A look at Niagara University's basketball teams for 2016-17
By Greg Jubert
The Gallagher Center on the campus of Niagara University has seen its share of great college basketball since its opening in 1949. Since its renovation in 1999 alone, the men's basketball team has made three NIT appearances and two NCAA appearances. The past few seasons, however, the team has seen its share of struggles and disappointment when it comes to play on the court.
Now, four years removed from their last postseason appearance beyond conference play, the Niagara University men's basketball teams looks to reach new heights this season.
"I think the key for this team going forward will be being able to play ahead and not fall behind early on. They were down double-digits against Hartford and, by the time they caught up, their energy wasn't the same compared to our opponent," said Mike Lerch, a senior at Niagara and one of the men's basketball team's managers. "With the guys we have, team chemistry will be important, as well, and I think many of them have good chemistry and it's been fun to watch to so far this season."
One of the top stars on the team is forward Matt Scott, a junior who claimed All-MAAC Third Team honors last season and scored a team-high 21 points in the season opener against Buffalo on Nov. 11. Scott, along with forward Marvin Prochet, has been selected as a captain for this season.
To Lerch, Scott plays a vital role in how the team will progress going forward, both in the immediate future and down the road.
"He's been here for two years now, and while he's had his share of ups and downs, he has always been a bright spot for the team," Lerch said. "The key factor for him will be his three-point shooting. If he can improve on that, it will help to open our offense up, especially against the zone."
As for the women's team, the Purple Eagles finished last year strong with a victory in conference play over bitter rival Canisius. They have also started this year strong, with a solid 65-43 takedown of St. Bonaventure to in the season opener on Nov. 11. They hope to take a step forward this year thanks to some much-needed depth that was added in the offseason.
"Last year there were only seven players on the bench that were eligible, but right now we have 11, so now we can sub in and out players much more fluently than last year," said Erin Cronin, a senior at Niagara and one of the team managers. "Last year was just a challenge, because of our depth to try and sub our players out. And now, it has just been much easier for the team."
Last season, forward Victoria Rampado was expected to play a large role as she was voted preseason First Team All-MAAC, but her season lasted only three games when she suffered a shoulder injury. This season, she looks to make a splash again. Rampado got off to a strong start in the opener, scoring 17 points in just 23 minutes.
"As a captain, she's been very helpful towards our freshman and transfers, while acting as a great leader towards everyone," Cronin said. "On the court, she has been working hard and is coming ready to work everyday, and is really able to push through anything."
While the teams are looking to improve on their performance for their seasons, some of the students on campus are hoping for a better environment around the events.
"It really does start with the students," said Amanda Brannan, a sophomore at Niagara University. "They have to take the initiative and, although we may not always win, it would be nice to see the support for our teams more, and it would make it a more fun atmosphere."
For the 2015-16 season, according to the NCAA's annual release on attendance figures, the Niagara men's basketball team boasted an average attendance of 1,197, good for 10th out of 11 teams in the MAAC. As for the women's team, they boasted an average attendance of 425, finishing as the eighth-highest of the 11 teams. The attendance at the men's season-opener against the Buffalo Bulls of 2,016 was the team's most attended contest since hosting Canisius last January in the annual "Battle of the Bridge" matchup.
"More marketing and advertising maybe would make a difference, but I think a lot of it comes down to the students and having more of a positive energy," Brannan said. "Rather than going home on the weekends or staying in the dorms, I think it comes down to the students and making a push to get some friends and come watch.
"The N-Zone (Niagara's student section) is great when it's at it's loudest and filled, and I really hope this year we can get more games like that going forward."
The Niagara men's basketball team's final two home non-conference events will take place on Nov. 23 against the Drexel Dragons and on Dec. 10 against the Norfolk State Spartans. The women's team starts conference play in the MAAC on Dec. 2 vs. the Monmouth Hawks, followed by an afternoon tilt on Dec. 4 against the Rider Broncs.
Among some of Niagara's most exciting matchups the rest of the season include the men's team battling St. Bonaventure at KeyBank Center Dec. 17 at 1 p.m., and the women's team on Dec. 10 taking on the Syracuse Orange, who made it all the way to the 2016 NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Championship Game before falling to the Huskies of Connecticut.