It would be a shame to see the rivalry end just when it was heating up.

The four-year deal between Bucknell and Niagara ended after Wednesday’s 66-63 Bucknell win over NU at the Gallagher Center, and it appears as if the two teams won’t face each other next year.

“We only have one open date next year,” Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said after Wednesday’s loss. “Maybe we can resume it the following year.”

I certainly hope so.

Both schools have built solid mid-major programs that advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season. Both have proven they can play with the big boys — Niagara defeated St. John’s last season, while Bucknell stunned Kansas in the NCAA Tournament last season and Syracuse in the Carrier Dome a little more than a week ago.

And if you don’t think Niagara can have a non-conference rival outside of St. Bonaventure or UB, you didn’t see the intensity of Wednesday’s game. An intensity that didn’t end when the game did.

Mihalich and Bucknell coach Pat Flannery were both yapping at the officials after Wednesday’s physical contest. Mihalich was still intense during the postgame interview session.

There’s a healthy respect between the two coaches for what they’ve accomplished, even if the mid-majors have trouble getting respect from the mammoth Division I institutions. As Flannery said earlier in the week: “The right people respect us, that’s what matters.”

Bucknell may not have the name recognition of some other schools on Niagara’s schedule, but the Purple Eagles won’t be facing many foes tougher than the Bison.

Two schools that have developed solid basketball programs while not sacrificing educational standards battling down to the wire on the court. It’s what college hoops should be about.

Let’s hope we can see more of it.

Contact Pat Murrayat murrayp@gnnewspaper.com.

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