The shot clock was winding down near zero so Fairfield’s Steve Johnston had no choice but to shoot from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference logo, a good 30 feet away from home.
At the time, Niagara trailed by five and seemed to be closing in on Fairfield with just under four minutes left in the game but as the buzzer sounded, Johnston’s jumper swished through the net. The Gallagher Center let out a collective moan as the inevitable was only minutes away: The Purple Eagles were headed to yet another in an avalanche of losses this season.
Niagara’s desolate season suffered another blow on Thursday when a so-so shooting Fairfield team turned into three-point specialists to pin the Purple Eagles with a 72-66 loss in front of 1,170 at the Gallagher Center.
Niagara (6-22, 3-14 MAAC) extended its losing streak to seven games and hasn’t won since beating Marist, 80-74, on Jan. 24. This is the second time in four seasons the Purple Eagles have lost 20 or more games. Niagara went 9-23 overall and 5-13 in league play during the 2010-11 season under Joe Mihalich.
With four games remaining, including at least one in the MAAC Tournament next month, Niagara is in danger of losing 25 games for the first time since 1994-95 when they finished 5-25 overall and 2-12 in the MAAC under Jack Armstrong.
Niagara defeated Fairfield, 67-63, on Jan. 16 for its lone road victory of the season. Can Niagara reverse course and salvage something – anything – to this season?
It doesn’t appear likely.
Next up is Quinnipiac, which beat Canisius on Thursday, then road games at Monmouth and Saint Peter’s before the MAAC Tournament.
On Thursday, Fairfield (6-22, 3-14) shot a blistering 11 of 19 from three-point range (57.9 percent) but came in a pedestrian 32.1 percent from long distance.
“We needed to be a little tighter defensively on a couple of those raise ups and we weren’t,” Niagara coach Chris Casey said. “We didn’t guard those elbow ball screens the way we wanted to guard them, either. They shot the ball well, and we had a couple of missed assignments defensively and they took advantage of it.”
Maurice Barrow connected on 5 of 6 from three-point range and finished with 19 points, while Marcus Gilbert was 2 of 4 for 15 points. Johnston was 4 of 8 for 14 points, including the momentum-changer with 3:50 left.
“That’s a big three, but we have to keep playing,” said Niagara’s Antoine Mason who had a game-high 22 points. “We just can’t quit when that happens. We just have to keep our head up and keep trying to get the W.”
Ramone Snowden answered Johnston’s trey with a three to bring NU within five, 61-56, with 3:02 left, but Gilbert added another on the ensuing possession. The Purple Eagles got no closer than six points the rest of the way. Niagara didn’t do itself any favors from the free-throw line where they went 11 of 25.
“You can’t blame it all on free throws; guys are on the line and they’re not trying to miss them,” Casey said.
Wesley Myers scored a career high 17 points for Niagara while Marcus Ware added 11 and Snowden 10. Ware also had nine boards while Snowden finished with eight.