LEWISTON, N.Y. (WIVB) — Unfurling a banner from the Gallagher Center ceiling to celebrate their postseason breakthrough, the Niagara Purple Eagles have set sight on higher goals at the start of a new women’s basketball season.
As preseason favorites to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship, coming off the program’s first WNIT appearance as MAAC finalists, Niagara took flight on a path it believes could lead to the program’s first NCAA trip in March, tipping off the 2023-24 campaign with a soaring 75-51 victory over Little 3 rival St. Bonaventure on Wednesday night.
The Purple Eagles began their opening night with a ceremony unveiling the first women’s basketball team banner in history.
“I usually don’t get really emotional, but just seeing that banner has me teared up a little bit,” said Aaliyah Parker, the Cardinal O’Hara graduate and preseason player of the year pick who led the Purple Eagles with 12 points and five rebounds. “To set the tradition for our program is great.”
Coach Jada Pierce said the banner represents “the hard work that’s been put into our program over the years, and especially a great group last year. They worked really hard and wanted to do something special. To be able to say you are the first to do something is huge.”
Even though Pierce had seen the banner before its reveal, “I got a little choked up,” she said, “I didn’t think that I would.”
Niagara’s victory was its second in 15 meetings with St. Bonaventure since 2006, fifth in 30 years, and largest victory margin since 1980.
Bona, in its opening game with coach Jim Crowley returning to try and revive a program he had in regular postseason contention before leaving for Providence in 2016, led often in an even first half.
But the Bonnies were shaken by a scary injury to starting guard Nadechka Laccen. The game was paused for several minutes after Laccen slid into the bench and hit the back of her head on a chair. Laccen had difficulty standing before being going to the locker room. At halftime, she was taken out of the Gallagher Center on a gurney and wearing a neck brace, to a local hospital for evaluation.
Crowley did not have an update after the game on the condition of Laccen, or Tianna Johnson, another starting guard went down in the third quarter and laid on the floor in distress for several minutes before requiring assistance walking to the locker room.
Bona already was without guard Dani Haskell, the Canisius transfer who set WNY’s all-time scoring record at Franklinville, due to an injury that Crowley said shouldn’t keep her out much longer. Niagara was without its starting point guard Angel Parker because of a preseason injury.
Niagara pulled away with a 12-2 run and outscored Bona 26-6 in the third quarter.
Canisius tips off at Syracuse
The Golden Griffins’ 89-77 loss at the JMA Wireless Dome was their 22nd in a row against Syracuse since 1975, but the scoring total was their highest in seven matchups with the Orange this century.
A 3-pointer by Tre Dinkins got the Golden Griffins (0-1) within nine points with four minutes left but consecutive dunks by Maliq Brown, including one off an alley-oop assist from Notre Dame transfer JJ Starling, restored a double-digit lead.
Dinkins scored 17 points to lead the Golden Griffins. Tahj Staveskie and Frank Mitchell added 12 points each, with Mitchell grabbing nine rebounds, and TJ Gadsden 10 points.
Within three minutes of the opening tip, the Orange had the lead for good and led 41-32 at halftime.
Judah Mintz scored a career-high 26 points for Syracuse. Mintz, a sophomore guard who had 20 points in a season-opening win over New Hampshire on Monday, scored 12 straight in a 16-3 run that gave the Orange (2-0) a 20-point lead with nine minutes remaining.
The Associated Press contributed.