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Niagara doesn't go down easily ; MAAC co-leader Iona holds off Purple Eagles

Simple math suggested Iona-Niagara loomed as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Mismatch of the Week. Iona came in six games over .500 and tied for the conference lead. Niagara entered 11 games under .500 and sharing space in the league basement.

But the numbers don't always add up in the frenzied confines of the Taps Gallagher Center. The depleted and outsized Purple Eagles kept the Gaels honest and them some before falling, 72-66, in front of 1,651.

Niagara figured to pay a heavy price for the absence of junior forward Kashief Edwards, their most consistent post player. Iona is big and strong underneath and has, in 6-foot-7 junior forward Mike Glover, the nation's 18th-leading scorer at 20.7 per game.

Glover proved a behemoth on the boards, grabbing 17 rebounds. Offensively speaking, however, he was outplayed by Erik Williams, Niagara's 6-foot-8 sophomore called on to fill the minutes created by Edwards' knee injury. Williams struck for career highs of 18 points, nine rebounds and 36 minutes.

"He was great, couldn't take him out of the game," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said of Williams. "It's a sign of what we need. If we can get Erik to play like that all the time, because we know he can, there's our presence inside."

"You know you got to come to play against these guys," Williams said. "Glover's one of the best players in the league. We knew we had to have a big game for us to have a chance."

Iona coach Tim Cluess had high praise for the NU sophomore.

"Williams played with more desire than anyone on the court," Cluess said. "He was the reason they were able to stay close because of his passion and it was contagious with a few of the other players."

Conversely, Glover confounded for a second straight game. He scored just five points in his last outing, against Marist, and showed little offensive fire against Niagara. Glover was 2 of 5 from the field and finished with 10 points. He had just two points, and those from the foul line, in the first half.

"I think it's more of Mike's effort and I thought his effort stunk," Cluess said. "I think he goes through the motions out there way too often and he did it [Friday].

"A lot of times bigs in general like to sit there and say, 'You got to get me the ball more,' " Cluess said. "And my theory is you have to work to get it more. You got to demand it. You got to move to position. You got to work for it. You got to get rebounds. You got to get defensive stops. Let's not sit there and say, 'Well, the guard should get me it more.' No. Go get some yourself. Work harder than this. Be a stopper. Be an offensive rebounder. Everything, really, that Williams was being."

Iona guard Sean Armond, the reigning MAAC Rookie of the Week after averaging 19.5 in two games, had a team-high 15 and struck the game's decisive blows. The boost in confidence was evident as Armond, a 6-3 freshman from Brooklyn, hit threes on three consecutive trips down the floor to turn a tie game into a 51-42 advantage midway though the second half.

Niagara came roaring back, missing a chance to take the lead with 4:49 remaining when a Skylar Jones three rimmed out.

"I told them this: That's the most talented team in the league," Mihalich said. "I'm not going to say the best because I don't need any enemies. I got enough enemies. I don't need the other teams being mad at me. And we should have won that game. I told them to walk out of the locker room angry that we didn't win that game but knowing we just played the best team in the league and we could have won the game and I think should have won the game."

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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