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Snowden leads Niagara past Albany

LEWISTON – Ramone Snowden is a dirty-work player for Niagara University who got to show off his offensive skills Tuesday night.

Snowden is one of Niagara’s “big men,” even though he’s only 6-foot-5. He’s forced to grind it out every game near the basket, defending bigger players.

But it was his outside shot that made the difference in the Purple Eagles’ 65-47 victory over the University of Albany.

Snowden hit five three-pointers and finished with 17 points. Niagara (2-8) snapped a seven-game losing streak.

“I caught fire and my teammates just found me,” Snowden said.

It was a good win for the Purple Eagles, even though Albany (5-7) was playing without its leading scorer, Peter Hooley, who was ill. Albany is picked for third place in the America East Conference and has beaten Siena and Fairfield, two of Niagara’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference rivals.

Snowden broke open the game early in the second half with four three-pointers in a three-minute stretch to put Niagara ahead, 42-30. Three of them were from the corner, and two of those were with a defender in his face.

“That’s my sweet spot,” Snowden said. “We’ve all been shooting a lot trying to find our stroke. It just felt good to see it go through the net.”

Snowden, a sophomore from Virginia Beach, Va., is Niagara’s second leading scorer for the season (11.3 a game) and its leading rebounder (7.0 a game). Niagara relies on the 210-pounder to bang with taller power forwards in the low post, and he did that often against 6-6 Albany star Sam Rowley.

“Ramone gives us consistent effort every practice and every game,” Niagara coach Chris Casey said. “He exemplifies that saying it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Snowden was a good “get” for Casey late in the recruiting season two summers ago. Snowden committed to Old Dominion of Conference USA before his senior high school season. But even though he was eligible by NCAA standards upon high school graduation, he still had not received word he had been admitted by Old Dominion, which had a coaching change that offseason. Niagara, Canisius, Radford and Delaware State began recruiting Snowden. He signed with the Purple Eagles in July 2013.

Snowden averaged 8.1 points as a freshman last season.

Snowden alternated with 6-5 junior Rayvon Harris in defending Rowley, who was averaging 13.4 points and 8 rebounds. He finished with eight points and three boards.

“He’s a great player,” Snowden said. “Coach told us to hold your own and just wall up, just take charges because he likes dipping his shoulder a lot. . . . He hit me kind of hard. He’s really strong.”

Niagara worked hard on the boards, outrebounding Albany, 37-27.

“I thought it was terrific,” Casey said of the rebounding. “There’s really no technique to that. That’s just a willingness to go after the basketball. I thought Ray did a great job of it.”

Sophomore Wes Myers also scored 17 for Niagara. Harris had 12 with eight rebounds.

Niagara made 11 of 22 three-point shots and 12 of 16 free throws. Albany was just 6 of 22 from three-point range and just 1 of 5 from the foul line.

“We kept defending and rebounding and came out in the second half and made those looks,” Casey said.

“No. 1 you’ve got to credit Niagara,” said Albany coach Will Brown. “I thought they played with great energy and enthusiasm and tremendous passion. Hooley is our leading scorer. He’s the reigning MVP of the America East Conference tournament. I think at this level, if you take a team and take their leading scorer off a team, it’s tough.”

Niagara plays host to Manhattan on Friday and Monmouth on Sunday.