The only thing that could slow down Demetrius Williamson Friday night was a bump on the head.
The Niagara junior came off the bench and tied his career high with 19 points before leaving the game midway through the second half after a nasty spill. But Williamson's boost gave the Purple Eagles a huge cushion and they went on to defeat Saint Peter's, 73-55, in front of 1,952 at the Gallagher Center.
Niagara (18-6, 9-3 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) won its fourth consecutive game, and remains in second place behind Siena (18-5, 12-0), which plays at Rider (12-9, 7-4) today. The Purple Eagles also moved to 7-2 at home.
"Our battle cry is to be good in February, and people might be tired of hearing that, but we're not," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. "It's going to be our battle cry every day. To be good in February is the only way you can be good in March. This team just has a way where someone steps up when you really need him."
And in this game, it was Williamson. The 6-foot-6 junior from Chicago heated up quickly and went 7 of 9 from the field and tied his personal best by shooting a blistering 5 for 5 from beyond the three-point arc in just 11 minutes. Niagara was 10 of 24 overall from long range.
"On the first one, Bilal [Benn] passed it to me and it felt like the basket was huge," Williamson said. "Ant [Nelson] found me a couple of times and Benson [Egemonye] found me too so I was in the right place at the right time and knocked down the shot."
Williamson started his first game of the season in the Purple Eagles' last game against Iona and scored a team-high 15 points in a key road win. Williamson was moved into the starting lineup in place of Nelson, who served a one-game suspension for a flagrant foul ejection at Manhattan.
"My confidence has always been high and I stay confident, confident in my coaches and confident in my teammates," said Williamson, who is averaging 7.7 points in 19.8 minutes for Niagara. "Situations are going to come by when I can make a shot or make a defensive play help out and contribute."
But it was on one of his few swoops to the basket that he landed awkwardly and had to leave the game. With 10:33 left, Williamson soared to the rim for a left-handed layup which he converted as he was fouled, but landed hard on his head. He was on the floor for a minute before leaving and Tyrone Lewis shot the free throw to complete the three-point play, giving the Purple Eagles a 53-38 lead.
Williamson didn't return to the game as a precautionary measure.
"Like coach Mihalich said, you can't hurt steel," Williamson said, smiling.
Williamson entered Friday's game shooting at a 28.9 percent clip from beyond the arc.
On this evening, Niagara fully satisfied Mihalich's requirements though Saint Peter's (6-17, 3-10) abominable display at times assisted its cause. The Purple Eagles' lead reached as high as 20 with 1:29 left after a jumper by Benn and the only unresolved issue was whether the Peacocks would finish with more turnovers than field goals. They didn't but the final tally was 22 field goals to 19 turnovers and the Purple Eagles feasted, scoring 30 points off the miscues.
"They crushed us off our turnovers," said Saint Peter's coach John Dunne.
Lewis finished with 16 points and had a game-high six steals, while Benn finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Niagara's next game is at 2 p.m., Sunday against Fairfield (15-9, 8-5), which defeated Canisius Friday night to win its third in a row.