LEWISTON – Someone had to win Thursday night when the Niagara men’s basketball team hosted Marist.
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s bottom-feeders have had seasons to forget, but the Purple Eagles were at least able to feel good about ending a five-game losing streak with a 76-72 victory in their penultimate game of the season at the Gallagher Center.
Led by Emile Blackman’s 21 points, the Purple Eagles won for just the second time in their past 11 games. Niagara, which had four players score in double figures, overcame a seven-point deficit in the second half – escaping what would have been a disastrous defeat.
The Red Foxes, meanwhile, suffered their fourth straight loss and 15th in their past 16 games. Marist dropped to 5-21 overall and 2-15 in the MAAC, while Niagara improved to 7-21 overall and 5-12 in conference play.
Quick start: The Purple Eagles were ready to go from the opening tip, jumping out to a 12-2 lead less than 5 minutes into the game. Niagara started 5 of 7 from the field, while Marist was an atrocious 1 of 8. Things got only slightly better from there, as the Red Foxes were 4 of 17 from the floor at the next timeout.
Post presence: Niagara outscored Marist in the paint, 40-28, with freshman forward Dominic Robb contributing a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Bench presence: The Purple Eagles were outscored in bench points, 29-14, but it was reserve forward Maurice Taylor who had one of the biggest buckets of the night. His put-back layup gave Niagara a 63-61 lead with less than 3 minutes to play. On Marist’s ensuing possession, Taylor came up with a steal, setting up …
The dagger: Blackman provided that with a deep three-pointer from the top of the key, which he punctuated with an emphatic fist pump after it went through. On Niagara’s next possession, Blackman hit a pair of free throws to stretch the Niagara lead to 68-61 with 1:29 remaining. Blackman came into the game needing 25 points to reach 1,000 for his college career. Now needing just four points, he should blow past that in Niagara’s next game.
Missing in action: Marist was without leading scorers Brian Parker and Khallid Hart because of injuries. Parker, a freshman guard who averages 17 points per game, sat out because of an Achilles injury, while Hart, who averages a team-best 21 ppg, was out with a knee injury.
Homecoming game: Marist’s Ryan Funk, a Clarence High School graduate, came into the game averaging 5.3 points and 2.1 rebounds per game for the Red Foxes. Funk was a third-team All-Western New York selection in 2014 after averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds with Clarence. He spent last season with St. Thomas More Prep in Connecticut. Funk finished with 12 points, tying his season high with four three-pointers.
Going cold: Unfortunately for Funk, his shooting touch wore off at the wrong time. He missed three three-pointers inside the final 3:06, the first of which came when the game was tied, 61-61. All three attempts were good looks, too.
Battling back: Niagara scored its first basket 28 seconds into the game and then led for the next 23 minutes before the Red Foxes tied it with 16:30 remaining on a pair of free throws by Phil Lawrence-Ricks. From that point, there were six lead changes and six ties.
Counting the house: There were 1,163 fans inside the Gallagher Center.
What’s next: The Purple Eagles finish out the home schedule at 3 p.m. Saturday when Fairfield visits.