November 10, 2009

The Nation’s Third Oldest College Newspaper

Volume 80, Issue 6

NU basketball returns

ESPN comes to Niagara Nov. 17 for the Purples Eagles home opener

ESPN comes to Niagara Nov. 17 for the Purples Eagles home opener

Home opener at the Gallagher Center. Live ESPN coverage. It doesn't get much better than that.

"It's the best. I mean especially in Gallagher, the crowd gets into it and the gym gets pretty loud," said NU senior Steve Papia.

Papia knows the passion that Purple Eagle fans bring to each season. He expects students to be pretty riled up for the Nov. 17, 8 a.m. home opener, which is part of ESPN's "24 Hours of Basketball" marathon. Just as surely as he is counting on fan enthusiasm, Papia expects the team to respond with a win.

"It's not exactly a prime time game, but it's the first game that people will actually watch," he said. "I think the team will play their hearts out and destroy them, there's so much emotion involved."

The early-morning, Tuesday tip-off against Drexel, comically deemed the "pajama jam" by some of the players, cannot come soon enough for the Purple Eagle faithful. The heart of the campus at Niagara beats with each made jump shot and emphatic slam dunk executed by its beloved basketball team.

"Students really get caught in the frenzy," said Bill Newton, assistant director of Campus Activities. "They win with the team, especially at home, and they feel the losses just as much."

For 10 years now, Coach Joe Mihalich has repeatedly come through for a fan base that leans hard on him and his team for entertainment, and a reason for school spirit.

"He (Mihalich) is a true ambassador for Niagara," said Newton. "He personifies what NU is: hard-working, dedicated and spirited."

Mihalich's guidance and decision-making have resulted in two NCAA tournament berths for Niagara since 2003.

Hoping for more of the same in the 2009-10 season, students such as senior Peter Tarantino are optimistic that the big game setting and national exposure early on could create some momentum for this year's team.

"We still got (Anthony) Nelson, (Tyrone) Lewis and all the new recruits. They could really get off to a good start with the ESPN coverage," he said.

In just over one month, popcorn and cotton candy fumes will soothe purple-drenched Niagarans as they climb the familiar steps to the upper level of the Gallagher Center. Upon entering the gym, they'll be warmed at the sight of coach Mihalich once again roaming the sidelines, and they'll know by the layup lines and the childish excitement in their stomachs that basketball is finally here.

"Even if I'm not in the N-Zone, when I get to the game with my buddies, I'm getting pumped," Tarantino said boldly.

Few things are as magical as a conference championship run or an invitation to the "big dance" in March, and the hunt for both starts now. For the Purple Eagles and their fans, another promising season is on the horizon - one that will be filled with dramatic finishes, heated rivalries and memories for the ages.

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