GAME NOTES: The first round of the 2013 National Invitation Tournament tips off on Tuesday night, as the second-seeded Maryland Terrapins host the seventh-seeded Niagara Purple Eagles at the Comcast Center.
The winner will advance to the second round to play either Denver or Ohio University.
Niagara (19-13), which won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular- season title outright with a 13-5 league record, earned an automatic bid to the NIT even though it faltered in the semifinals of the MAAC Tournament to Iona, 79-73, thus losing out on a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The Purple Eagles have appeared in 14 NITs in their history, going 9-13.
Maryland made a strong run in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, defeating Wake Forest in the first round (75-62) and upsetting Duke in the quarterfinals (83-74) to put itself back in the NCAA Tournament conversation, but it saw its bubble burst in the semifinal round with a 79-76 loss to North Carolina which dropped the squad to 22-12 overall.
The only previous meeting between these two teams took place in the 1972 NIT Championship Game, with Maryland winning easily, 100-69.
The Terps are 11-6 all-time in this event.
The Purple Eagles' latest defeat to Iona was marred by a poor shooting effort from 3-point range, as they went only 7-of-33 from beyond the arc. Despite the setback, five players reached double figures, led by 21 points from Antoine Mason. Ameen Tanksley chipped in 14 points, while Juan'ya Green, Marvin Jordan and T.J. Cline each added 11 points in the balanced effort. Niagara is no stranger to high point totals, as it pours in just under 74 ppg, but unfortunately it has proven to be vulnerable at the defensive end of the court, allowing an average of 71.7 ppg. Mason (18.5 ppg) and Green (16.8 ppg) were two of the MAAC's most prolific scorers, with Green also getting his teammates involved with 5.0 apg. Ameen Tanksley brings 11.1 ppg and a team- high 5.9 rpg to the table.
Despite finding itself down by 13 points midway through the second half in the ACC semis against North Carolina, Maryland fought hard down the stretch and cut its deficit just one with 3:12 to play, but it could never get over the hump as it was saddled with the three-point loss. Leading the effort was Alex Len, who shot 5-of-7 from the field and 10-of-12 from the foul line for 20 points. Nick Faust was impressive from 3-point range (5-of-9) on his way to 17 points, while Dez Wells finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists in the losing effort. The Terps have a strong offense as well, shooting 46.3 percent from the floor for 71.2 ppg, but unlike Niagara it boasts a solid defense as well (64.2 ppg). Wells, a 6-foot-5 swingman, has been extremely efficient en route to 13.1 ppg, draining his field goals at nearly a 53 percent clip. Len is one of the top true centers in the nation with 12.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg and 1.9 bpg, while six others average at least 5.5 ppg.
With ample playmakers on both sides, this is sure to be an interesting matchup, but Maryland is battle-tested in the ACC and has been consistent at the defensive end. Expect the Terps to move on by posting a solid home win.
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