Niagara women’s basketball’s NCAA Tournament hopes end with loss to Manhattan in MAAC Tournament

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – The disappointment was evident for Niagara women’s basketball team after an 81-68 loss to No. 6 Manhattan on Friday at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.

The Purple Eagles earned the No. 2 seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament, a goal they set for themselves. They led the nation in steals and turnovers. They asserted themselves as a force in the MAAC.

Niagara (18-12) wanted to earn the first NCAA Tournament berth in program history. That won’t happen. Instead, Manhattan will face Iona on Saturday for the conference’s automatic bid.

“This season, we hope, is not over, but we will learn a lot from today,” Niagara coach Jada Pierce said. “Growth moments are happening every single day.

“There’s a lot that we have left. These young women are disappointed, as you can see, because they know they felt the were getting an opportunity to get to tomorrow, and that was what we have set out, as a goal. March 11, we wanted to be playing in that game, on March 11.”

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Even though its MAAC Tournament run ended with the loss to the Jaspers (16-16), the Purple Eagles don’t want to stop playing. Pierce and sisters Aaliyah and Angel Parker sat on the podium in the postgame press conference and spoke as if they still had more games to play.

“It’s going to be taking what we did wrong in this game, what we could have done better and applying that into our next few practices, if we have a postseason, and into the summer,” said Angel Parker, who scored 18 points against the Jaspers. “Just so we can get better. It’s always a learning lesson, and I think we learned a lot.”

Niagara athletic director Simon Gray said the Purple Eagles are in contention for a Women’s NIT bid, if Iona wins Saturday; the No. 2 seed in the MAAC, Gray said, earns a WNIT bid. If Manhattan beats Iona on Saturday, then the Purple Eagles would hope for an at-large bid to the WNIT or for an invite to the Women’s Basketball Invitational, an eight-team tournament held later this month in Lexington, Ky.

The WNIT’s 64-team field will be announced late Sunday evening after the NCAA Tournament is released. The full bracket will be announced Monday and the first round begins Wednesday.

“The program has taken a step forward,” Pierce said. “We pray the postseason is in play. If it is, it’s a situation for us to continue to grow together, show where this program has gone, to new heights.”

How Manhattan bested the Hurricane Havoc defense: Niagara’s hopes for a MAAC championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament ended with the same poison that they wielded for much of the season, as they forced opponents into making mistakes and giving up possession of the ball.

Mistakes and turnovers doomed the Purple Eagles against Manhattan.

One of the nation’s top teams when it comes to creating pressure on opponents, the Purple Eagles entered the game leading the nation with 830 turnovers and 449 steals. Against the Jaspers, the Purple Eagles had 16 turnovers, including 11 in the second half, and went without a field goal for nearly five minutes in the third quarter.

“We didn’t stick to our principles,” said Aaliyah Parker, who led the Purple Eagles with 23 points and seven rebounds. “We weren’t disciplined. If we were that, we would have done a lot better.”

For Manhattan, it was about working together as a unit rather than be overwhelmed by Niagara’s defense, which Canisius guard Dani Haskell explained earlier in the season employs at least two defenders on the ball and on the opposing ballhandler at all times.  

“We played Niagara twice, so we knew that this was their style of play,” Jaspers guard Anne Bair said. “And they’re one of the top teams in the country in steals and turnovers, so it was really important that we just stuck together and helped each other out, and met the passes, and sealed to get open, and just did all the little things to put us in the best place for this game.

Brazilian burn: Manhattan guard Brazil Harvey-Carr scored a season-high 27 points, and was 5 for 8 on 3-pointers, with all five 3-pointers coming in the first half. Harvey Carr, who has played in 25 of Manhattan’s 32 games this season, is shooting 31.5% on 3-point attempts (39 for 124).

Harvey-Carr’s day was an outlier for the Jaspers, who are last in the MAAC in 3-point field goals (121 for 474) and last in 3-point field-goal percentage (25.5%).

“We’re going to have to ice her shoulder tonight, right?” Manhattan coach Heather Vulin said. “Absolutely on fire from three. One of the things we love about Brazil is that she fills the stat sheet. She’s just not a shooter. When we recruited her, we wanted her to be someone that was going to be a dominant player in this league, and she definitely showed that.”

Angel Parker plans to return: Angel Parker, a fourth-year senior for the Purple Eagles, said she plans to use her fifth year of eligibility to return to Niagara for one more season. Parker, a Cardinal O’Hara graduate, averaged 15.7 points in 28 games this season, and had 91 assists and 87 steals.

“I’m going to play on an amazing team, and it’s just something that I think is good for me,” Parker said. “And I want to play with my sister, again.”

Next: Niagara is pinning its hopes on a bid to a postseason tournament, whether it’s the Women’s NIT or the Women’s Basketball Invitational. Manhattan will face Iona, a 67-66 winner against Siena, at 3:30 p.m. Saturday for the MAAC women’s championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

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