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Niagara defenseless down stretch Siena piles up points in victory

After spending three weeks crawling out of a 1-6 hole to get to .500, Niagara took a step back with a brutal final 17 minutes Friday night.

Holding a seven-point lead, NU completely fell apart defensively as Siena engineered an 18-point turnaround to strut out of the Gallagher Center with a 92-81 win.

Siena scored 49 of its 51 second-half points in that stretch to wipe out a 50-43 Niagara advantage. Freshman forward Edwin Ubiles had 18 of his career-high 23 in the period and collected 12 in an 18-4 run that put the Saints in control.

"We've had an incredible hole and won six out of seven, learned how to get good," said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. "We have to take the next step now and learn how to be good night-in and night-out. For some reason, we just didn't have that next step of fire in our belly that you need."

A crowd of 1,493 saw Siena (8-5) improve to 4-0 in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play for the first time since 1999. Niagara (7-8, 2-2) posted its worst defensive effort of the season and gave up its most points in regulation to a MAAC team in Gallagher since a 95-93 win over Fairfield on Feb. 13, 1999.

Guard Charron Fisher led Niagara with a career-high 28 points and is averaging 21.6 since returning from his eight-game suspension. Forward J.R. Duffey had 17 points, guard Lorenzo Miles had 15 and forward Clif Brown had a 12-point, 14-rebound night despite shooting just 4 for 16.

Siena shot 53 percent for the game, including 8 of 16 from three-point range. The Saints were 16 of 27 from the field in the second half, scoring on nine straight possessions at one point. Most of the damage was done in the lane by the 6-foot-7 Ubiles and 6-6 senior Michael Haddix (21 points, eight rebounds).

"I don't even know what happened on the defensive end," Fisher said. "We just didn't come together and decide that we wanted to stop anybody."

Second-year Siena coach Fran McCaffery was ejected after drawing two technical fouls with six minutes left in the first half and the Saints up, 27-23. Assistant Mitch Buonaguro, the head man at Fairfield when the Stags went to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in 1986 and 1987, took over.

"We got on a roll and everybody responded," Buonaguro said. "[Ubiles] was great. That was an unbelievable performance by a freshman."

Niagara used a 15-2 run spanning both halves to take its biggest lead on Miles' layup with 17:15 left. But Siena turned up its full-court pressure to switch the momentum.

McCaffery missed his team's explosion because he went ballistic when freshman Cory Magee was called for a foul going for an offensive rebound. McCaffery bolted several feet on to the court to protest and almost immediately earned his early departure.

Siena has beaten Niagara four times in a row. The Saints dumped the Fisher-less Purple Eagles, 81-69, last month in Albany.

"They're as good as anybody in this league," Mihalich said "I don't know what their weakness is. We sure haven't found it."

***

Freshman guard Tyrone Lewis, Niagara's third-leading scorer, dressed and took warm-ups but did not play. He has been out seven games since suffering a knee injury Dec. 16 versus Duquesne. It's unlikely he'll be ready to play here Tuesday against Fairfield.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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