Manhattan gave Niagara a big challenge Friday night and the Purple Eagles answered the call.
After the Jaspers forged the game's only tie, Niagara went on a 14-3 run that was the key stretch in an important 90-80 win before 1,838 at the Gallagher Center.
Niagara (13-11 overall, 10-5 league) kept pace with Siena to remain tied for second in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Manhattan (12-13, 9-6) fell into a tie for fourth with Marist and Rider.
Niagara once again played without junior point guard Daryl Greene, who continues to be dogged by ankle tendinitis and turf toe. Greene played 33 minutes in Niagara's last game, its midnight loss to Iona on Feb. 10, but is still bothered enough by the injury that the Purple Eagles are going to limit his duty until the MAAC Tournament, March 2-5.
"You want everybody to be as healthy as they can be," said NU coach Joe Mihalich. "For Daryl to buy a little more time is good . . . It's getting better and better. He's 70-75 percent right now."
Demond Stewart led Niagara with 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Freshman James Reaves collected 13 of his 17 points in the second half while guard Michael Schmidt chipped in 16 and junior center Christos DeFoudis came off the bench to equal his career high with 15.
Niagara's offense exploded against the MAAC's best defensive team, just as it did during its 81-78 win over the Jaspers in the Bronx two weeks ago. NU hit 26 of 51 overall, including 10 of 15 from three-point range.
"I don't know what it is," Stewart said. "I guess it's luck. They're a great defensive team. Mike Schmidt played a great game in the first half (hitting all four of his three-pointers) and when he's on fire, there's more flow to the game for us."
The Purple Eagles are 22 for 40 from three-point range against the Japsers this year -- but hitting just 30.4 percent from long range against the rest of civilization.
"I'm more surprised we don't shoot better than we do," Mihalich said. "It's not a surprise to me. I'm more surprised when we miss."
Niagara scored the game's first 10 points before settling for a 42-34 halftime lead. The Purple Eagles had four seven-point leads in the second half before the Jaspers finally caught them as guard Muggsy Green converted a conventional three-point play with 8:12 left to tie the score at 64-64.
"We used a lot getting up that hill," said Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez. "Then they kind of caught their breath and regrouped."
Undaunted, Niagara recaptured the lead 10 seconds later on a three-pointer by Greene's replacement, sophomore Rhossi Carron. After a basket by Manhattan center Durelle Brown (season-high 31 points), Carron and DeFoudis hit back-to-back treys in a 29-second span. The Jaspers were no closer than six points the rest of the way.
"When we play with Mike and Demond on the wings, you get a lot of open shots," Carron said. "A lot of times I end up wide open and I just shot it."
"What Rhossi has done for himself is prove how good a player he is," Mihalich said. "It's all the confidence in him now. We've beaten Marist and Manhattan with Rhossi at the point, two very good teams in this league."
DeFoudis, whose minutes have shrunk dramatically with the emergence of Reaves and the improvement of sophomore Luis Villafane, had his best game since pouring in 15 points in the season opener at UB.
"We joke about him being the hammer or the nail," Mihalich said. "I tell him he's the nail too much. When he's the hammer, he's really a good player. We're going to chip in, buy a hammer for him and put it above his locker."
"We got hurt a lot by their role players, who played great," Gonzalez said. "Their role players had a better night than ours did."
The Purple Eagles play Loyola Sunday at 3:30 in the back half of an HSBC Arena doubleheader. Manhattan plays Canisius at 1.