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Towns and Niagara work hard to make scoring look this easy

It looked so effortless. The shots that went in for Niagara fell so gracefully through the net, leaving the shooter's hands with ease and poise and confidence.

It was almost as if the Purple Eagles didn't break a sweat, except of course for that torrid pace of play they dictated, the one that broke the Canisius Golden Griffins.

Niagara walked away from the Koessler Athletic Center Saturday night with a 105-89 win over Canisius. It was the first time Niagara has scored 100 points in their rival's gym and the first time they hit the century mark this season.

But it wasn't just a sweet touch or some magical moment of feeling in the flow. For the Purple Eagles, this was the result of work, of countless shots put up in the gym during practice, when no one else is watching.

"We work hard. We put a lot of work in. We work on shooting every day," said Niagara senior Kahlil Dukes, noting that coach Chris Casey "always tells us to come in here and be confident every game." And I think our confidence really showed today and how hard we work in the gym showed today."

What they showed was an offense that stroked the ball from three-point range (57.7 percent) and torched Canisius in transition. Pace of play was a concern of Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon heading into the matchup.

The pace of play which doomed the Griffs was the catalyst for the Purple Eagles.

Dukes and Matt Scott, who lead Niagara in scoring, had their typical night's work on Saturday. Dukes scored 28 while Scott added 23.

The wild card was sophomore James Towns, who had a career-high 31 points. His previous career best was 18, which he scored Jan. 12 against Monmouth.

Towns has come to life in the last few games for Niagara. A guard from Detroit who is averaging 17.8 minutes off the bench, Towns scored in double figures in his last four games, including Saturday's breakout performance.

"He's big-time," Dukes said of Towns. "He was able to beat them off the dribble, find guys when they were open, and he was hitting shots, big shots in key moments when they were going on runs. We weren't getting stops, but they weren't getting stops either because he was scoring every time. He was definitely big-time and we're all proud of him because he works hard in practice."

Towns scored his 31 points by going 9 for 11 from the field, including hitting all four of his three-point attempts. He went 9 for 10 from the free throw line as well.

Here's Towns in a nutshell: During a 51-second span late in the first half, Towns scored seven points to help Niagara break out to a 44-25 halftime lead. He hit two free throws, flew down the court for a transition layup like he was running the 100-meter dash, then nailed a three-pointer.

"We saw a gear he can get to and with that he can shoot the three," Witherspoon said. "When you get him coming at you you better be loaded up. You can't be just back, you have to be set. All things we talked about but we didn't get it done."

Towns did get it done, coming at Canisius in waves to help bolster Dukes and Scott as another offensive threat.

"I just came out confident. I come out confident every game," Towns said. "I was just feeding off my teammates. Matt and Dukes got us going at first and I tried to pitch in my little points here and there."

That's a bit of an understatement so let his coach explain what has made Towns such an effective scorer over the last four games.

"I have absolute confidence in James because he's fearless," Casey said. "He can score different ways. He's competitive. He works hard in practice. So I don't think there's anything different. He's just emerging. He's playing well. In a true team you'll have different guys that emerge at different times. When guys can do that, it makes it better for (Dukes and Scott) because we become an overall threat."

Niagara took over the game midway through the first half. Their eight three-pointers in the opening 20 minutes gave the Purple Eagles a comfortable lead.

But Canisius had some push back. The Golden Griffins clawed back into the game, cutting a 22-point Niagara lead down to 10 with 8:36 left to play.

Jermaine Crumpton had 32 points and led the Griffs with six rebounds, but it wasn't nearly enough to counter Niagara as the Purple Eagles dominated the glass -- 47 to 29.

The only disappointment for Casey was Niagara's 18 turnovers. The major success for Niagara was the win, which improves the Purple Eagles to 7-3 in the conference and 14-9 overall.

It didn't matter the intensity of the rivalry. Didn't matter that Canisius was in first place in the MAAC. And don't suggest this is a signature win for the program this season.

"I don't do signature wins and I'm not just giving you coachspeak," Casey said. "I'll get up tomorrow and I'll start watching film on Saint Peter's. And our guys will do the same. I appreciate what you're saying, but I don't  look at any game different than any other game. We prepare the same, we try to get our guys ready the same, our guys do a good job of paying attention to the things that are important and they go play and play well. That's what we pay attention to."

Canisius meanwhile slipped to 7-2 in the MAAC and 13-9 overall.

"The game was moving too fast for us," Witherspoon said. "They exposed us. There's a reason they're the leading-scoring team in the MAAC. Our defense really improved from last year, but to do it at that kind of speed, our guys aren't ready to do that yet."

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