ALBANY – Young guards James Towns and Chris Barton got hot in the second half and helped the Niagara Purple Eagles to an easy Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament victory Thursday.
Niagara routed Quinnipiac, 88-69, in a pre-quarterfinal game at the Times Union Center.
Towns, a 5-foot-10 freshman from Detroit, scored all 14 of his points in the second half. Barton, a 6-3 sophomore from Pontiac, Mich., scored 13 of his 15 after intermission. Niagara outscored the Bobcats, 59-42, in the final 20 minutes.
Niagara (10-22) moved into a quarterfinal meeting with top-seeded Monmouth at 7 p.m. Friday.
Niagara was clinging to a 56-53 lead with 9:30 left when Towns took over. He scored 12 points in a 16-3 run that blew the game open.
Towns, who averaged just 3.5 points a game, hit two three-pointers and deftly beat Quinnipiac defenders off the dribble, scoring on drives to the basket. Barton, who averaged 6.8 ppg, made 5 of 6 shots and grabbed five rebounds.
“I’m very, very proud of our guys tonight,” said Niagara coach Chris Casey. “I was really proud of our togetherness and connection on the floor tonight. Everybody gave us something.”
Quinnipiac (10-21) allowed a MAAC-worst 84 ppg this season and ranked 337th out of 351 teams in the nation in points allowed.
Niagara also got a big game from little-used senior forward Maurice Taylor Jr. He scored eight points and grabbed 16 rebounds in 32 minutes. Taylor averaged just 2.9 points and 13 minutes a game.
Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore on Taylor: “He looked like the strongest, toughest guy out there at times when there were gold and black jerseys all over the place.”
“Maurice Taylor did an outstanding job on the glass,” Casey said. “We felt like if we could win the glass then we could win the game.”
Niagara held a 44-32 edge in rebounding and a 34-18 edge in points in the paint.
Niagara got 19 points from junior wing Matt Scott and 18 from junior guard Kahlil Dukes.
Good D: Quinnipiac freshman guard Mikey Dixon was held to eight points on 3 of 8 shooting. He averaged 16.8 ppg. Moore credited Niagara’s Barton with good defense.
“Chris Barton has really bought into trying to take away the other team’s best scorer,” Moore said. “They started out with him on Mikey. He’s an excellent defender . . . working his butt off.”
Sloppy: Quinnipiac was sloppy on offense, making 19 turnovers. Credit Niagara with quick hands and getting into passing lanes.
"We did a really good job of getting stops and getting out in transition," said Casey.
“They’ve been one of the better teams in transition in the MAAC all year,” Moore said.
Zone D: Quinnipiac ranked 302nd in the nation in three-point shooting percentage (30.2). Niagara played zone defense the entire game, which prompted the Bobcats to take 30 threes (eight more than their average). They made 13. But their offense did not have good rhythm.
Dukes shooting: Dukes missed his first eight shots and finished 3 of 15 from the field. However, he hit 11 of 12 free throws. Dukes ranks fifth in the nation in free-throw percentage, hitting 92.2 percent for the season.
Starting change: Taylor made just his third start of the season in place of forward Marvin Prochet. Casey said Prochet didn’t start because he missed a study hall. Prochet scored nine points in 21 minutes.
“To Marvin’s credit, he went in and played well for us,” Casey said.
Regular season: Quinnipiac swept Niagara, scoring an 81-78 decision at Niagara on Jan. 2 and rolling up an 89-81 victory in Hamden, Conn., on Feb. 4.
In the house: Attendance was about 500 at the Times Union Center.
Up next: Niagara moves onto the quarterfinals and a meeting at 7 p.m. Friday against top-seeded and heavily favored Monmouth.