LEWISTON, N.Y. (WIVB) — Greg Paulus has been a part of college basketball’s most storied rivalry on Tobacco Road. Now in his fourth season coaching Niagara, he’s come to appreciate a Monteagle Ridge tradition that dates back even further.
“This is a unique and special rivalry,” Paulus said after Niagara rallied late on Friday night for a 76-73 victory at the Gallagher Center. “I’m grateful to be a part of it. This has been going on since 1905. There’s over 190 times these two teams and schools have played.”
“I was part of the Duke-North Carolina,” continued Paulus, sure to note when his Blue Devils tip off against their rival Tar Heels on Saturday night. “Being a part of that, and understanding that rivalry started in 1920, I believe. So for the coaches, the great players that have come from this rivalry, we are honored to be a part of this.”
And it’s more honorable to be on the winning side, which the Purple Eagles have done now in six of seven matchups with Canisius since Paulus became coach, and nine of 11 since Reggie Witherspoon took over the Golden Griffins in 2017.
The third win in a row for Niagara (12-9, 7-5) puts them in fifth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings. Canisius (5-16, 3-9) is at the bottom, having lost four straight.
The Golden Griffins led for the majority of Friday’s game and were ahead 66-60 with 6:39 remaining before going scoreless for nearly six minutes.
Aaron Gray paced the Purple Eagles with 27 points, including a 3-pointer and two dunks during the 16-4 closing spurt. Noah Thomasson had 23 points, five rebounds and five assists, including a deft bounce pass to Gray cutting backdoor for a baseline slam that put Niagara ahead with 3:11 left, and compelled Paulus to leap in delight.
“That was us just playing basketball,” Gray said. “We just broke down, and made the right read.”
Thomasson, the MAAC’s leading scorer, told his Purple Eagles teammates in preparation that “the most disciplined team is going to win the game.”
“That’s what I tried to preach to these guys the entire week,” Thomasson said. “We are going to have a lot of fans. We are going to have a lot of energy. We are going to make plays. But we have to be disciplined.”
The crowd of more than 1,500 people was enthusiastic throughout the Battle of the Bridge matchup. During one late timeout, Paulus walked out to the middle of the court and flapped his arms to get the fans to cheer even louder.
“The Gallagher Center was rocking,” Paulus said. “It was an unbelievable atmosphere.”
Jordan Henderson led Canisius with 15 points, but sat for more than three of the final six minutes after picking up his fourth foul on a charge. Jacco Fritz added 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists. The Golden Griffins had a 24-8 advantage in paint points to build a 41-37 lead going into halftime, but the Purple Eagles flipped the interior scoring edge to 22-8 in the second half.
Both teams have a quick turnaround to play road games, with Niagara visiting MAAC-leader Siena on Sunday, and Canisus heading to Marist. The rivals will meet again at Koessler Athletic Center in Buffalo on March 4.
The all-time series record is in dispute. While Niagara claims this was the 192nd matchup, Canisius counts 190 meetings. Either way, Niagara holds the historical edge, with at least 106 victories.
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.