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Niagara rises up, rips Siena ; Nelson's 30 points leads MAAC upset

Anthony Nelson let out a scream and pumped his fist when he made his fourth straight three-pointer of the second half. And when he launched his fifth, a high-arcing bomb from some 24 feet, Nelson was already backpedaling on defense before the ball began its descent.

"Once it left my hands I felt it was good," Nelson said. "I was feeling good about them."

And, for a change, a game concluded with the Purple Eagles feeling good about themselves as Niagara beat Siena, 69-55, in front of 1,251 at the Gallagher Center on Sunday.

It's been a tough year for Niagara, a brutally tough year. Inexperience has magnified the effect of injuries. The losses have hit them like thunderous avalanches, a six-game losing streak following on the heels of a five-gamer. Some of the defeats were so lopsided you had to wonder whether the Purple Eagles were psychologically shot at 3-13 overall, 0-4 in conference.

Niagara spent an hour and 15 minutes Saturday watching the first half of Friday night's loss to visiting Rider, a game that had gotten away by halftime. Never mind any deficiencies in execution. Look at the lack of tenacity in the effort, the tendency to acquiesce to the wishes of the opposition.

"Somebody said to me before, 'Well, you had a good second half against Rider. I guess what you did was take that second half and try to build on that,' " said coach Joe Mihalich. "I said, 'Absolutely the opposite of what we did.' And it was painful yesterday, but we took that first half and the message was that we're not playing winning basketball. We're not playing hard. We're not competing. We're not tough. We're not working. And as I said to the guys, 'That's got to change. Everybody in this room has to change."

Niagara's frenetic effort and Nelson's 30-point explosion were too much for a Siena team that's searching for answers without injured star guard Clarence Jackson. Nelson scored 26 of his points in the second half and owned the floor in a thrashing of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's three-time defending champion.

"It definitely feels a lot better than losing," Nelson said. "It's a long time coming. It feels good. It's a relief."

Niagara led 23-21 after a rather shoddy opening 20 minutes in which the teams combined for 23 turnovers and neither shot 30 percent from the field. The second half quickly turned into Nelson's stage. His third three made it 37-27 five and a half minutes in. His fourth was good for a 40-30 advantage with 13:47 remaining. Nelson had that look in his eye again on Niagara's next possession and never hesitated in launching No. 5, a swish that extended the edge to 43-32 with 13:11 on the clock.

"In the first half I was looking for the same shot and I just wasn't knocking it down," Nelson said. "I knew they were going under the screens so in order to get them to respect it I had to start knocking them down. And in the second half they started falling for me."

Nelson added a team-high 10 rebounds and eight steals. Junior forward Kashief Edwards contributed 13 points and seven boards as the Purple Eagles outrebounded a bigger Siena team, 43-37. Consider that the Saints (5-10, 2-3) beat up Canisius on the boards by 14 Friday night.

"Their five wanted it more than our five," said Siena senior forward Ryan Rossiter, who had 20 points and eight rebounds -- five under his average.

"Coach really emphasized rebounding before the game started so we made sure we really focused on boxing out and trying to go after the ball," Edwards said.

e-mail: bdicesare@buffalonews.com

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