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Canisius and Niagara men and women square off in MAAC Tournament

At least one men’s and one women’s team from Western New York is guaranteed a place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basketball quarterfinals on Friday at Times Union Center in Albany.

That’s because Canisius is matched against Niagara Thursday in the first-round games of both tournaments.

No. 9 seed Niagara (7-22, 5-15 MAAC) and No. 8 Canisius (13-16, 8-12 MAAC) get things rolling at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in the first round of women’s play. The winner will face No. 1 seed and defending champion Quinnipiac at noon on Friday in the quarterfinals.

In the men’s game, Niagara (7-24, 5-15 MAAC) and Canisius (13-18, 8-12 MAAC) will meet at 7 p.m. (Radio 1230 AM and 1400 AM) on Thursday. The winner gets the late Friday game (9:30 p.m.) against No. 2 Iona in the quarterfinals.

It will be the seventh time the rival men’s teams have met in the MAAC Tournament. Each has won three times with the last an 80-70 win by the Purple Eagles in 2012. Niagara won the tournament in 2005 and 2007. Canisius last won its only title in 1996.

Coach Chris Casey, in his third season as Niagara coach, starts two juniors (Emile Blackman and Cameron Fowler), a sophomore (Matt Scott) and two freshmen (Marvin Prochet and Dominic Rabb). Blackman leads the team in scoring at 15.5. Scott averages 15.4.

Niagara will be trying to avoid losing three games to Canisius in the same season for the first time since 1993-94.

Canisius coach Jim Baron (1-4 in MAAC Tournament play) has three double-figure scorers in his starting five, senior Malcolm McMillan (14.9), sophomore Kassius Robertson (14.2) and junior Phil Valenti (14.0). The other starters are sophomore Jamal Reynolds and senior center Kevin Bleeker. Sixth man Jermaine Crumpton averages 10.0 ppg.

It’s been a struggle all season because of injuries and squad defections for coach Jada Pierce and her Niagara women’s team. Lately, Pierce has had just eight players available.

Despite all that, the Niagara women are the only one of the four WNY teams entering postseason play on a positive note. They won their regular season finale at Siena, 54-45, behind 24 points by Kaylee Stroemple. Senior center Sam Lapczynski is averaging 37.6 minutes, 14.7 points and 10.5 rebounds since she became a starter.

Canisius’ last win was a 54-45 triumph over Niagara on Feb. 25. The Griffs are 4-0 all-time against Niagara in MAAC Tournament games.

Senior forward Crystal Porter (9.9) leads Canisius in scoring. Margret Halfdanardottir and Sarah Cooley are three-point snipers who have helped coach Terry Zeh’s team lead the MAAC with a 35.6 percent average.

UB women fall at Akron

Akron’s 1-2 scoring punch of senior Anita Brown and Hannah Plybon again was too much for the University at Buffalo women’s basketball team to handle. So, too, was a 13-point deficit at the free-throw line.

Brown and Plybon each went for 20 against the Bulls for the second time this season as the Zips scored a 62-49 Mid-American Conference victory over UB Wednesday night at the James A. Rhodes Arena in Akron, Ohio.

Plybon scored 21 points and Brown, who is averaging 21.3 a game, had 20 to lead Akron to the victory. The Zips made 15 of 21 free throws while UB had only four attempts at the line, making two.

UB (15-13, 7-10 MAC) had one more field goal, but two less from three-point range, and shot only 29.2 percent overall on 72 attempts. Akron (16-12, 10-7 MAC) hit 20 of 50 shots for 40 percent.

Joanna Smith, UB’s leading scorer, had 15 points, but suffered through a miserable shooting night, 6 for 24 and 3 of 12 from three-point range. Cassie Oursler (Grand Island) had 10 points for UB, all in the first half.

UB led 29-24 at the half but was outscored, 22-13, in the third quarter and never regained the lead. There were 15 fouls called against the Bulls in the second half, and Smith and Oursler both fouled out.