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Marist pushes Niagara losing streak to nine

LEWISTON – One streak ended and a more problematic one continued Friday for the Niagara men’s basketball team.

A 65-61 loss to Marist at the Gallagher Center ended the Purple Eagles’ seven-game home winning streak over the Red Foxes and, more importantly, extended Niagara’s losing streak to nine. A crowd of 1,201 saw Niagara fall to 3-17 overall and 2-9 in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play.

It’s clear the Purple Eagles are a team in desperate need of some confidence, not winning since the second day of the new year.

“That about sums it up,” coach Chris Casey said. “We need to take advantage of some opportunities that we get during the course of the game. … I have full confidence that we’ll turn the corner at some point.”

Marist guard Khallid Hart made sure that point didn’t come Friday. The redshirt sophomore guard took over when it mattered most, hitting a cold-blooded three-pointer with 28 seconds left to put the Red Foxes up, 61-59.

That came after Niagara was called for a shot-clock violation on its previous possession.

“We tried to get the ball inside to start the possession,” Casey said. “Then we go to a four-man motion from that. Really what has to happen at that point is somebody’s got to step up and make a play, drive the ball.”

After Hart’s shot, Niagara got the ball with a chance to tie the game or go ahead on a three-pointer. Neither happened. A play designed to get sophomore forward Ramone Snowden a shot from the top of the key went awry when he threw an errant pass out of bounds. Hart then iced the Marist victory by going 4 for 4 from the free-throw line in the final six seconds. He finished with 16 points, while senior forward Chavaughn Lewis led all scorers with 22. Lewis, a second-team All-MAAC selection a season ago, came into the game third in scoring in the conference at 19.8 per game.

Marist (3-18, 2-9 MAAC) has now won back-to-back games after losing 14 straight, much of which came when Hart and fellow starting guard T.J. Curry were out injured.

After trailing for the first 36 minutes of the game, Niagara finally took its first lead, 56-54, with 3:44 left on a layup from Emile Blackman. The redshirt sophomore guard led Niagara with 18 points, 14 of which came in the second half and included a stretch when he scored 10 of 12 points for the Purple Eagles. “For us to be in games and to get over the top and win games, we have to have multiple guys scoring,” Blackman said.

Neither team did much of that early in the battle to avoid the conference basement, as Marist shot 37.5 percent and Niagara was worse at 32 percent in the first half.

Marist moved ahead, 13-8, with 10:40 left in the first half when 6-foot-7 junior forward Phillip Lawrence banked in a three-pointer from the left wing. Lawrence, who had all nine of his points in the first half, certainly didn’t call “bank” as he made his way laughing back down the floor.

Marist opened the second half with two quick baskets to extend its lead to a game-high seven, but a three-pointer from Snowden kept Niagara close. He finished with 14 points, while Wesley Myers added 12.

Niagara hosts Quinnipiac at 2 p.m. Sunday, while Marist completes its Western New York swing with a visit to Canisius for a game tipping off at the same time.