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Niagara men's preview: Counting on newcomers to score

Team: Niagara.

Affiliation: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Coach: Chris Casey (fourth year).

Last year: 7-25, 5-15 (10th).

Niagara University’s hopes of breathing some life into its downtrodden program rest partly with two transfer scorers who sat out last season.

Kahlil Dukes is a shooting guard from Connecticut who started his career at the University of Southern California. Niagara doesn’t get many high-major transfers. Kevin Larkin is a 6-foot-5 wingman who led all Division II freshman in scoring two years ago while playing for Cheyney University in Pennsylvania.

Niagara Purple Eagles head coach Chris Casey calls in a play from the bench in the first half at Canisius College, Koessler Center in Buffalo,NY on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. (James P. McCoy/ Buffalo News)

Niagara  coach Chris Casey is looking for progress. (James P. McCoy/ Buffalo News)

Niagara needs those two and several other newcomers to contribute right away if it hopes to get out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basement. The MAAC coaches picked Niagara for last again this season.

The Purple Eagles were 7-25 last year, 8-22 in 2014-15 and 7-26 in 2013-14. That makes coach Chris Casey 22-73 in his three-year tenure. He has three years remaining on his contract.

Niagara lost four more players to transfer after last season, including star guard Emile Blackman, who graduated and opted to play his last college season for Duquesne. That brings to 23 the number of players who have left the program the past 3 1-2 years.

Casey is optimistic progress is at hand.

“I want to see us take another step forward,” he said. “We have eight guys returning and we had some guys sit out who I think can help us. I want to see an increase in wins.”

The 6-foot Dukes scored 2,228 points in his high school career. He saw limited duty in two years at USC, although he once scored 18 on Arizona State.

“He likes the ball in his hands because he can shoot and score,” Casey said. “He can make threes.”

Larkin, a sophomore, scored 17.8 ppg at Cheyney. He’s likely to offer some much-needed offensive punch off the bench.

“Kevin can shoot the ball from three, too,” Casey said. “Khalil can go off the dribble. Kevin is improving off the dribble. Kevin has good size for a guard. He’s athletic. He rebounds the ball. He can score making difficult shots. I think both those guys are going help us score.”

Strengths: Niagara returns No. 2 scorer Matt Scott, a 6-4 junior wing from Brooklyn. He averaged 15.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Sophomores Dominic Robb and Marvin Prochet figure to start on the blocks. The 6-8 Robb started the last 11 games as a freshman and averaged 8 points and 5.4 rebounds over that stretch. The 6-7 Prochet averaged 7.3 ppg and 5.4 rpg.

Niagara Purple Eagles forward Dominic Robb (32). (James P. McCoy/ Buffalo News)

Niagara Purple Eagles forward Dominic Robb (32). (James P. McCoy/ Buffalo News)

“We’re going to lean heavily on Matt for leadership,” Casey said.

Issues: Point guard has been a problem at Niagara. Two new players figure to share the load. Sophomore Dwayne Pow, who spent a year at Mineral Area (Junior) College in Missouri, should help Niagara play faster and get more possessions. James Towns, a freshman from Detroit, figures to see time right away at the point, too. Sophomore Chris Barton and freshman Shane Gatling are backup guards.

“Dwayne’s strengths are getting guys shots and getting you up the floor,” Casey said. “We’re hoping he can get us a little more in transition. If you look at statistical numbers, we had a decent amount of transition opportunities last year we didn’t convert. That’s an area we have to get better.”

Front-line depth is a concern. Niagara needs 6-9 junior Ali Tew and 6-6 senior Maurice Taylor to do more than last year, when they combined for 18 minutes and 3.8 points.

Inside the numbers: Niagara ranked last in the MAAC in threes taken (17.4 a game) and made (4.9 a game) and 347th out of 351 in three-point percentage (.282). There's nowhere to go but up.

Schedule: The Purple Eagles have a tough home opener against UB Friday. The non-conference slate has five or six winnable games but most are on the road. Seven of the first nine games are away. Niagara plays Bona in the Big 4 Classic Dec. 17.

Outlook: How good are the newcomers? If they’re good, 12 wins are possible.

The Schedule

Nov. 11 Buffalo 8 p.m.
Nov. 13 at Brown 3 p.m.
Nov. 15 at Hartford ^ 6:30 a.m.
Nov. 20 at Rutgers ^ 12 p.m.
Nov. 23 Drexel ^ 7 p.m.
Nov. 25 at North Texas ^ 8 p.m.
Dec. 2 at Marist * TBA
Dec. 4 at Iona * TBA
Dec. 7 at Kent State 7 p.m.
Dec. 10 Norfolk State 3 p.m.
Dec. 14 at Youngstown State 7 p.m.
Dec. 17 St. Bonaventure % 1 p.m.
Dec. 21 at Long Island 7 p.m.
Jan. 2 Quinnipiac * 7 p.m.
Jan. 4 Siena * 7 p.m.
Jan. 8 at Rider * 2 p.m.
Jan. 10 at Manhattan * 7 p.m.
Jan. 14 Monmouth * 7 p.m.
Jan. 16 Marist * 7 p.m.
Jan. 21 at Saint Peter’s * 2 p.m.
Jan. 23 Canisius * 7 p.m.
Jan. 26 Manhattan * 7 p.m.
Jan. 28 Rider * 3 p.m.
Feb. 2 at Fairfield * 8 p.m.
Feb. 4 at Quinnipiac * 7 p.m.
Feb. 10 at Canisius * 9 p.m.
Feb. 12 Iona * 2 p.m.
Feb. 16 at Monmouth * 8 p.m.
Feb. 18 at Siena 8 p.m.
Feb. 24 Saint Peter’s * 7 p.m.
Feb. 26 Fairfield * 2 p.m.
Mar. 2-6 MAAC Tournament
* MAAC games
^ Scarlet Knight Showcase
% Big 4 Classic at KeyBank Center

The Roster
No. Name Pos. Cl. Ht. Wt. Hometown High School
0 Chris Barton G So. 6-3 185 Pontiac, Mich. Avondale
1 Shane Gatling G Fr. 6-1 166 Baldwin Baldwin
2 Kevin Larkin G So. 6-5 180 Georgetown, Del. Cheyney University
5 James Towns G Fr. 5-10 162 Detroit Henry Ford
10 Kahlil Dukes G Jr. 6-0 170 Hartford, Conn. University of Southern California
11 Marvin Prochet F So. 6-7 206 Brooklyn Long Island Lutheran
12 Dwayne Pow G So. 5-10 165 Bronx Mineral Area College
13 Matt Scott G Jr. 6-4 185 Brooklyn Brooklyn Law and Tech
20 Maurice Taylor Jr. F Sr. 6-6 212 Cambridge, Mass. Western Texas CC
21 Kierell Green F Fr. 6-7 165 Washington, D.C. Integrated Design & Electronics Academy
24 Greg King F Jr. 6-7 230 Atlanta Eastern Kentucky
30 Ali Tew F Jr. 6-9 221 Paris, France Allan Hancock College
32 Dominic Robb F So. 6-8 222 Pittsburgh Hun School of Princeton

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