In a season full of how-did-that-happen losses, Niagara outdid itself Monday night.
The Purple Eagles overcame a 17-point deficit in the final 17 minutes of regulation to force Manhattan into overtime, scored the first seven points in OT to seize control and then completely fell apart.
The Jaspers outscored Niagara, 8-2, in the final 62 seconds of the extra session and somehow snuck out of the Gallagher Center with an 82-81 victory.
Senior guard Jason Wingate canned two free throws with 18.6 seconds left to give the Jaspers the win after Manhattan's Mike Konovelchick and Arturo Dubois combined to intercept an inbounds pass by Niagara's Stanley Hodge with 23.3 seconds to go.
"What would have been just an unbelieveable win turns into one of the most devastating losses I can think of," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. "To do the things we did down the stretch . . . it's just as disappointed as I've ever been."
The loss in its home finale just about eliminates Niagara (10-14, 7-9 Metro Atlantic) from its shot at fourth place and a first-round bye in the upcoming MAAC Tournament. It was the Purple Eagles' fifth home defeat of the year by three or fewer points, the third in overtime. Manhattan (16-8, 12-4) is in second place, a half-game behind Iona.
Both teams are short-handed due to injuries and attrition (Manhattan has only eight in uniform, Niagara seven), so six players played 43 of the 45 minutes. Three Jaspers and Niagara's Clif Brown played all 45, with Brown netting a career-high 28 points and 12 rebounds.
"Our kids were absolutely, unbelieveably resilient," Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez said. "We wouldn't quit. We wouldn't go away."
The crowd of 1,832 was roaring the entire second half once Niagara started crawling out of a 46-29 hole. The Purple Eagles outscored the Jaspers, 12-4, in the final 3 1/2 minutes, finally getting even on Brown's jumper with 25.3 seconds left that made the score 71-71.
"We were more aggressive on offense. I thought we wanted it more," Brown said. "I thought we had the game won. There was no question in my mind. There was no way we were going to lose."
Lorenzo Miles drilled a three-pointer 35 seconds into OT to put NU up by three and Brown nailed another 45 seconds later to make it 77-71. A James Mathis free throw with 3:14 left put NU up by seven but Mathis, the Purple Eagles' senior forward, fouled out with 2:50 left and that hurt Niagara down the stretch.
Leading, 79-74, with 1:11 left, Niagara's Barry Durosier (career-high 16 points) made the game's fatal mistake when he walked the baseline before inbounding and was called for traveling. Wingate took advantage with a three-pointer to make it 79-77 with 1:02 to go.
"When you run that baseline when it's a dead ball, you give a team life," Mihalich said.
Durosier hit two free throws with 47 seconds left to put the margin at four but Niagara lost Konovelchick in transition and he drilled a trey with 39.9 seconds to go that made it 81-80.
Just as they did in the final seconds of their Jan. 27 OT loss here to Iona, Niagara couldn't get the ball inbounds. Hodge's pass near the midcourt line was tipped by Konovelchick to Dubois. Wingate got the ball and drove to draw a foul by Hodge.
"It's just simple execution," Mihalich said disgustedly. "Cut hard, screen hard and pass good. It's not something we've never worked on before."
Wingate made both free throws and Konovelchick blocked Miles' final shot just before the buzzer as the Jaspers left the bench to celebrate.