Sure, numbers can lie. But 21 games into a season generally provides a good read on things and Niagara entered Wednesday night's showdown against Canisius dead last in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in both field goal percentage (40.8) and three-point proficiency (31.8).
So what did everybody leave the Gallagher Center talking about? How Niagara couldn't miss for the first nine minutes.
The Purple Eagles canned their first 10 shots -- including an epic barrage of seven three-pointers -- and Canisius never caught up as Niagara posted a 79-72 victory, its seventh straight over the Golden Griffins.
Niagara (9-13, 6-8) has won three of its past four games and pulled back into a tie with Siena and Fairfield for fifth in the MAAC. The Purple Eagles still have a chance to catch St. Peter's (8-6 MAAC) for fourth place and a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
Meanwhile, the damage tab is only growing for woeful Canisius (5-17, 4-10). The Griffs remained tied for last in the MAAC with Rider and continue to push coach Mike MacDonald closer to the unemployment line with one of the most disappointing seasons in school history.
The season's fourth sellout crowd of 2,400 was buzzing as Niagara broke loose from a 5-5 tie with a 17-0 explosion that took just three minutes, 17 seconds.
The Purple Eagles humiliated the Canisius zone with five three-pointers
in that stretch -- the last three by guard Lorenzo Miles. When Miles drilled the third one from the left corner to make it 22-5 with 14:24 left, MacDonald finally stopped the run with a timeout.
"To make those shots, you have to do the other things well: pass the ball, make the extra pass," NU coach Joe Mihalich said. "One more pass will get you a better shot. I thought we were pretty unselfish. We were shot-ready, we were confident. It wasn't just one guy doing it. . . . I wouldn't mind starting every game that way."
MacDonald admitted he probably waited too long to put a halt to things, hoping a television timeout at the 16-minute mark would do what his defense couldn't. But there were no stoppages as Niagara hit three more shots and collected eight more points before MacDonald had no choice but to stop the carnage.
"It knocked us back on our heels," MacDonald said of the run. "I thought it rattled us."
Niagara kept connecting as Clif Brown drilled another trey and added a layup to make it 27-12 with 12:04 left in the half. The first NU miss was Brown's jumper with 10:42 to go. Brown had 10 of his team-high 22 points in that span while Miles had nine of his 17.
"I was just happy guys came out and knocked down shots," Brown said. "There was so much pressure on the perimeter, I loved that the middle was wide open. It was great . . . a lot of fun.
"Our defensive intensity wasn't there and we were giving them wide-open shots," Griffs guard Kevin Downey said. "It's their home gym, they know the rims and it's a good-shooting gym. We've got to do something, put [up] a little resistance against them."
While the run proved decisive, it wasn't a total knockout as Canisius mixed some better zones, traps and man-to-man looks to cause Niagara some trouble. The Griffs clawed back within 44-33 by halftime and used a 12-2 run early in the second half to get as close as 50-45.
But the Eagles worked the shot clock down the stretch and hit 17 of 19 second-half free throws to keep Canisius at bay. Niagara point guard Stanley Hodge scored all of his career-high 13 points in the final nine minutes, including an 8-for-8 showing at the free-throw line.
Niagara finished the game at a season-best 52 percent from the field (26 of 50) even though it finished only 9 of 20 from three-point range after making the first seven.
Downey led Canisius with 28 points on 12-of-16 shooting while Corey Herring added 17 points. The Griffs actually shot better than Niagara (52.7 percent) but were outscored 18-7 at the line and outrebounded, 32-19. Canisius has not beaten the Purple Eagles since an 89-69 rout in Gallagher on Nov. 30, 2002.
"Other than this year, they've had a lot of people's numbers, not just ours," MacDonald said. "It's the flow of the series, what happens sometimes."
The teams stay home to host Manhattan, the MAAC co-leader, and Marist in games Saturday and Monday. Canisius gets Manhattan first Saturday at 2 in the Koessler Center while Niagara plays Marist in Gallagher at 3. They flip opponents Monday night.