Niagara Gazette — Two games. Two points. Two losses.
The Niagara Purple Eagles had two chances to earn statement wins and shake up the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the past week, but twice came up a point shy in upset bids against the Iona Gaels and Manhattan Jaspers — the first- and second-place teams in the conference.
NU will get a third shot at knocking off a top conference foe when it hosts the rival Canisius Golden Griffins — tied with Manhattan for second — at 9 p.m. tonight in the Gallagher Center.
While the pair of heartbreaking losses seemed to mark improvement for the Purple Eagles (6-19, 3-11 MAAC) given the competition, NU head coach Chris Casey made sure to point out that no one in the program was content with moral victories.
"We're happy with the effort, and we're happy with how hard we're playing, but none of us are happy that we lost both games," Casey said. "We felt like we had an opportunity to win, we just needed to make one or two plays down the stretch.
"We were disappointed over the weekend, but you have to take the time to be upset and then move on."
Casey has raved about his team's effort all season, and the Purple Eagles shouldn't need extra motivation against Canisius (16-9, 10-4 MAAC). Tonight will mark the 174th overall meeting between the Western New York rivals.
The Golden Griffins cruised to an 87-74 home win on Jan. 22, their second straight over NU, which had won the previous five meetings. Niagara hasn't been swept by Canisius since 1994-95.
Canisius start Billy Baron scored a game-high 31 points in the win. Baron ranks fifth in the nation in scoring (23.6 points per game). NU's Antoine Mason, who lead's the nation with an average of 26.3 points, nearly matched him with 29.
"You're not going to stop Baron, but you have to limit his looks," Casey said. "He's a great player and we want to keep him as under control as we can."
Assuming Mason and Baron match one another again, Niagara will have to do a better job of keeping the other Golden Griffins off the foul line. Canisius guard Chris Perez and forward Chris Manhertz combined to score 15 of their 33 points from the charity stripe the last time out.
Another key could be the presence of Tahjere McCall, who missed the first Canisius game after biting through part of his tongue in practice. McCall is typically regarded as the Purple Eagles' best perimeter defender and will likely draw the tough task of guarding Baron.
Senior guard Marvin Jordan will return for Niagara tonight after missing the past two games while tending to is ailing grandmother at home in Peoria, Ill. Jordan scored 19 in the Jan. 22 loss, but Casey wouldn't commit to sticking him back in the starting lineup given how his team has been playing.
Follow Niagara Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.