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NU aims to compound Griffs' MAAC woes

The numbers are what Canisius College basketball fans have grown accustomed to over the years.

The Golden Griffins are 2-12 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and in last place. They have lost five consecutive games and are in danger of their sixth 20-loss season since 2000. All of this makes a victory tonight against rival Niagara University critical if the Golden Griffins (7-17, 2-12) are to shore up their morale and take some kind of momentum into the upcoming MAAC Tournament.

Niagara (19-6, 10-3), which is 2 1/2 games behind first-place Siena in the MAAC standings, has more at stake. With five games remaining after the 7:30 game tonight at the Koessler Center (TWC13, Radio 1440 AM, 710 AM) there's still a chance for the Purple Eagles to catch Siena (19-6, 13-1) to win the MAAC regular-season championship and secure an automatic berth to the National Invitation Tournament. A victory tonight would give Niagara four 20-win seasons under 11th-year coach Joe Mihalich.

Niagara's Tyrone Lewis has rediscovered his shooting touch during the Purple Eagles' five-game win streak, which began Jan. 26 with a 75-69 home victory over the Golden Griffins. Lewis, Niagara's leading scorer at 16.4 a game, has connected on 16 of 37 (43.2 percent) from beyond the three-point arc over the last five games.

If the Griffs can contain Lewis, they'll go a long way toward a badly needed victory.

"This is the Canisius-Niagara game, this is what everyone wants," Canisius junior guard Frank Turner said. "If we can pull this one off, maybe this could turn us around."

But to reverse their fortunes in the five regular-season games that remain, the Griffs must shake off what has become a troublesome trait near the end of games: turnovers.

In their last game against Saint Peter's, Canisius held a 58-57 lead and the ball with 21 seconds left when they turned over the ball on an inbounds play following a timeout. Saint Peter's won on a tip-in at the buzzer.

"We're beating ourselves every night," Turner said.

Over the last five games they have committed an average of 16.8 turnovers.

"Turnovers have plagued us, certainly down the stretch," said Canisius coach Tom Parrotta, who added that he's counted eight games in which the Griffs had a lead deep into the second half but squandered it due to turnovers.

On the one hand, the rocky season could have been predicted given Canisius' youth. But it was reasonable to assume that the Golden Griffins would be improved from a year ago when they finished 2-16 in league play.

So rumors are swirling about Parrotta's job security, talk that Canisius Athletic Director Bill Maher quickly defused on Wednesday.

"His status has not changed, he'll be back next year," Maher said. "We view this as a process that we want to continue to build the right way and we're going to keep on that path."

Canisius is tough defensively -- the Griffs rank 37th nationally in field-goal percentage defense -- but Parrotta would like to see more improvement from the offense.

"We need to play and get things done like we do on the defensive end," he said.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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