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Canisius, Niagara men and women set to open MAAC tournament

The Canisius and Niagara men’s basketball teams hope the third time is the charm.

Both will face opponents they have not beaten this season in the first round of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament on Tuesday at the Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.

No. 10-seeded Canisius will play No. 7 Iona, the four-time defending conference tournament champion, at 7 p.m., followed by No. 6 Niagara against No. 11 Marist at 9 p.m. The games will be streamed on ESPN3.

While Niagara (11-20, 9-11 MAAC) is the higher seed, it twice lost to Marist (7-22, 6-14) during the regular season, with neither outcome close. The Purple Eagles fell to the Red Foxes, 67-48, on Jan. 31 at home and 76-54 on Feb. 23 in Poughkeepsie.

The winner Tuesday will advances to face No. 3 Rider in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Thursday.

“Marist is really well-coached,” Niagara coach Greg Paulus said. “They’re disciplined and do a really good job of not only playing inside out, by throwing the ball inside to the size that they have in there, but they also have some really good perimeter shooters as well, which makes it difficult just to guard in general. So for us, they’ve done a great job of making a few runs at different points in the game and we just haven’t been able to respond, but we’re hoping that we can respond and compete and we’ll give it our best shot (Tuesday).”

Marist has lost four consecutive games, while Niagara has dropped two in a row, including a 67-63 defeat at Canisius in the regular-season finale Friday, when a victory would have secured the tournament’s fifth seed and a first-round bye.

Niagara sophomore guard Marcus Hammond, who was named first-team all-MAAC on Monday, leads the Purple Eagles at 14.2 points per game, which ranks ninth in the league. He also leads the team with 4.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.

Marist  junior guard Michael Cubbage leads his team with 9.3 points per game and ranks seventh in the league with six rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

“What I told the guys was everybody is 0-0 right now,” Paulus said. “This is a new season. This is exciting. This is March. It’s the most exciting time of year, where you can apply some of the lessons that you’ve learned throughout the year. But most importantly, it’s 0-0. Now it just becomes a one-game season at this point.”

Canisius (12-19, 7-13) lost both regular-season meetings against Iona. The Golden Griffins fell to the Gaels, 69-66, on Jan. 24 in New Rochelle and 86-65 on Feb. 27 in Buffalo.

The winner Tuesday will advance to face No. 2 Saint Peter’s in the quarterfinals at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Iona enters the tournament on a three-game losing streak, since its most recent victory against Canisius.

The Gaels feature two of the top scoring threats in the MAAC. Iona senior swingman E.J. Crawford leads the league with 18.8 points per game, while senior forward Tajuan Agee ranks sixth with 14.7 points per game, and fourth with 7.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.

“They’re extremely talented,” Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “They offensively are explosive, their guys don’t need a lot of help in terms of how you design your offense because they’re so good one-on-one. And they’re a load to play against. They’ve very versatile. Their big guys can all step away from the basket, handle the ball and pass the ball. And Crawford is really just a guy that’s so experienced. He’s been doing it to this conference for now this being his fourth year. I just think they’re extremely difficult to prepare for.”

Canisius junior guard Majesty Brandon leads the Griffs at 14.1 points per game, which ranks 10th in the MAAC.

Senior guard Malik Johnson, named to the all-MAAC third team, averages 12.5 points per game and leads the team with 5.9 rebounds per game, which ranks ninth in the league. Johnson is second in the MAAC with 5.9 assists per game and is third in assist to turnover ratio (2.0). He's also tops in steals (2.0).

MAAC women begin Tuesday

The Canisius women are facing an opponent they haven’t beaten this season, while the Niagara women are unbeaten against their first-round foe.

No. 8 Niagara will play No. 9 Saint Peter’s at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, followed by No. 11 Canisius taking on No. 7 Siena at 1:30 p.m. Both games will be streamed by ESPN3.

Niagara (9-20, 7-13) swept Saint Peter’s (9-20, 6-14) during the regular season, 97-89, at home on Jan. 23 and 68-64 on Feb. 13 in Jersey City, N.J.

Niagara senior guard Jai Moore, named to the all-MAAC second team, leads the Purple Eagles with 16.3 points per game, which ranks fourth in the conference. St. Peter's junior guard Taiah Thornton paces the Peacocks with 15 points and 2.4 steals per game. Senior forward Zoe Pero averages a team-high five rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.

Canisius (5-24, 4-16) lost to Siena (10-19, 8-12) twice this season, 68-63 on Jan. 11 in Buffalo and 72-43 on Feb. 1 in Loudonville, with both contests part of a nine-game losing streak.

Canisius senior guard D'Jhai Patterson-Ricks lead the team with 14.5 points per game while junior forward Danielle Sanderlin, named to the all-MAAC third team, averages 13.5 points and a team-high 7.6 rebounds. Siena senior guard Sabrina Piper leads the team with 13.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals.

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