With just over six minutes left, Canisius College led rival Niagara University by four points which was a little too close for Julius Coles. So the Golden Griffins' senior guard huddled up the team and told them it was time to pick up the intensity, "a little more."
They turned it up full blast.
The Golden Griffins led, 51-47, with 6:33 left and outscored the Purple Eagles, 18-7, the rest of the way to record a 69-54 victory in front of sellout crowd of 2,196 Friday night at the Koessler Center. Niagara (4-18, 1-9 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) had dominated the Golden Griffins over the past seven years, winning 13 of 15 and had won eight of the last 10 meetings at the Koessler Center.
But Canisius recorded its largest margin of victory over the Purple Eagles since an 84-65 win on Feb. 27, 1995. Coles led the Golden Griffins with 20 points, the 11th time in his career he's scored 20 or more. The senior from Harlem also had four assists and two steals. Senior Greg Logins finished with his first double-double of the season (14 points and 11 rebounds), while Elton Frazier and Gaby Belardo finished with 11 points each. Belardo, the sophomore transfer from South Florida, also had a career-best seven assists.
For the first time in eight games, Canisius outrebounded an opponent. The Griffs controlled the boards against Niagara, 37-29.
"When we needed to step up, guys stepped up and made plays," Canisius coach Tom Parrotta said. "Our defense picked up, we got on the break and I think that was our separation."
It was nip and tuck for the Golden Griffins against their pesky rivals until Coles called for a quick meeting.
"Everybody was on the same page, and I guess we were able to breakthrough that little bit Coach always talks about in practice," Coles said.
Said Frazier, who also contributed seven boards: "We just had to pick it up. We let them hang around, which we shouldn't have and we just stepped on the pedal and picked it up."
It's been a struggle all season for Niagara offensively, but behind the shooting of Marvin Jordan (game-high 23 points) and Anthony Nelson (19 points) it tied the game twice in the second half which is usually the time Canisius begins to unravel in close game.
Not this time.
The momentum shifted when Nelson, the MAAC's third-leading scorer, picked up his fourth foul with the game tied at 41. That's when Niagara's offense lost its rhythm.
"Tough break for us," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. "I thought Anthony got banged in the post, there was a no call and instead the ball goes loose. In the scuffle he picks up his fourth foul in a tie game and instead of Anthony Nelson shooting a one-and-one we have to take him out with his fourth foul."
Still, the Purple Eagles hung around until Canisius pounced on them behind Coles. The Golden Griffins led, 54-49, when Coles hit a free throw and after a steal threw down a dunk. He drilled a three-pointer and the lead was 60-49. Alshwan Hymes canned a trey from the left corner before Frazier made a layup off an assist from Coles. After Frazier missed two free throws, Canisius got the rebound and Belardo found Frazier for another dunk. The run didn't end until Frazier was called for goaltending on a layup attempt by Nelson.
"Once they got the momentum on their side, I don't think we came back from that," Nelson said. "They went on a couple of runs and we couldn't counter what they were doing."
The teams renew their rivalry Feb. 16 at Niagara.