Spitting distance from the Canadian border, just north of Buffalo, lies the quiet town of Lewiston, New York. In Lewiston, sits a tiny, Catholic university with fewer than 5,000 students. Niagara University was founded in 1856 by the Congregation of the Mission as a seminary. Over time, Niagara has evolved and the Purple Eagles take the court as a Division I basketball team.
For such a small university, the Purple Eagles have had some decent success, winning MAAC conference tournaments in 2005 and 2007, and winning the MAAC regular season championship in 1999 and 2005. The Eagles have made the NCAA tournament 3 years, with their best results coming in 1970 when they made the Sweet Sixteen. The Purple Eagles have also made 13 NIT appearances.
The Eagles play in their on-campus gym, the Gallagher Center; an intimate experience which will surprise the first time traveler, and leave you satisfied.
Named after legendary Niagara coach John J. “Taps” Gallagher, the Gallagher Center is a key point at the Niagara campus and a destination for students not only during athletic events, but anytime.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Upon first glance, the Gallagher Center appears to have one of the worst sets of food options anywhere. Popcorn and cotton candy are immediately within eye-view, and not much else seems available. However, simply asking one of the ushers, or completing a little exploring, the traveler finds out how wrong they are. Make sure you take the stairs down, basically beneath the basketball court, and you will find a large student lounge with numerous food options. This is a great place to meet with friends and to grab a bite, or to spend some of your halftime minutes. Being on campus, alcohol is not served.
This is a very difficult area to assess the Gallagher Center. If you step back and look, the Gallagher Center is really nothing that special. The seating bowl is quite small, and mostly bench seating, with some chairback seating. There is not much of an entrance way, and very little in the way of concourses. However, Niagara has done a great deal to make their home just that ... a home.
Being a small gymnasium, all of the seats provide a great view of the court. In somewhat of a humorous occurrence, my seat was actually covered by the TV camera bay. It was not a big deal because there were a few empty seats in my section. The seating bowl is decorated with banners honoring Purple Eagles of the past, and there are a few significant names here. Of course there is a banner honoring Taps Gallagher, but there are also banners honoring basketball greats Calvin Murphy and legendary coach and analyst, Hubie Brown, who was a player at Niagara in the fifties.
There are also banners commemorating the numerous NCAA and NIT tournament appearances. Opposite the entrance to the court is the N-Zone, which is the Niagara student section.
In what would be considered the lobby, outside of the main playing court, Niagara has numerous trophy cases with memorabilia from various eras. What must catch the eye is the stuffed bird that must have been artificially colored purple and acts as a mascot of sorts. Overall, the atmosphere you are going to get is that of a small school, in a small town; a real feeling of community sport.
The campus at Niagara is fairly self-contained. Unlike many college towns, you are not going to find much of anything within walking distance. You can go into the town of Lewiston looking for a place to eat, but you may be disappointed during the basketball season, as many businesses are closed during the winter months. It seems to be a different story during the summer months, and the boat launches are busy. You are going to have to head into Buffalo if you are looking for a place, and there are numerous options there. You could also head to Grand Island, where the Riverstone Grill is a great spot.
Full disclosure; this review is from a game during the back end of the Christmas break, and the campus was pretty much closed and there were almost no students around. That being said, Niagara has a healthy support base, even with few students. The fans at the game are pretty energetic, and into the game. It's even better when the students are around and the N-Zone is rocking. If you have the opportunity to catch a game against rival Canisius, then you will really have a treat! There's nothing like a basketball game in a packed gym that is intimate and small.
The Niagara campus is conveniently located between the Robert Moses Parkway and I-190. Getting to the University is no problem at all. Construction at the time limited the number of parking options, but in the worst case scenario, patrons could park at nearby Dwyer Arena and walk to the Gallagher Center.
Parking is free. Once inside, traveling through the center was a challenge as space was at a premium. Also, washroom facilities are not the greatest.
Tickets for Purple Eagle basketball can be found for the low price ranging from $15-$22. The parking is free and there is definitely a good time to be had. Concessions will not blow you away, but neither will their prices. Overall, Niagara basketball is one heck of a great way to spend an evening. Try and pair it with a Purple Eagles hockey game and you have a fantastic doubleheader!
An extra mark for the lone fan who was in the N-Zone during my Christmas-break visit, waving and making noise during opposition free throws. He was alone in the zone, but he sure was hardcore!
An extra mark for the beautiful, yet small, Niagara University campus.
An extra mark for the junior Eagle cheerleaders who performed and helped put some bodies in the N-Zone, and added a little something extra to the game.
Don't let the final ranking fool you, Niagara Purple Eagles basketball is a great time on a small penny. You never have to worry about getting a bad seat, and there is always an energetic crowd. Even if you don't have Purple Pride, the locals and students do, and that can be infectious!
Follow Dave's sports journeys on Twitter @profan9
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