The spread was just three points, but the emotions could not have been farther apart for Niagara and Canisius Saturday night.
Niagara left the court to a standing ovation, exultant over its biggest victory of the season, a 75-72 decision at the Niagara Falls Convention Center.
Canisius left devastated, not only because of the disappointing defeat, but because of a potentially serious injury to its center, Ed Book.
Book suffered what was believed to be a broken left ankle with just 1:45 left in the game, an injury that casts a dark specter over the rest of the Griffs' season.
A crowd of 2,679 saw Niagara improve to 4-14 overall and 3-5 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Canisius dropped to 4-13 overall and 1-7 in the MAAC.
The supporting cast was the difference for Niagara, which got just 13 points from forward Pat Jones, who was averaging 20.2 points per game.
The Purple Eagles compensated by getting four players into double figures for the first time this year. Junior guard Darrin Bossert scored 16 points, freshman guard Mike Hartman scored a career-high 14 and junior forward Darrin Brown added 11.
Niagara won it by scoring an unlikely 52 points in the second half, erasing a 30-23 halftime deficit. Niagara led the final 6:30 and sealed it by hitting 12 of its last 16 free throws.
Canisius had a chance to send the game into overtime, but Brian Brown's three-point attempt bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
"It's a terrific win for our kids. They made some character plays down the stretch," said Niagara coach Jack Armstrong.
"Each of their players picked up his level of performance," said Canisius coach Marty Marbach.
Marbach said he "couldn't believe it" when Book went down. The 6-foot-11 sophomore fell to the floor after trying to block a shot in the lane. He was writhing in pain on the floor before being taken off on a stretcher.
"I'm demoralized for Ed Book," Marbach said. "Obviously, it's a great loss for our team. But it's crushing for him."
Four Griffs scored in double figures -- Rod Brown (16), Gregg Smith (14), Book (14) and Nixon Dyall (10).
But Niagara shot 64 percent from the field in the second half (18 of 28) to take the game.
Bossert, the brother of ex-Niagara star Gary Bossert, scored 12 points in the last 5:30, and had Niagara's last three from the line. He was averaging 6.1 ppg.
Bossert went to Villa Maria College for two years and was unrecruited by Division I schools. He sat out last year and worked as a landscaper.
Did he ever think he'd be at the line to win a Little Three game? "Not when I was playing in beer leagues last year," Bossert said.
Then there was Hartman, averaging 3.0 ppg. He had 12 straight Niagara points early in the second half to help the Eagles erase the halftime deficit.
"They were doubling down on Pat Jones, and that left me open," said Hartman.
The 6-7 Brown, averaging 7.7 ppg, had his 11 points in the second half.
The game was a war of attrition from the start. Canisius was without starting guard Chuck Giscombe (flu). Niagara was without starting forward Dwayne Daniel (flu) and then lost guard Tony Newsom (knee injury) just before the half.
Niagara took the lead for good on a Karl Haire rebound layup with 6:37 to go. Big plays down the stretch were a Bossert three-point play to make it 57-50 and a tomahawk dunk by Haire to make it 65-58 with 2:58 left.
Canisius pulled within 75-72 on a Brian Brown tip-in with 20 seconds left. After Bossert missed the front end of a one-and-one with 12 seconds left, the Griffs came down for the final missed shot.