ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Niagara towered over the competition.
The No. 8-seeded Purple Eagles used a distinct height advantage and deep bench to defeat No. 9 Saint Peter’s for the third time this season, claiming a 64-53 victory in the first round of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament Tuesday at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.
Dagny Davidsdottir, a 6-foot-1 junior from Iceland, had a game-high 16 points, nine rebounds and two blocks to lead Niagara (10-20), which advances to face No. 1 Rider in the quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
The Eagles were swept by Rider (25-4) during the regular season, 79-75, on Jan. 2 in Lawrenceville, N.J., and, 71-55, on Jan. 25 at home. The Broncs, who are led by senior guard Stella Johnson, the reigning MAAC player of the year and nation's leading scorer at 24.4 points per game, had a first-round bye and enter the tournament on an eight-game winning streak.
“What I know is that Niagara has a pretty deep team and Niagara is not going to be afraid,” Eagles coach Jada Pierce said. “We’re welcoming this challenge because the second time we played them wasn’t our best basketball. … But I know these young ladies are really excited and there’s no better team to go up against than the top seed.”
Jai Moore had 11 points, six rebounds and three assists for Niagara, while Emerald Ekpiteta matched Davidsdottir with nine rebounds and added four steals. Maggie McIntyre and Sydney Faulcon each scored eight points.
Kendrea Williams had 16 points to lead three players in double figures for Saint Peter’s (9-21).
Niagara, which has seven players listed at 5-10 or taller, compared to just two such players for Saint Peter’s, outscored the Peacocks 32-14 in the paint.
“We have a much taller team, so we knew that we had a good chance of having an advantage in the paint,” Davidsdottir said. “We didn’t really emphasize on that in the beginning of the game. We started kind of slow and shot a lot of shots outside the paint and even outside the perimeter. Once we started feeding the post and also we started clearing the lane for the guards … to get to the basket, we started to find success.”
Niagara also overwhelmed Saint Peter’s with its bench as the reserves – including Davidsdottir, McIntyre and Faulcon – outscored their counterparts, 38-23. The Eagles used eight players off the bench, compared to four for the Peacocks.
“I think we have the best bench in the conference, which is why we do what we do,” Pierce said. “Some people don’t understand it, but that’s why we do what we do and we’re going to stick to doing that.”
Niagara jumped out to an 8-0 lead but shot just 14.3% (2 of 14) in the second quarter and trailed 29-24 at halftime.
The Purple Eagles turned it around in the third quarter, shooting 58.8% (10 of 17) while outscoring Saint Peter’s 23-14. Niagara opened the third quarter with a 9-2 run, closed it on an 8-3 run and owned a 47-43 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Saint Peter’s tied the game twice in the fourth, but Niagara used an 8-2 run to take control and ended the game on a 7-point run. The Peacocks were limited to just 10 points in the final quarter.
Niagara led the conference in steals during the regular season at 9.37 per game.
“We really pride ourselves on the defensive end,” Moore said. “As you’ve seen all year, we’ve been forcing a lot of turnovers, getting a lot of steals and trying to convert them on the other end.”