LEWISTON – Niagara’s offense started fast at the Gallagher Center Thursday night and never slowed down in a 95-76 win over Quinnipiac that moved the Purple Eagles into a tie for third place in the conference with five games to go.
Niagara guards Kahlil Dukes and Matt Scott, who entered the game as one of two duos in the country to average over 20 points each, were held to just 23 combined points, but James Towns took over with 26 points off the bench while freshman Keleaf Tate scored a career-high 15 in the first half, all on three-pointers, and Kevin Larkin added 12.
"A real team win. I mean, I could go down the list and mention names," Niagara coach Chris Casey said. "James, off the bench, his performance. Kevin in only his second start. Keleaf was unbelievable in that first half, and you need minutes from him when Matt was in foul trouble. Greg Kaukumensah was terrific, especially in that first half. We talk about all the time, you need every guy, and you need every guy to be ready particularly this time of year. I think a bunch of guys are embracing that, and it was evident tonight."
Outlook: Niagara improved to 16-10 and 9-4 in the MAAC with the win. Combined with Iona's home loss to Monmouth, that lifted Niagara to a tie for third behind Rider and Canisius. Quinnipiac fell to 9-16, 6-7 MAAC and 3-9 on the road.
First half: The teams traded buckets at a frantic pace before Niagara took a 44-42 lead into the break. Dukes and Scott were held to just four points in the first half (all from Dukes) but Tate led the Purple Eagles with 15 points, which surpassed his previous career-high of 11 points. Niagara shot a blistering 17-of-30 from the field (56.7 percent) while Quinnipiac went 17 of 35 (48.6).
Second half: The game was tighter than the score might indicate, but Niagara pulled away late. Quinnipiac cut the deficit to 76-70 with five minutes to go, but Niagara outscored them the rest of the way, 19-6. Niagara shot 55.9 percent from the field in the second half and 56.3 percent for the game.
Game line: Vegas set the game line at Niagara -7.5, over/under 161. Niagara covered, total was over.
Tying Murphy: Dukes broke the program record for consecutive free throws made, which was held by Niagara legend Calvin Murphy. Dukes entered the game eighth nationally in free-throw percentage at 91.3 and had made 27 in a row, which was tied with Murphy. Dukes improved his mark to 31 straight by going 4 for 4 Thursday.
Getting to the line: Niagara entered the game averaging the fourth-most free throws made per game in the country, getting an average of 18.8 points from the charity stripe. They could help themselves by making more though, ranking 134th in free-throw percentage at 72.3. Niagara only made 11 free throws in the win (on 12 attempts), mostly because they got too many easy looks against Quinnipiac's defense that ranked 292nd nationally in opposing field-goal percentage.
Rigoni watch: Quinnipiac’s Jacob Rigoni entered the game tied for seventh nationally in three-point percentage at 50.0 (51-102). He went 2 for 8 against Niagara's three-point defense that ranked 316th nationally. Quinnipiac made 8 for 25 attempts from behind the arc.
All in the family: First-year Quinnipiac coach Baker Dunleavy, the former Villanova assistant, has quite the basketball family tree. His father is the former NBA player and coach Mike Dunleavy Sr., who is now the head coach at Tulane. One of his brothers, Mike Jr., is a 15-year pro who was most recently with the Atlanta Hawks, while another brother, James, is an NBA agent.
Starters: Chris Casey started Dukes, Scott, Kevin Larkin, Greg King and Marvin Prochet. Dunleavy countered with Cameron Young, Rich Kelly, Rigoni, Isaiah Washington and Abdulai Bundu.
Up next: Niagara hosts Fairfield at 3 p.m. Sunday while Quinnipiac heads to Canisius for a 2 p.m. tip.