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  • Colton Pankiewicz

The day the student outsmarted the teacher and more behind Canisius' quarterfinal victory

By Colton Pankiewicz, Sports Editor

For three years, Sahar Nusseibeh learned under Manhattan head coach Heather Vulin. On Thursday, she used the foundation that was partially molded by Vulin to defeat her in the quarterfinal round of the MAAC tournament.

It took eight tries to come away with the win, but in the biggest matchup between the two coaches, Nusseibeh did just that, with her team winning 58–55 over the Jaspers. 

“She gave me an opportunity, her right hand when it came to building a program in Manhattan. She’s a mentor for me, a friend for me–and I owe everything to her in terms of my professional growth while I was at Manhattan, the opportunity at Miami and the opportunity at Canisius. I've wanted this one for a minute so it felt good to get it when it really counts,” Nusseibeh said.

This is the second postseason win for Nusseibeh at Canisius with her last win coming in 2022, when her 11 seed beat Monmouth. It was the first ever time an 11 seed won a MAAC Tournament game. The next game that year was ironically against Manhattan, where the Jaspers sent Canisius back to Buffalo with a 61–49 loss, ending their season.

In Thursday's win, Sisi Eleko came out strong, posting 17 points in the first half as her team headed into halftime tied with Manhattan at 23. Canisius took a 53–43 leading the fourth quarter, after six three pointers across that portion of the second half helped widen the score.  Manhattan then went on a 12–3 run, leaving Canisius up a single point with Sisi Eleko at the line. She cashed in both attempts, but a three-point attempt to tie soared wide of the basket, meaning Canisius would be a part of the semi-finals for the first time since 2009.

Sisi Eleko finished the night with 24 points, while Brooklyn Thrash and Athina Lexa each posted 14 points on the night. The trio combined for 52 of Canisius’ 58 points and attributed “protecting the fist” to the victory. Eleko defined the term that they have used all year as staying together and loving each other. “We believe that when you do that off the court it’ll translate on the court and we believe that, we're seeing it,” the All–Maac forward said.

Canisius will  have a quick turnaround, playing less than 24 hours after their victory against Fairfield who, is listed as 25 in the AP Poll’s division one rankings. In two games against each other this year, the Griffs have lost by a combined 41 points. Fairfield has just one loss on their resume and it came in November in a 73–70 loss to Vanderbilt. A win against the Stags would mark Nusseibeh’s first trip to the MAAC championship ever, and the schools first appearance since 2009.

Photo courtesy of Chloe Breen

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