Coming off a 67-64 quarterfinal victory over Rider Wednesday, second-seeded Niagara just ran out of time and energy when it mattered most Friday.
After starting the fourth quarter on an 11-2 run to regain a 61-59 lead with under six minutes remaining, the Purple Eagles could not get defensive stops, allowing the sixth-seeded Manhattan Jaspers to go on a 12-2 stretch with 90 seconds to go, resulting in a 81-68 loss in the MAAC semifinals held at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Niagara’s offense was led by the Parker sisters, sophomore Aaliyah (23 points) and senior Angel (18 points), who combined for 23 of Niagara’s 29 second-half points.
Looking to advance to the MAAC championship for the first time since 1997, Niagara shot just 31% from the floor and only turned 21 Manhattan turnovers into 19 points, a major team strength this season.
Trailing 29-16 with 5 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the first half, as Manhattan’s Brazil Harvey-Carr — a 29% 3-point shooter — went 5 of 6 beyond the arc in the first half.
Niagara (18-12) caught fire and went into the locker room with a 39-37 lead, all while Angel Parker sat on the bench with two fouls. This was a critical stretch as the Purple Eagles got four combined 3-pointers off the bench from Ary Hicks and Lore Porter to spark the rally.
While Niagara went on a four-minute scoring drought midway through the third quarter, Manhattan closed the frame on a 14-6 run for a 57-49 lead.
Five straight points, including a 3-pointer from the elder Parker cut Manhattan’s lead to 57-54 and sparked the Purple Eagles’ strong fourth-strong start. But, outside of a pair of free-throws, Niagara struggled to score while Manhattan scored six baskets in transition over the last five minutes of regulation.
“We did not stick to our principles because when we do those things, good things happen,” Pierce said. “That’s not taking credit away from someone but when you know that you did not rotate properly or have the right pressure on the ball or we fouled when we weren’t supposed to foul, that’s more about controlling what we can control and communicating is a big key and we weren’t communicating at a high level.”
“It was more about being disciplined,” added Angel Parker. “Those possessions that we’re used to getting those 50-50 balls, that didn’t go our way. I think we just have to put in a little bit more, we have to fight a little bit more to get to do that.”
After the game, Angel Parker announced she is using her fifth year of NCAA eligibility and will return to Niagara in the 2023-24 season.
Harvey-Carr scored a game-high 27 points for Manhattan (16-16), which will face No. 1 Iona in the MAAC championship at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
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