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Niagara men's basketball shows its more than the Scott and Dukes show

Coming into the college basketball season, St. Bonaventure's duo of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley were the one-two punch to watch. It's hard to ignore the top returning scoring duo in Division I basketball.

With Adams' lingering injury, a new Big Four combo has taken over that mantle.

Entering Monday night's game against Army, Niagara's Matt Scott and Kahlil Dukes were this year's leading scoring duo in the NCAA. Scott was fifth in the nation with 25.2 points per game, an eight point jump from last season. Dukes' jump in production is also significant, going from 15.5 points per game last year to 22.2 through six games this year.

Combined they accounted for 56 percent of the Purple Eagles' scoring. In the MAAC, they held the top two spots in scoring, field goals made and 20-point games.

The question for Niagara is what happens when one of the two struggle? No one else on the team is averaging double-digit points.

There's good news for coach Chris Casey, as Monday's 77-71 victory over Army showed Niagara may have more depth than the first six games showed.

Scott was his usual self, leading the team in points (25) and assists (6) in addition to grabbing 10 rebounds. He was the offensive focal point and was aggressive, getting to the line for 12 free throws. He's scored 20 or more points in five straight games.

"It's not just the points," Casey said. "We tried to give the ball to him down the stretch to try and create plays for himself and others."

Unlike Scott, Dukes struggled from the start. He couldn't get his shot going, finishing 2 for 10 from the field and 2 for 7 from 3-point range. He scored seven points, failing to hit double-digits for the first time this season.

"He had a tough night, which is going to happen ... especially when you get deeper into the season and guys get on scouting reports," Casey said. "They're going to try and take certain things away. ... What we did tonight was stay tough."

The Purple Eagles needed other players to produce, and they got just that in a come-from-behind win against the Black Knights. Marvin Prochet scored 12, Keleaf Tate 11 and James Towns nine. All three totals were above the players' averages, with Tate finishing with nearly three times his usual output.

That opened space up for Scott on Monday night. The goal is for that to happen all season. With Niagara returning 88 percent of its scoring from last year, things had to start clicking.

"The guys around me are really talented," Scott said. "They can't really just focus on me. ... If I get in the lane, like coach said, if I can't score it's easy for me to pass the ball to someone that's open because I draw a lot of defense."

With early-season victories against St. Bonaventure and Army, Niagara is showing signs of improvement. Wednesday offers a big measuring stick for the Purple Eagles, as they host MAC East favorite UB at the Gallagher Center. Scott said Prochet stood up in the locker room before the coaches arrived to let his teammates know the importance of the next one.

"He says, 'We won the game. We got practice Tuesday, game Wednesday. We've got to get UB,'" Scott said.

No one on the current roster has ever beaten UB. A bit of added motivation will certainly help a Niagara team that'll be playing its fourth game in six nights.

"We owe UB," Porchet said. "Last year, it was our last year as a group we were all together. This year, we're actually together. We owe UB one."

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