South Bend, IN – The 22nd-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish will try to move to a perfect 10-0 at home on Friday night, as they play host to the Niagara Purple Eagles.
Niagara has been and up and down this season, and the team has earned a split of its two Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference matchups, losing to Iona (83-72) and defeating Loyola-Maryland (62-61). Since dropping five of their first seven games, the Purple Eagles have turned things around by winning three of four, most recently taking down Vermont at home on Dec. 16, 68-58.
The Fighting Irish have earned their national ranking by winning 11 of their first 12 tilts, and since a 79-70 overtime loss against Saint Joseph's on Nov. 16, they have won nine in a row, including an 85-57 beat down of Kennesaw State on Wednesday night. Notre Dame has been especially impressive at home in recent years, winning 15 straight, 44 of 45, and 109 of 116.
Notre Dame has captured both previous matchups with Niagara, the most recent of which occurred in December of 2005.
Niagara did not have its best game the last time out, shooting just 19-of-50 from the field, which included a dismal 6-of-26 effort from 3-point range, but it played great defense in the 10-point win, holding Vermont to as many field goals as turnovers committed (19). The Purple Eagles also made a statement at the foul line, making 24-of-32 (.750). As per usual, they were paced by their dynamic backcourt duo as Antoine Mason shot 7-of-12 from the field and 9-of-10 from the foul line for 25 points, while Juan'ya Green added 17 points. On the season, Mason is the MAAC's third-leading scorer, netting 19.2 ppg on better than 49 percent shooting from the floor. Green chips in 15.9 ppg and he also dishes out 4.8 apg. Ameen Tanksley rounds out the unit's double-digit scorers with 10.3 ppg, and he also grabs a team-high 5.5 rpg. Niagara averages a respectable 73.5 ppg, but it has lost more games than it has won due to a poor showing at the defensive end of the court (.459 FG percentage, 75.1 ppg).
Notre Dame has excelled at the offensive end of the court this season, it put together its best effort in the 28-point victory over Kennesaw State, making good on a season-high 61.5 percent of its field goal attempts and 86.7 percent of its free throws. Jack Cooley notched 14 points and 13 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season, second-most in Division I. Jerian Grant came off the bench and also scored 14 points, Pat Connaughton and Zach Auguste netted 12 point apiece, and Eric Atkins tallied nine points and a career-high 13 assists. The Irish not only make greater than 50 percent of their field goal attempts for 75.3 ppg, but they also hold opponents to just 37.8 percent accuracy and a meager 59.3 ppg. Cooley has been one of the best big men in the country, as he shoots 62.7 percent from the field for 14.5 ppg while adding 11.0 rpg and 1.7 bpg. Grant adds 12.1 ppg, and Atkins (10.8 ppg) is one of the nation's leaders in assists with 7.5 per contest. Garrick Sherman, Scott Martin, Cameron Biedscheid, and Connaughton all average between 8.3 and 9.8 ppg.