The two heavyweights this year in the MAAC take to the court tonight at the Gallagher Center in western New York as the Iona Gaels take on the Niagara Purple Eagles.
The Gaels handed the Purple Eagles their only MAAC loss earlier this season in New Rochelle, 83-72, so you can bet Niagara is looking to exact a little revenge and bump their one-game lead in the standings.
Iona has dominated this series over the past several years, holding an 8-2 record over Niagara while having the advantage in every offensive category this season heading into tonight’s game.
After a slight hiccup to Rider, Iona has won two straight and eight of their last nine. The Gaels are 4th in the country in scoring thanks to Lamont Jones‘ 22.3 points per game. They also distribute the ball well thanks to Jones and sophomore guard Tavon Sledge, who account for over seven assists per game. The Gaels are 26th in the nation in assists.
Niagara comes in riding a six-game winning streak which has bolstered their MAAC record to 9-1. They’ve had success primarily because of their offense but it’s their lack of turnovers and defensive pressure that has also helped. They’ve 16th nationally with a 16.7 percent turnover rate on offense while forcing opponents into 16 turnovers per game, both best in the conference. Niagara’s 9.4 steals per game is also best for 16th in the country.
If any team has the firepower to hang with Iona, it’s Niagara. They’ll need to slow down a slightly better Gaels offense but it’s never easy for MAAC foes to make the long trip north to the Gallagher Center. Especially when Niagara is as good as they are this year–they’re 8-1 at home. Iona has struggled on the road this season, posting only a 5-4 record–they only had four road losses all last year.
Niagara is the slight favorite in this one and I expect head coach Joe Mihalich to have his Purple Eagles ready to go in this heavyweight MAAC bout.