Niagara's Matt Scott has made a clear statement with his performance in non-conference play -- he's one of the more productive scorers in the NCAA.
Scott is fifth in Division I basketball in points per game (23.9) entering the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference schedule. He's been tremendously consistent, scoring 20 or more points in 11 straight games and scoring in double-figures in all 13 of the Purple Eagles' games.
He's put an emphasis on quick starts, which he said get him into a rhythm for the rest of the game.
"I'm not going into games letting it come to me for the first five minutes," Scott said. "Some coaches say, 'Get your team involved first,' and I think I do that in my game regularly, but I'm real aggressive at the start trying to find mine."
Scott's usage rate, in the top 80 in the country, reflects his aggressive instincts. Head coach Chris Casey has shown he's willing to let Scott work his magic, as he ranks 23rd in Division I in field goal attempts and first in the MAAC in minutes per game.
"I'm just thankful," Scott said. "All the work that I've put in and the career that I did have here, I increased my skill level and my numbers each year. It's rewarding of the work I've put in."
Despite his prolific offensive numbers, it wouldn't be fair to label Scott as only a scorer. He's second in the MAAC in rebounds and third in steals. His 3.1 assists per game rank second on the team, trailing only Niagara's other star, Kahlil Dukes. The two are 1-2 in scoring in the MAAC and the catalysts for the Purple Eagles' strong non-conference showing. Niagara is 7-6, its best start through 13 games since going 8-5 in 2009-10. The Purple Eagles have been particularly hot lately, riding a three-game win streak with victories against Norfolk State, Cleveland State and Cornell.
"Going into the MAAC with a three-game winning streak and a winning record, it's just a lot of momentum," Scott said. "I think we can really look back at that at times when it gets tough during the season."
With seven wins under their belt, the Purps are already just three wins short of their 2016-17 total despite few roster changes. Scott said experience is helping them take the next step. They've had the fortitude to pull out close victories, posting a 4-0 record in games decided by less than five points.
"Ever since I've been here, those are games that we give up," Scott said. "Last year, with the same team we have now, Coach used to always say, 'Two more stops or two more finishes and our record would probably be flipped.' ... Now this year, we're finding ways to win those games, to grind it out."
The Purple Eagles open MAAC play Friday against the Iona Gaels at the Gallagher Center. Niagara split the season series with Iona last year, winning by double digits on the road and losing by double digits at home.
Scott said he sees conference play as an opportunity to showcase an improved Niagara team.
"I think it's time for us to get back to the winning ways of Niagara," Scott said. "I feel like this team could really do damage in the MAAC. We've just got to be hungry and take care of business."
Niagara isn't the only Big 4 team kicking off its conference slate this weekend. Canisius, winner of its last two games, hosts MAAC foe Rider at 4:30 p.m. Friday. St. Bonaventure, fresh off a victory against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, starts Atlantic 10 play at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Reilly Center against UMass.
The University at Buffalo plays its first Mid-American Conference game at 7 p.m. Tuesday against visiting Toledo.