SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Chilean folklorist Violeta Parra once sang, "Don't cry when the sun is gone, because the tears won't let you see the stars."
The Niagara Purple Eagles had their hearts broken here Sunday. The sun set on their Big Dance dreams during a 79-73 loss to Iona in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament.
But the youngest team in the MAAC has a bright future ahead. And it won't have to wait too long to try and realize it.
Niagara (19-13) is on its way to the National Invitation Tournament now, its consolation prize for winning the MAAC regular season championship.
"Our hearts are broken," coach Joe Mihalich. "At the same time, as I said to the guys, there's a lot of people whose hearts are broken and they turned their uniforms in.
"We're going to a special postseason tournament. And we are going to let the pain wear away. And if I know these guys, they will set a new set of goals to do something special in the NIT."
Niagara has appeared in the NIT 13 times before, most recently in 2009 after winning a school-record 26 games before losing in the MAAC final.
"We are going to wake up in a day or two and just be tickled to death, excited as can be to be in such a prestigious postseason tournament," Mihalich said. "It's an incredible accomplishment for this team. We're as heartbroken as can be. The dream season is to be cutting down the nets. But to be in the NIT is something to be proud of."
The Purple Eagles weren't proud of their performance as the top seed in the MAAC tournament. After rallying late to beat Siena in the quarterfinals, Niagara fell flat offensively in the second half against Iona.