ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Niagara senior guard Maggie McIntyre said she was thankful when she woke up Wednesday morning. Thankful the Purple Eagles’ season was still alive. Thankful for another game in her college career, another game with her best friends. Thankful and fearless.
“Being the eight seed against a one seed, you have nothing to lose,” McIntyre said. “They have everything to lose. All you have to do is leave it out there.”
McIntyre, named the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Sixth Player of the Year hours before tipoff against top-seeded Rider, tied two MAAC women’s basketball tournament records with seven 3-pointers on 15 attempts as the No. 8 Purple Eagles lost, 79-74, to the Broncs in a tightly contested quarterfinal game at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.
Stella Johnson, the nation's leading scorer and two-time MAAC Player of the Year, erupted for a tournament-record 37 points and 14 rebounds for Rider (26-4, 19-2), which advanced to a semifinal against either No. 4 Manhattan or No. 5 Quinnipiac at 11 a.m. Friday.
Rider has won nine consecutive games.
“Honestly, we fought today,” Niagara coach Jada Pierce said. “That was our best game that we played the whole year, and the team that we were today was the team that we knew we could be all year. It just took us some time to figure it out.”
Johnson’s 37 points surpassed the previous record of 36 points, tied most recently by Damika Martinez of Iona against Canisius in 2013. Johnson said she didn’t anticipate her performance, even though she scored 31 points in a regular-season game against Niagara. The Broncs defeated the Eagles twice during the regular season, including once handily.
“Coming into the MAAC Tournament is always hard,” Johnson said. “Everyone knows who you are. It’s not like a new team you’re playing. They know who I am. They know who I pass to, what I do.”
McIntyre, from Gloucester Catholic High School in South Jersey, finished with a team-high 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting for Niagara (10-21). Her final 3-point attempt, a potential game-tying shot, bounced off the rim with 4 seconds to play.
Emerald Ekpiteta had 14 points and 13 assists for the Eagles, while Jai Moore, named to the All-MAAC second team and Niagara's leading scorer this season, had 14 points on 3-of-15 shooting.
Amari Johnson had 17 points and seven rebounds for Rider. Lea Favre added 16 points and eight boards.
Niagara rallied from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter, using a 12-2 run to tie the game at 57 on a pair of free throws by Ally Haar. The Eagles trailed Rider, 63-61, after three quarters, but were unable to overtake the Broncs, coming as close as 75-74 on a pair of free throws by Ekpiteta with 37 seconds to play.
Johnson, listed at 5-foot-10, began guarding the 5-foot McIntyre in the fourth quarter, limiting the Niagara guard to 0-for-4 shooting from the field.
“I’ve known Maggie for a lot of years,” Rider coach Lynn Milligan, the conference coach of the year, said. “She’s a Jersey kid and she’s a senior and I thought she did everything that she needed to do to help her team win. And I thought she had just a fabulous game.
“We left her open a couple of times on kickouts on offensive rebounds, which we talked about, got caught under a couple of screens. Not obviously the way we drew it up, to guard her, but I thought at the end, we ran her off the line a couple of times, had some rushed shots at the end, which helped us.”
Tyonna Vance of Saint Peter’s set the women’s tournament 3-point record against Iona in 2004, breaking a mark that had stood since 1992.
Niagara’s Tiffany Corselli came close to matching the feat with six 3-pointers in a conference tournament game against Canisius in 2016.
The overall MAAC women’s record of 10 3-pointers in a regular-season conference game was set by Niagara’s Kim Kuhn against Holy Cross in 1990.
The conference tournament record of 15 3-point attempts was set by Canisius’ Heather Fiore against Loyola in 1997.
“When you play like it’s your last (game), it’s a different feeling,” McIntyre said, crediting her teammates for her success. “You don’t know if you’re going to be back tomorrow, so you have to just leave it all out there, and anytime a hand was in my face, I was letting it fly.”
Niagara loses three seniors to graduation, including McIntyre and starting guards Moore and Morgan Baughman.
Ekpiteta and Dagny Davidsdottir, both juniors, have enough credits to graduate and are uncertain to return.
Moore choked up after the game.
“Just the moving on factor. We won’t be in practice,” Moore said, stopping to compose herself. “I’m sorry. We won’t be in practice anymore with the same group. Shootarounds, stuff like that. Gameday. Just moving on from that. I’ve been playing basketball all my life, inner-city, Brooklyn kid, literally I played basketball from 12 to 12 every single day.
“Whether I decide to keep playing or not, I worked so hard to get here to college and the people I’ve met, just the challenges I’ve come across with this group of people. Just the fact that going back to school and I won’t have practice, I won’t get upset for running suicides or anything like that anymore. Just all of that, the team aspect. Having my coaches motivate me. Just all that.”
Niagara has posted 15 consecutive losing seasons and 15 consecutive non-winning seasons in the MAAC, having finished .500 in conference play four times in that stretch. They’ve fallen short of the MAAC semifinals for seven consecutive years.
“These seniors and juniors that are moving on, they set the bar high for the next group,” Pierce said. “These young ladies are a part of the first class of people that we brought in, and they believed in a vision, in a dream of moving Niagara women’s basketball forward, and I think we’ve done that.”