The 179th meeting between rivals Niagara and Canisius will occur with both seasons on the line in the first round of the MAAC tournament.
Unlike 173 of their meetings, it will occur at neutral Albany at the Times Union Center at approximately 7pm on Thursday night. Niagara leads the series 97-81, but the two schools have faced off six times in the MAAC tournament, each winning three.
“I think it’s always been a big rivalry no matter what,” Canisius head coach Jim Baron said. “They’re a good team, they got a great tradition and we just got to make sure that we’re focused and we’re doing what we need to do.”
Canisius swept the regular season series, most recently winning at home on Feb. 25 65-60 and come in as the seventh seed. In their two meetings, Malcolm McMillan has averaged 15.5 ppg and Phil Valenti has scored 14 in each game. Niagara head coach Chris Casey said he hopes to limit the 6’ CCSU graduate transfer at the free throw line, where he’s done most of his damage to the Purple Eagles.
“We’ve got to keep Malcolm McMillan out of the lane,” Casey said. “He’s very good at getting in the lane and creating for his teammates and getting himself to the foul line. Last game, I want to say he was 3-for-10 from the floor, but he scored points because he got himself to the foul line. He just knows how to play.”
The two teams were amongst the most slighted in the MAAC awards. Niagara sophomore Matt Scott was named to the third team after averaging 15.4 ppg and 7.1 rpg as a sophomore.
“I was pleased that Matt got an opportunity to be recognized,” Casey said. “I thought he led us in a lot of categories this year, so I was pleased for him. Like any guy in the league, there’s going to be somebody they’re disappointed for on their team, and Emile [Blackman] would be the guy on our team.”
While the Purple Eagles earned one selection on the All-MAAC team, only Canisius and Quinnipiac did not receive an All-MAAC selection on any of the teams on Monday. Baron said he was disappointed that none of his players were recognized.
“I mean Malcolm McMillan leads the team in scoring, 14.8 points per game along with 4.1 assists, he leads the MAAC with 169 free throws and he got to the free throw line more than 200 times,” Baron said defending his graduate transfer along with Valenti and sophomore Kassius Robertson. “I just think these guys have really gotten better each and every game.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.