Niagara University men's basketball turned a weakness into a strength Tuesday afternoon to pick up a third straight win.
After shooting just 62.4% on free throws through their first five games, the Purple Eagles went a perfect 14 of 14 from the charity stripe in a 70-65 non-conference victory at Albany.
Marcus Hammond led the effort from the line, going 7 for 7. He and fellow guard Justin Roberts both hit a pair in the final 10 seconds to hold off the Great Danes (0-3).
Albany opened with an 8-0 run and led 19-10 with 10:21 left in the first half. Niagara (3-3) chipped away before using an 11-2 run to take its first lead, 28-26, on a Raheem Solomon 3-pointer with 3:47 until break.
The Great Danes closed the half on a 9-2 run, aided by a pair of free throws following an NU turnover in the final second. Albany took a 35-30 lead into the locker room.
As it did twice over the weekend in wins over Fairfield, Niagara went on a lengthy run, outscoring Albany 18-5 over the opening seven minutes of the second half to take a 48-40 lead. The Great Danes went scoreless for nearly six minutes.
Albany would pull even at 57 with 6:04 left, and the teams remained tied at 63 with just under three minutes remaining. Hammond gave NU the lead for good on its final made field goal, a 3-pointer with 2:24 to go.
The Purple Eagles won the battle in the paint for the third straight game, thought not quite by as large a margin as against the Stags. Their 32-26 edge gives them a 98-60 advantage in points in the paint during their winning streak. In three straight losses to start the season — at Syracuse and twice at Saint Peter's — NU was outscored 102-64 inside.
Both teams shot similarly from the floor (NU 50%, UA 48%), though Albany was better from deep (45.0%-35.3%). Niagara held just the slightest edges in rebounding (24-23) and turnovers forced (12-11).
The difference came at the stripe, where the Great Danes finished just 8 of 14 and missed the front end of a bonus in the final 10 seconds. The Purple Eagles' perfect day boosted their season average to 67.7%.
Senior forward Kobi Nwandu led Niagara in scoring with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting. He also had a team-high four assists and grabbed five rebounds. Hammond had 14 points despite a rough day from the floor (3-11) and had a team-high seven boards. Roberts added 12 points, going 2 of 3 from deep.
Solomon scored eight points in 13 minutes as he continues to work his way back from a lower-body injury. Freshman big Touba Traore played three minutes in the first half after missing the Fairfield series with a lower-body injury of his own. Freshman Tahjae Hill and sophomore Steve Levnaic, both injured, according to head coach Greg Paulus, did not play.
Albany leading scorer Antonio Rizzuto, who entered averaging 12.5 points per game, was held to just six points on four field goal attempts. Guard CJ Kelly led the Great Danes with 17 points, hitting 3 of 5 3-pointers. Forward Kellon Taylor, who transferred to Albany after playing both football and basketball at Duquesne, had a double-double with 12 points and 11 boards.
Niagara heads to winter break on a high note and will return to Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play Jan. 1-2 for a series at Iona. It will be the Purple Eagles' first meeting with the Gaels under Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino.
Hockey falls to RIT
NU hockey dropped its third straight overall and fifth straight to open the Atlantic Hockey Association season in its Tuesday matinee, 5-4 to visiting RIT.
The Tigers (4-2-1, 2-0-1) bounced back from Carter Randklev's goal in the opening minute to take a 2-1 first-period lead despite the Purple Eagles (1-3-2, 0-3-2) holding a 15-7 edge in shots on goal.
That trend continued in the second, with RIT scoring two more in the first 11:43. But Niagara made things interesting with two goals of its own, one from defenseman Jared Brandt and anther from freshman Christian Gorscak.
Ludwing Stenlund pulled the Purple Eagles within one just under three minutes into the third with a power-play tally, but Niagara would not find the tying goal.
Niagara will return to non-conference play Dec. 29 with a rematch at Clarkson, ranked No. 8 in the most recent poll. The Purple Eagles knocked off the then-No. 7 Golden Knights on Dec. 9 at Dwyer Arena for their only win of the season.