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Niagara pushes Fairfield to its limit, can't hang on to win first MAAC championship game

Mar. 16—Niagara had a chance for history and 3.1 seconds stood in its way.

After Angel Parker drew a charge, fouling out MAAC Player of the Year Janelle Brown with 3.1 seconds left in regulation, the Purple Eagles had a chance to win the game. They never got a shot off and Fairfield flexed in overtime for a 70-62 win in the MAAC championship game.

The Stags were unbeaten in conference play all season and had beaten Niagara twice by 27.5 points per game, but spent more than 30 minutes playing from behind. Fairfield gradually whittled a 13-point second half lead, until Brown converted a layup for its first lead of the game with 1:51 to play.

Every time the Stags made a run, Niagara always had an answer, including a pair of free throws to tie the game but with Aaliyah Parker fouling out early in the fourth quarter and Angel Parker hampered by a foot injury suffered late, Fairfield had a 12-4 advantage in overtime to deny the Purple Eagles their first NCAA tournament berth in school history.

"I feel like we now know what it takes to get here and I think that's going to be the motivation that we'll need as we go into the offseason," Niagara coach Jada Pierce said. "... For us it's not the huge jump that you have to make, but it's the hardest jumped to make, from going from two to one."

At 30-1, Fairfield faced a halftime deficit four times and only trailed entering the fourth quarter twice all season. The Stags outscored Niagara by a combined 48 points in their two regular-season meetings, but the Purple Eagles' defense kept them out of sorts.

Niagara led 33-22 at halftime, as 16 forced turnovers led to a 15-0 advantage in points off turnovers. Fairfield shot 34.6% in the first half, including 2 of 14 from beyond the 3-point line.

After the Stags cut the lead to four in the second quarter, Niagara rattled off three quick baskets to take a 10-point lead. Chardonnay Hartley made a layup as the Purple Eagles led by as many as 12 in the first half.

"They were locked in from the beginning and wanting to stick with what we were asking them to do," Pierce said. "And that was the result of us being up at halftime. Obviously Fairfield came out, they made their adjustments in the second half and we battled and competed. But I do feel like the mindset was definitely better coming into this game."

Although Niagara (20-13) played stellar defensively — holding Fairfield to 39% shooting and 27 turnovers for the game — and was able to score timely baskets, it didn't convert easy opportunities often enough. The Purple Eagles had 22 offensive rebounds, but only recorded 14 second-chance points due to 23 missed layups.

Fairfield also only allowed eight points off turnovers in the second half and overtime, as Brown scored all of her game-high 15 points in the second half, knocking down two of the team's four 3-pointers.

"We don't really get down on ourselves," Brown said. "We try to talk about the things that we need to fix. ...We don't really have any negative thoughts in our mind. We're so positive and we're just such an uplifting group. That it's in our culture."

Niagara Falls native Amelia Strong led Niagara, which was playing in its first MAAC final since 1997, with 14 points and nine rebounds. Aaliyah Parker had eight points and five steals, while Angel Parker had eight points — on 2 of 18 shooting — and three steals.

Kaety L'Amoreaux had 12 points for Fairfield, while Emin Selimovic and Izabela Nicoletti Leite had 11 points apiece.