This was Niagara's chance to make a statement in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and the Purple Eagles made plenty of noise Thursday night in the Gallagher Center. But Marist has been everyone's choice as the MAAC's best team since the summer and the Red Foxes showed why down the stretch.
Overcoming Charron Fisher's buzzer-beater that tied the game at the end of regulation, the Red Foxes took the lead 24 seconds into overtime and never gave it back as they pulled out a 91-86 victory that silenced a crowd of 1,727.
The Purple Eagles fell to 9-10 overall and 4-4 in the MAAC, tied for fifth with Rider. Marist improved to 14-4, 6-1 with its second straight OT victory and maintained its tie for first place with surprising Manhattan. It was just Marist's second win in 10 tries at Gallagher and its first since 2002.
"We made some mental mistakes and they didn't and that's why they're the best team in the league and we're still trying to be the best team," said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich.
Marist senior guard Jared Jordan, the MAAC's runaway leader for player of the year and a possible second-round NBA draft pick, riddled Niagara over the final 14 minutes. Jordan finished with a game-high 26 points and eight assists -- scoring 18 points in the last 10:38 of regulation. In fact, Jordan scored or assisted on Marist's final 27 points of the second half to help the visitors wipe out a 55-47 deficit.
"When we were down eight, I was scared it might get out of hand," Jordan said. "I looked up at the clock and I knew I had to start making something happen. In this building, they have the ability to go on a spurt and get up 20 and you don't know what hit you."
"When it was time to be great, he was great," Mihalich said.
In the extra period, Niagara quickly fell behind as Marist center James Smith canned a three-pointer on his team's first possession. The Purple Eagles never caught up, thanks largely to two killer plays.
The first came when Smith converted an uncontested tip-in after Jordan missed two straight free throws to put Marist up, 81-78. On Marist's next possession, the Red Foxes struggled to keep hold of the ball and guard Will Whittington was left to throw up a desperation 30-footer at the shot clock buzzer. No problem. He swished it to give Marist an 84-78 lead.
Still, Niagara had plenty of fight. When Lorenzo Miles canned a trey with 39.1 seconds left, the Purple Eagles were within 87-86. But Whittington put Niagara away with four straight free throws, the first two coming after a dubious intentional foul call on NU freshman Tyrone Lewis.
Jordan gave Niagara a chance at the end of regulation when he made just 1 of 2 at the line with 2.9 ticks left and Marist leading, 75-74. Miles inbounded long to Fisher, who canned a leaning 12-footer from the right of the key at the buzzer that made it 76-76.
"We ran a lot of screens that got me open on the run," Fisher said. "Three seconds is a lot of time so I just got to a good spot on the court. We had momentum going into the overtime but missed a shot to start it and then they hit a big three [by Smith].
Nine players scored in double players, including five Purple Eagles. Clif Brown and J.R. Duffey led Niagara with 18 points apiece, while Fisher added 16 points and a career-high 16 rebounds but was just 6 of 22 from the field.