Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The Niagara Purple Eagles have played better in previous wins, but they may have gotten better in Saturday’s less-than-stellar 64-60 triumph over visiting Manhattan.
Flustered by the Jaspers’ full-court press and trailing for much of the second half, the Purple Eagles went on an 8-2 run over the final 3:44 to pull out their seventh straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference victory and move a half game ahead of idle Iona in the league standings.
“I said to our team after the game that if you are going to have a great year, if you’re going to have a special year, these are the games you have to win,” coach Joe Mihalich said. “We snatched victory from the jaws of defeat tonight, because that had loss written all over it and these guys wouldn’t let it happen.”
Niagara (11-8, 7-1) won despite shooting 34 percent from the field, making just 2 of 12 from 3-point range and turning the ball over 16 times. Yet, Mihalich was as proud of his team’s performance as he was after Friday night’s blowout win over Siena in which they shot a season-high 54 percent.
“It’s one of those games I have to look at the tape to see how we won,” Mihalich said. “Friday night, everything was going our way, we played great, we were making shots. To find a way to win today, I’m more proud of this one.”
Antoine Mason scored 13 of his game-high 15 points at the free throw line to lead Niagara, which scored 38 points on 49 free throw attempts, while the Jaspers’ went 13 for 20 from the foul line.
“We had to fight,” Mason said. “We weren’t making shots, we had to score somewhere. Just staying aggressive, picking each other up.”
“I was disappointed with the free throw differential,” Manhattan coach Steve Masiello said. “I just find that hard in college basketball. I don’t see how that can happen. That doesn’t take any credit away from Niagara. They came out and earned the win.”
Ameen Tanksley scored 13 points for Niagara and freshmen Tahjere McCall and T.J. Cline combined for 23 points.
Juan’ya Green (eight points) was having one of his worst games as a Purple Eagle, whooting 1 for 6 with seven turnovers, for the first 36 minutes, but his pull-up jumper in the lane tied the game at 58 with 2:24 left and he helped seal the win with a defensive rebound and three late free throws.
“I wasn’t having a great day. I was frustrated and I wasn’t focused in hte first half,” Green said. “But my teammates and my coach kept pushing me to make the right plays and they said the last four minutes were going to be my time.”
“I feel like we needed this type of game,” Mason said. “We needed a close game. Our freshmen needed it. Everyone needed it.”
The Niagara women’s basketball hosts the seven-time defending champion Marist Red Foxes today in a rematch of last year’s MAAC tournament semifinal.
The Purple Eagles (8-8, 3-2) will try and roll the momentum from Friday’s come from behind win into Sunday as they look to turn the corner against the Red Foxes (10-6, 5-0). With a win, Niagara would move within a game of Marist for the conference lead.
Last season Niagara took Marist into overtime twice. The two teams squared off in the third-to-last game of the season, in the Gallagher Center, and after the game was tied 64-64 at the final horn, the two teams went into a pair of overtimes before Marist came out on top 79-77. In the conference semi-finals, four games later, the two teams found themselves tied 55-55 before Marist again won the game 68-54.