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Play-in doesn't sit well with Niagara

Play-in doesn't sit well with Niagara

Play-in doesn't sit well with Niagara
Mar.12, 2007

LEWISTON, N.Y. (AP) -- Shocked, dismayed and disrespected. Coach Joe Mihalich and the Niagara Purple Eagles don't understand how the NCAA tournament selection committee relegated them to the play-in game.

"Nothing makes sense to me," Mihalich said Sunday, shortly after learning his team's low seeding. "Let me be diplomatic here: I'm confused."

Niagara will face Florida A&M in the play-in game Tuesday at Dayton, Ohio. The announcement quickly tempered the enthusiasm of a crowd of about 500 fans gathered in Niagara's Gallagher Center, who were prepared to celebrate the Purple Eagles' third tournament berth and second in three years.

Following a brief moment of disbelief that silenced the gym after Niagara's name was shown on a big screen, a chorus of boos filled the room.

"We feel disrespected," junior forward Charron Fisher said. "I'm sure you'll be able to see when we play on Tuesday how disrespected we feel."

The Purple Eagles (22-11) finished second in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference before defeating Siena 83-79 in the championship game last week. The win was Niagara's 11th straight, capping a remarkable turnaround for a team that endured a troubled start to open the season.

Niagara opened 1-6, the consequence of having six players serve suspensions ranging from one to eight games for their roles in assaulting Niagara pitcher Jeffrey St. Denis outside an off-campus bar in August.

The group of suspended players included Fisher, the team's leading scorer, who sat out the first eight games.

NCAA selection chairman Gary Walters said the committee factored in Niagara's early season suspensions when determining its seedings.

"The suspensions were taken into account, but it didn't alter our decision to have them play in the play-in game," Walters said.

The winner of Tuesday's game will advance to face Kansas, the West region's top seed at Chicago on Friday.

Mihalich noted that there are numerous schools in the tournament that finished with a Ratings Percentage Index lower than the Purple Eagles, who finished 136th. Florida A&M had an RPI of 171, behind Jackson State (168), Central Connecticut (147), Weber State (143), and North Texas (137).

"It was shocking," Mihalich said of the seeding. "I think everybody was shocked, and maybe some people were insulted by it. But that's good. That's fine with us."

Mihalich said the seeding will serve to further motivate his players.

"We're ready to go," Mihalich said. "The committee did us a favor. They found a team that responds to adversity and thrives on adversity. And they gave us some more adversity to deal with."

Niagara has faced Florida A&M only once, beating the Rattlers 76-65 in December 1998.

The Rattlers (21-13) are coming off a dramatic 58-56 victory over Delaware State in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship game Saturday. The win was sealed by Brian Greene's buzzer-beating alley-oop.

The Purple Eagles have an up-tempo offense that's averaging 76 points a game. But they struggle on defense, allowing nearly 74 points.

The team features five players averaging double digits in scoring, led by Fisher's 21 per game.

"We know we're winners and we know that no matter how many times people put us down, no matter how many times people say we can't do something, we're going to come out and do it," Fisher said. "We're just ready for another challenge."

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Re: Play-in doesn't sit well with Niagara

All the whining by Niagara's coach could come back and bite him in the ass  wink

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