LEWISTON – Facing an uphill battle much of the way, Niagara came up short against the University of Hartford Saturday night at the Gallagher Center and fell to the visiting Hawks, 65-62, before 1,117 who turned out for the men’s basketball home opener.
Taking the well-seasoned Hawks of the America East Conference right to the final minute was a moral victory of sorts, but Niagara coach Chris Casey refused to look at it that way.
“We’re a work in progress. We’re on the right track,” said Casey, whose Purple Eagles are 1-2 in his second season as head coach. “We needed a little better free throw shooting, a few less turnovers and then we’ve got 70 points instead of the 60 or 62 we got tonight.”
Redshirt freshman Karonn Davis led Niagara with 17 points. Sophomore transfer Emile Blackman, who came with Casey from LIU Post, had 15 points. Wesley Myers had 10.
Blackman was happy to finally get on the court after sitting out last season as a transfer.
“Great atmosphere,” Blackman said of his debut. “After practicing here for two years, it was great to finally suit up and get in there.”
Niagara trailed for the last 13 minutes by as many as 10 points but quickly moved back to challenge.
Myers hit a three-point shot from the left wing with 50 seconds left to bring Niagara to within 61-59. It was here that Yolonzo Moore came up with four big plays to close out the victory for the visitors from New England. First he tipped in his own missed shot to give Hartford a 63-59 lead with 23 seconds left. Then he rebounded the second of two free throws by Myers, was fouled and made the first of two foul shots.
Moore made one more free throw with 2.6 seconds left, giving him 10 points for the game.
Hartford took the lead for good on the second of two three-pointers by Corban Wroe to make it 39-37 with 13:53 left in the second half. The Hawks led by as many as 10, 49-39, before the Purple Eagles began to creep back.
Hartford coach John Gallagher started two Australians and two Texans in his lineup, but it was a son of the Ould Sod who kept the Hawks in the lead for most of the first half.
John Carroll, a native of Dublin, Ireland, who attended The Hill School in Pottstown, Pa., came off the bench in the first minute and scored 16 to lead Hartford. He had 14 in the first half. The 6-foot-8, 210 pound freshman, who had only 17 points total in Hartford’s first three games, ran the floor, hit the offensive boards, got himself in good position in the paint and hit a three-pointer, too. However, he turned the ball over three times. Turnovers were one reason the Hawks left the floor at the intermission trailing. They had 14 in the half and 19 overall.
Carroll entered the game early after senior Nate Sikma, the son of the former Seattle SuperSonic and Milwaukee Bucks star, got off to a rough start with a turnover and a personal foul before the first minute was over. Sikma eventually fouled out on a questionable charging call and left with just one point.
Niagara outscored the Hawks, 11-2, over the last 4:41 of the first half. The run included a three by Karonn Davis, the first for the Purple Eagles after six straight misses from long range, and another trey by Ramone Snowden with 4 seconds left in the half.
Hartford made 22 of 45 shots (48.9 percent) to 21 of 50 (42.0 percent) for Niagara. The Hawks hit 9 of 16 from three-point range while Niagara was 6 for 18.