Niagara was having its lunch money stolen and sand kicked in its face, but that easy prey persona changed as soon as Charron Fisher returned to the lineup.
The Purple Eagles started the season 2-6 while the 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior served an eight-game suspension. But they are 5-1 since his return heading into their game tonight against Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference-leading Siena at the Gallagher Center (7 p.m., Radio 1440 AM).
Fisher, who missed the last 10 games of the 2005-06 basketball season with a knee injury, has picked up where he left off, averaging 20.5 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting .484 from the field and .333 from three-point range.
With a 7-7 record overall and a 2-1 mark in the MAAC, Niagara is at .500 for the first time since early last season.
"Charron Fisher coming back has made a big difference," said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. "He's made everybody better."
The player who has benefited most has been senior guard Lorenzo Miles. Over the last six games, Miles is averaging 14.8 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting .490 from the floor and .521 (12 of 23) from long range. The numbers are an increase from his season averages of 11.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, .349 field goal percentage and .319 three-point percentage.
Fisher's presence has also helped soothe the Purple Eagles' perimeter needs. In its victory Wednesday night against St. Peter's, Niagara shot .554 from the field and .545 from behind the arc. In the first three games of the season, all losses, NU connected on only 11 of 77 three-pointers for a paltry percentage of .143. Even then, Mihalich was quietly optimistic about how Fisher's presence would make life easier. He was right.
"When you have Charron Fisher on the floor, obviously he's a key guy to defend if you are the opponent," Mihalich said. "So as you worry about Charron Fisher, it leaves a couple of more purple shirts open for shots and it leaves a couple of more purple shirts to get rebounds and make plays. He's provided opportunities for the other players and has made everyone better."
In tonight's other Big 4 game, Canisius (5-8, 0-3) will play its second game without leading scorer Chuck Harris at the Koessler Center against St. Peter's (7 p.m., Radio 710 AM). Harris, who is out one to two weeks with an injured MCL, missed the first game of his career Wednesday, a loss to Siena, breaking a string of 72 starts dating to his freshman season.
St. Peter's (3-10, 1-2 MAAC) dropped its fourth consecutive game Wednesday, falling to Niagara, 88-55. The Peacocks played without Todd Sowell and Michael Gore, who did not travel with the team due to a violation of team policy and it is uncertain if they will be available tonight. Sowell is St. Peter's second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, while Gore has appeared in 11 games, averaging 18.3 minutes.
The University at Buffalo (8-5) opens Mid-American Conference play Sunday at Bowling Green (9-4), but the availability of senior big man Yassin Idbihi is still to be determined. Idbihi missed games against Liberty, Delaware State and Siena with a bursa sac injury to his right elbow. Idbihi, the Bulls' leading scorer and rebounder, returned to practice Dec. 29 but aggravated the injury and hasn't practiced since.
St. Bonaventure (4-10, 1-0 Atlantic 10), which scored a surprising 74-69 victory over Saint Louis (10-4, 0-1) on Wednesday at the Reilly Center, is idle until Jan. 10 when it hosts Richmond.