hoop or dishing to open teammates. The Griffs finished 34 of 67 from the field and 8 of 19 from beyond the arc.
"We're good when we penetrate and get the ball to the basket," Dux said. "You're trying to make plays for yourself and your teammates and it was there today."
Mallory and Dux got some major help from sophomore forward Richard Jones, who also posted his first double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds, career highs in both categories.
"I'm trying to help the team do whatever I can, getting loose balls or whatever," Jones said. "If there's a loose ball, I'm going to try to get every one. Today, I got a lot of them."
Sophomore forward Juan Mendez led Niagara with 18 points and 13 rebounds. David Brooks and Tremmell Darden chipped in 15 apiece but went 4 for 20 and 4 for 14 from the field, respectively.
"We've made progress the last four days (in practice) but you can't get better in four days," Mihalich said. "We need more time to get good. I just said to my guys, 'We made the mistake coming into the season of listening to everyone telling us how good we are. Don't make the same mistake now because everybody is going to say we're not any good.' "
The Griffs return to action Tuesday at Bucknell while Niagara next plays Thursday at Loyola.