Niagara opens home slate vs. Stags

Niagara University men's basketball will play its first game in the comfy confines of the Gallagher Center this evening (4 p.m., ESPN) in the first of back-to-back home games against Fairfield.

The Purple Eagles (0-3, 0-2 Metro Atlantic) dropped their first two conference games last weekend at Saint Peter's (4-2, 2-0), which finished second in the conference last season. The Peacocks led the MAAC in rebounding margin and finished second in turnovers forced in 2019-20, strengths that carried over into their series with NU.

Niagara committed 29 turnovers (14.5 per game) against the Peacocks and was out-rebounded by 13 (6.5 per game). The struggles on the boards were nothing new for the Purple Eagles, who were worst rebounding team in the country last season. They made up for that by taking care of the ball, though, finishing 11th-best in the nation in turnovers per game.

"I thought we got better," NU coach Greg Paulus said during a Monday phone call. "We really made some progress as a team if you look at the Friday (game) to the Saturday game.

"I thought having that opportunity to play two games in two days helped us get ourselves back because we had only played one game."

Niagara also shot well last season, hitting 42.9% from the floor, 37.2% from deep and 75.2% from the free-throw line. Against the Peacocks, those numbers plummeted to 33.0%, 35.3% and 55.3%.

"We have some guys that we believe can make shots," Paulus said. "And sometimes it takes a little bit of rhythm, and with us only having the opportunity to play now three games, we're hoping with more practices, more games, we can continue to learn each other."

One bright spot for Niagara has been the play of redshirt senior Kobi Nwandu, a 6-foot-6 transfer who followed former coach Patrick Beilein from Division II Le Moyne. He averaged 16.6 points per game his final year with the Dolphins.

Nwandu has started all three games for the Purple Eagles and is second on the team in points per game (9.0). He leads NU in assists and is second in minutes played and third in rebounding.

"Kobi's a guy that gives us great versatility on both ends of the court," Paulus said. "He's able to guard smaller guys, wings, bigger guys, able to rebound and mix it up in there. His experience certainly helps us on that end of the floor. He's able to create a little bit for himself, can play multiple positions."

Niagara may be adding a little more versatility in 6-8 Longwood transfer Jordan Cintron, who should be eligible to play today after the NCAA granted blanket waivers for all Division I transfers on Wednesday.

The Purple Eagles will also hope to return sharpshooting wing Raheem Solomon and get a few more minutes out of big freshman Touba Traore. Both are nursing lower-body injuries, per Paulus. Solomon was unable to play in either game against Saint Peter's while Traore played just 10 total minutes over the weekend.

The Stags (1-5, 1-1) enter coming off their first win of the season in the second game of their opening MAAC series against Iona. 

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