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Niagara’s Purple Eagles are chairmen of the boards

LEWISTON – A rebound put-back basket by junior forward Justin Satchell with 1.2 seconds left gave Niagara University a 55-53 upset victory over Manhattan College Saturday.

What a fitting ending for Niagara.

The Purple Eagles outrebounded Manhattan, 46-27, which equaled Niagara’s biggest advantage on the boards in the last nine years. The edge in offensive rebounds was 19-7 for Niagara.

“I’m just really proud of our guys on how they grinded that game out,” said Niagara coach Chris Casey. “I thought our defense was good. We were tough on the glass. It was a grind-it-out game.”

A crowd of 1,021 at the Gallagher Center saw Niagara improve to 3-3 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and 5-12 overall. Niagara was picked for last in the MAAC. Manhattan, two-time defending MAAC champion and picked for third this season, dropped to 3-3 and 6-9.

Niagara is not a great offensive team. It doesn’t have enough perimeter sharp shooters. It doesn’t have a veteran big man who can score consistently in the low post. The Purple Eagles entered the game ranked last in the MAAC in scoring and second last in shooting percentage.

However, the Purple Eagles have long-armed defenders, and they guard with passion. They’re allowing the third-fewest points in the MAAC. They also have a fleet of “bouncy” players who attack the backboards with aggression.

“We’re always talking about rebounding,” Casey said. “You can’t win unless you rebound the basketball. We won the game with defense and rebounding, and that’s a good way to win. That’s gotta be a basis for you.”

Like many teams, Niagara struggled to get good shots against Manhattan’s aggressive 1-3-1, matchup-zone defense. Manhattan ranks 26th in the nation in forcing turnovers, and the Purple Eagles committed 16 of them, exactly the average forced by the Jaspers. Manhattan also held Niagara to 35.6 percent shooting.

“You can’t hold a team to 35 percent and give them 19 offensive rebounds,” said Manhattan coach Steve Masiello. “Niagara plays hard. I give them credit for that.”

Matt Scott, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, led Niagara with 13 rebounds. He scored nine of his 11 points in the second half.

“I just have a knack for the ball,” Scott said. “From the angle that the guy’s shooting it, I know spots the ball will come off so I try to get there.”

The 6-8 Satchell, who scored 22 points in Thursday’s win over St. Peter’s, scored 10 points and had eight rebounds.

He rebounded a missed three-pointer by Emile Blackman for the winner.

“The play was originally to set the fade-screen for Emile,” Satchell said. “He shot it, and I just crashed the boards. Luckily it came to me and I just finished the play.”

Manhattan averages 21.5 three-point shots a game and hits 7.7 a game. Niagara held the Jaspers to just 3 of 12 from three-point range.

The pivotal offensive stretch for Niagara came midway through the second half, when it scored on six of seven possessions to forge a 51-43 lead. Barton hit a 12-footer in the lane. Scott hit two free throws. Then Niagara got three baskets by pushing the ball up-court before Manhattan’s defense could get set. Forward Marvin Prochet hit a layup, Blackman hit a pull-up jumper and Prochet scored on a drive. Then guard Karonn Davis hit a 28-foot three-pointer.

Niagara’s next game is at Fairfield Friday. It visits Manhattan Jan. 17.