LEWISTON – Kayla Hoohuli and Tiahana Mills turned up the pressure just in time for the Canisius women’s basketball team Wednesday night.
Led by the relentlessness of their starting guards, the Golden Griffins overcame a 13-point deficit with less than 10 minutes remaining to defeat rival Niagara, 66-55, in overtime at the Gallagher Center.
The victory moved the Griffs (7-11 overall) to 5-4 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, a game ahead of Niagara (8-10, 4-5).
“Even though it’s a great win, it’s not just about the rivalry,” said Hoohuli, a 5-foot-7 senior guard who scored a career-high 26 points. “Yeah, it’s Niagara, but we’re worried about ourselves. We’re trying to get ready for the MAAC championship.”
Hoohuli and Mills combined for 46 points – “we’ll take that,” joked Canisius coach Terry Zeh – but it was the pressure defense they provided that sparked the comeback.
Niagara led 44-31 after a three-pointer by Meghan McGuinness with 9:49 remaining in regulation, leading Zeh to alter his philosophy the rest of the way. Hoohuli and Mills came out of a timeout shortly thereafter with aggressive, full-court, on-the-ball defense.
“They turned it up and we didn’t handle it well,” Niagara coach Kendra Faustin said. “We’ve got to be stronger with the ball.”
A steal and basket from Hoohuli, who was fouled and completed a three-point play, trimmed the Niagara lead to 44-42 with 5:26 left in the second half.
The Purple Eagles, though, stayed in front. A spinning jumper from McGuinness put Niagara ahead, 51-48, with 1:29 to play.
McGuinness, Niagara’s leading scorer at 12 points per game, was the only Purple Eagle to reach double figures, finishing with 14.
Mills, who also set a career high with her 20 points, got the game to overtime by hitting a three-pointer that bounced high off the rim before falling through with just over a minute left in regulation.
“I was comfortable with it,” she said. “I got the shooter’s touch, which was perfect because it was the tying basket.”
Each team had a chance to go ahead after Mills’ three, but shot-clock violations on both ends of the floor led to overtime.
At the start of the extra session, a three-pointer from Margret Halfdanardottir and a jumper from Mills as the shot clock expired put the Griffs up, 56-51.
Hoohuli helped to ice the game by going 4 of 4 from the foul line in overtime, part of a perfect 13-for-13 night at the line.
“It’s not about the points,” she said. “It’s about the win. The defensive stops – that gives us energy to score the buckets.”
Both teams got off to a slow start, going 1 of 7 from the field, but the pace picked up coming out of the second media timeout. A three-pointer by Canisius sophomore Lauren D’Hont gave the Golden Griffins their biggest lead of the first half, 14-10, but Niagara responded with the next two baskets – two Donshia Watson layups.
It was at that point Niagara began to assert its dominance down low. Niagara center Sam Lapszynski, at 6-foot-3 the tallest player on either team, then made back-to-back layups to push the Purple Eagles’ lead to 20-16.
As soon as the Griffs started collapsing down low, Niagara smartly started working the ball along the perimeter. Three-pointers from Tiffany Corelli and Kelly Van Leeuwen helped the Purple Eagles hold a 29-24 halftime lead.
Niagara next hosts Iona on Friday at 7 p.m. Canisius will host Iona in its next game at 2 p.m. Sunday.