LEWISTON – The Niagara and St. Bonaventure women’s basketball teams spent two hours Friday night making an emphatic statement: It’s a new season.
Niagara, which endured an injury-plagued 8-23 campaign last year, didn’t just upset the Bonnies, who went 24-8 and made the NCAA Tournament.
Niagara blew out them out, 65-43, in a season opener that was every bit as lopsided as the final score indicated.
Niagara got 17 points and seven rebounds from star junior forward Victoria Rampado, who missed virtually all of last season with a shoulder injury. Niagara only needed 23 minutes from Rampado, a preseason first-team all-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference pick.
“I’m really proud of her because she’s really worked for this all summer long,” said Niagara’s second-year coach, Jada Pierce. “That was her goal, to come back better than she was before. We are more than excited to have her back, and I feel bad for everyone else the rest of the year.”
“I think we’ll surprise a lot of people in the MAAC early on,” Rampado said.
Fine freshmen: Rampado’s return alone makes Niagara a respectable team. But the opener was not a one-woman show. Niagara got eight points and seven rebounds from Dagny Davidsdottir, a 6-1 freshman from Iceland by way of Pennsylvania. Morgan Baughman, a 5-10 freshman wing from Pennsylvania, scored nine points on three three-pointers. Maggie McIntyre, a 5-0 freshman point guard from New Jersey, had five points, three assists and no turnovers in 33 minutes.
“Morgan is a three-time state champion,” Pierce said. “I don’t think her pulse rate gets above 45. . . . Maggie has never turned the ball over, not in high school, not in AAU, and I’ve been watching her for four years.”
The athletic Davidsdottir was the most impressive of the three.
“She’s a highlight reel waiting to happen,” Pierce said. “You guys didn’t see anything. . . . She showed you a little bit today but she will show you more.”
Rebuilding: It was a tough debut for new coach Jesse Fleming, who took over for Jim Crowley. Bona lost four starters and 65 percent of its scoring from last year’s team.
The Bonnies got 13 points and 10 rebounds from senior forward Gabby Richmond, 10 points from sophomore Mckenna Maycock and seven from guard Mariah Ruff, the lone returning starter.
“Very disappointed with us,” Fleming said. “We got punched in the mouth early. They made some shots and we just did not respond. I’ve got to figure that out. I know this year is going to be a process with so many new faces in expanded roles . . . but we’ve got to get better.”
Bona shot 33 percent from the field and made 16 turnovers.
“We’ve just got to work our way toward March with this team,” Fleming said. “This is 100 percent not an excuse. I don’t want you to think I’m using our age as a crutch. I just know we’re going to get better and better, but there are going to be nights like this, unfortunately.”
Etc: It was Niagara's first win over Bona since 2006. . . . Niagara senior guard Tiffany Corselli scored 11 points and gave Bona trouble with her quickness. . . . Niagara was without starting senior point guard Jamie Sherburne, who sat out with a shoulder or arm injury. . . . Making their first career starts for Bona were Maycock, senior forward Imani Outlaw and junior forward Matea Britvar.
Polls: Bona was picked to finish 10th in the 14-team Atlantic 10 Conference. Niagara was picked ninth out of 11 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Reinforcement: When the first semester ends, Niagara will get a significant reinforcement in sophomore forward Adila Gathers, who starred at Buffalo’s Tapestry Charter. She transferred to the Purple Eagles from St. Francis, Pa., and will be eligible to play in late December.
In the house: Attendance was about 400 at the Gallagher Center.
Up next: Bona plays host to Colgate at 1 p.m. Sunday, then hosts Canisius Wednesday. Niagara plays at Michigan at 3 p.m. Sunday.