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NIAGARA RESERVES HIT NEW BENCHMARK

The Gallagher Center magic continues.

Niagara kept its unbeaten home streak intact for another night Thursday with a 69-53 victory over Manhattan before a crowd of 849.

The Purple Eagles have won 12 straight home games dating back to last season. Two of the victories came in Marine Midland Arena.

But the streak is secondary to the importance of Thursday's win. With Iona losing at home to Fairfield, 88-74, Thursday, the Purple Eagles (10-7) moved into sole possession of first place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Their 7-1 league mark is the best start in school history, exceeding the 1992-93 squad, which won six of its first seven.

"Every win is so important," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. "We would have hated like heck at the end of the year to look back and said, 'Doggone it, that loss to Manhattan at home cost us first place or second place.' You've got to take care of business at home, and that's what we talk about during the game."

Guard Alvin Young led Niagara with a game-high 24 points. Junior forward Terry Edwards added 11 points and seven rebounds. Point guard Jeremiah Johnson, who was slowed by a stomach virus, was held to nine points, but had a solid floor game.

Forward Ken Kavanagh had 17 points and guard Phil Lane added 13 for Manhattan (3-12, 1-6).

While Niagara's stars shone, the story of the game was its bench. Luke Dobrich scored nine points and Nate Bernosky contributed eight points, four rebounds and three assists.

And then there was the surprising performance of Pete Strobl. The 6-foot-8 junior forward scored just three points, but grabbed a game- and career-high seven rebounds. He also was sensational on defense, creating turnovers and getting to loose balls while playing the final 11 minutes in place of starter Mike Piwerka, who was hobbled by a sore ankle.

"I was just happy to be able to contribute," Strobl said. "The guys on the bench all understand that a lot of times we're going to get the opportunity to step in and do something, so once we get into the game we try to bring energy and effort."

"I'm just so happy for Pete, Luke and Nate," Mihalich added. "We don't win the game without them. I wish every guy could play 40 minutes, but for a guy like Pete Strobl to be ready after not playing much and to not get down after not playing much shows he's got a lot of character. It also shows how stupid the coach is for not playing him much."

The game was a far cry from Niagara's high-scoring shootout with Marist on Monday as the slower tempo was very much to Manhattan's liking.

Although Niagara led at halftime, 34-26, the margin would have been much wider if not for four turnovers on its last five possessions. The Jaspers (3-12, 1-6) began to grab the momentum in the second half, slicing a 40-28 Niagara lead to 46-41 with 11:07 left in the game.

However, Strobl's rebounding and hustle along with 10 clutch points by Bernosky and Dobrich ignited a 23-9 run over the next 10 minutes. The Purple Eagles' pressure defense also created six of the Stags' 20 turnovers in that span to help put the game away.

"Thank goodness for Pete, Luke and Nate because I thought it was their game more than anybody else's," Young said.

Niagara hosts Rider Saturday and Loyola, Md., on Monday at Gallagher. The Loyola game had been scheduled for last Saturday, but was postponed due to weather.

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