ALBANY – When your two best players finish with as many fouls as points, you know you’re in trouble.
Niagara’s women’s basketball team could not overcome that handicap Friday night and lost to Fairfield, 65-57, in a quarterfinal game at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament.
Niagara’s leading scorer, Victoria Rampado, sat out half the game due to foul trouble and finished with three points and four fouls. She was averaging 13 points a game. Niagara’s senior leader and second-leading scorer, Meghan McGuinness, fouled out with 4:28 to go and finished with six points. She was averaging 12.4 a game. That’s nine points and nine fouls for Niagara’s “big two.”
Niagara ended its season with a record of 14-17, its 10th straight losing season. Niagara finished 9-11 in conference, sixth in the 11-team MAAC.
“That was a challenge,” Niagara coach Kendra Faustin said of the foul trouble. “When do we put Victoria back in? When do we put Meg back in? . . . We were just trying to figure out who can score and how can we get quick scores. They play a slow pace. It definitely was a choppy, tactical game.”
The Purple Eagles were down by 12, 55-43, with five minutes left but rallied in the final minutes thanks largely to the play of guards Kelly Van Leeuwen and Taylor McKay.
Van Leeuwen, a senior making her 78th and final start, scored a career-high 19 points and made five three-pointers. McKay, a junior, used her quickness to penetrate the lane for shots and scored 16.
“My teammates were penetrating, making the defense have to help, and I was able to get my shot off,” Van Leeuwen said.
Niagara went on a 13-4 run to pull within 59-56 with 48 seconds left but Fairfield converted a three-point play on its next possession and was in the clear.
Niagara had swept Fairfield (15-15) during the regular season thanks to good shooting and dominating rebounding. Fairfield was determined to not let it happen again and held a 30-29 edge on the glass.
“In the two games they had outrebounded us 77-44,” said Fairfield coach Joe Frager. “That’s a lot. These guys got sick and tired of hearing about that. I was writing it everywhere I could possibly write it. I came close to trying to stencil it on our foreheads.”
The 5-foot-10 McGuinness, a New Jersey native, finished her career 10th on Niagara’s all-time scoring list with 1,282 points. She is Niagara’s career leader in three-pointers made and in free-throw percentage, and she’s second in career three-point percentage. In her last game, she struggled to get open shots against the defending of 6-2 Fairfield wing player Samantha Cooper.
“What I said to the group in the locker room was that players like Meghan McGuinness don’t come along very often, and we should fell very lucky to have played with her,” Faustin said. “I feel very lucky to have coached her. She’s a self-made player. She’s done it the old-fashioned way. She works really hard. She was a great captain and leader for us.”
It was a disappointing end to the season for a Niagara team that was picked for fifth but lost two overtime conference games and five others by six or fewer points.
Niagara ranked in the top 40 in the nation in three-point field-goal percentage, rebounding margin and defensive field goal percentage.
But it also ranked 10th in the MAAC in turnovers and needed a little more consistent scoring outside of its top two.
“We turn it over a lot, we turn it over a ton,” Faustin said after Niagara’s win on Thursday.
Fairfield advanced to a semifinal meeting with defending champion Marist on Sunday.