BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Big Dance hopes for Western New York college basketball fans now ride on the wings of the Purple Eagles.
Niagara’s men and women are the only local Division I teams still competing for a conference championship and automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Both play semifinal games Friday at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament in Atlantic City.
The fifth-seeded Niagara men (16-14) pulled out a 71-65 win against Siena in Thursday night’s quarterfinal, and will now play top-seed Iona (25-7) at 6 p.m. Friday. The game will be broadcast on ESPNews. The second-seeded Niagara women (18-12) take on sixth-seed Manhattan (14-16) is at 1:30 p.m., and will be streamed on ESPN+.
Niagara hasn’t reached the MAAC championship game in men’s basketball since 2009, and the women played in the final only once before in 1997.
In Friday night’s quarterfinal win, Noah Thomasson, a senior guard who was a unamimous All-MAAC selection, scored 18 points, surpassing 1,000 for his career, while adding five assists and five rebounds in playing all 40 minutes. Joe Kasperzyk contributed 16 points off the bench, including clutch free throws in the closing minutes. Aaron Gray scored 12 points, and David Mitchell added 11.
In their first winning season under fourth-year coach Greg Paulus, the former Central New York football and basketball star who played point guard for Duke and quarterback at Syracuse, the Purple Eagles lost both of their regular season matchups against Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino and Iona. The Gaels won 78-56 at home on Dec. 2, and 72-55 on on Super Bowl Sunday at the Gallagher Center, where Niagara had beaten Iona the previous season.
The Niagara women, with five Cardinal O’Hara graduates on the roster, are the only team in Division I with that many players from the same high school. Two of them, sisters Angel and Aaliyah Parker, were All-MAAC selections. Aaliyah Parker on Wednesday night became the first player in program history to record a triple-double with 18 points, 14 rebounds and 11 steals, and she ranks second nationally in steals per game.
The Purple Eagles, who lead the country in forcing turnovers and steals, won both regular season matchups with Manhattan, but both games were close, 66-62 on the road on New Year’s Eve, and 74-70 at home on Jan. 19.
Buffalo’s men’s basketball team ended its season Thursday with a 101-77 loss in the Mid-American Conference quarterfinals in Cleveland. The Bulls finished 15-17, their first losing season since 2013, and went 0-7 against the top seven teams in the MAC. Yazid Powell led UB with 25 points against Akron, and senior LaQuill Hardnett 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.