Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — Heading into Saturday afternoon at the Gallagher Center, Niagara University women’s basketball team enjoyed a streak of three wins in four games, the latest victory coming against their archrivals, Canisius College.
What they sought next was an opportunity to lift themselves to the next level and they had an ideal opportunity to do so against Quinnipiac, who entered the game tied for third in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. After one half, Niagara led the Bobcats by three points and, after a sloppy start, it appeared they were finally jelling and in control of the game.
Then, Quinnipiac stole the lead by letting their Cannon loose. Senior guard Ellen Cannon hit five 3-pointers in the second half that helped the Bobcats along the way to their 93-78 win over the Purple Eagles.
“We were right there,” said Niagara freshman forward Victoria Rampado. “At halftime we were beating them and then they just went off on the three-point line, and second-chance plays killed us.”
After the Bobcats took an early 5-0 lead, Niagara head coach Kendra Faustin removed her entire starting lineup for five subs just 1:57 into the game.
“I didn’t think we actually started the game well. Our group coming off the bench did a great job setting the tone,” Faustin said.
One of those subs was Rampado, who put the Purple Eagles on the scoreboard with a jumper. It was her first two points of a total 17 for the game. She shared the team scoring lead for the game with Meghan McGuinness.
“Victoria’s really coming along,” said Faustin of the Niagara Falls, Ont. native. “She’s really trusting the process and really embracing her role.”
Niagara overcame a 16-8 deficit and gained the lead at the midway point of the first half. Then, Purple Eagle shooters who struggled early were finally connecting on their shots while, defensively, the team held Quinnipiac scoreless for a span of roughly four and a half minutes.
Rampado was then involved in a controversial call that allowed Quinnipiac to even the game on four foul shots. With 5:10 remaining in the first half, the freshman was called for a foul on what looked like a legal block. The Niagara bench was upset and, although there were no loud outbursts from the bench, something triggered the referee to call a technical foul.
Niagara withstood that Bobcat comeback and restored its lead, going into halftime with a 41-38 lead.
After a brief exchange of leads to open the second half, Quinnipiac’s Cannon unleashed from 3-point range. Her first tied the game at 50-50, followed by her second which put the Bobcats into the lead.
Niagara kept pace after Cannon’s first two 3-pointers but she and teammate Jasmine Martin stayed hot and led their team’s slow pull away from the Purple Eagles. Martin finished the game leading the Bobcats with 24 points.
“I think it was in the paint where they really hurt us, that really caused us to have to double and dig and that allowed those three-point shooters to get free,” Faustin said.
More frustrating to Faustin was the number of turnovers, although both sides had moments of poor passing and bad luck with shots. The Purple Eagles turned the ball over 20 times while the Bobcats lost possession 18 times.
“I think down the stretch it was a really physical game and they’re a real physical team, and I think that took a toll on us,” she said.
Faustin added that in the MAAC, there’s no team that offers another team an easy win. The respect for Niagara by Quinnipiac was mutual.
“Niagara plays with so much energy,” Quinnipiac head coach Tricia Fabbri said. “They’ve got tremendous guard play. They just come at you in waves. We were prepared for that.”
Fabbri, like Faustin, was frustrated by the number of turnovers and was relieved that her Bobcats were able to rediscover their scoring touch in the second half.
“The last two times out we’ve been in the 50s and we don’t like to play that way,” Fabbri said. “We like to play in the 70s. It was really great to see us transition, get the ball up and out, the little things like play fast up the floor.”
Next up for the Purple Eagles is a rematch with local archrival Canisius, the team Niagara beat at home, 69-60, this past Wednesday. The Golden Griffins host the game next Friday, beginning at 4 p.m.
“There’s a lot more confidence now, compared to the beginning of the year,” Rampado said. “We have a lot more confidence. We’re playing a lot better as a team. We’re coming together.”
Follow Niagara Gazette Sports Editor Michael Mroziak on Twitter at @MrozGazette.