ALBANY – They call it March Madness for a reason. And it's pure insanity in the Times Union Center these days.
The top three seeds in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men's basketball tournament were all ousted in the quarterfinals.
No. 3 Niagara was the latest to fall, losing to Fairfield, 90-77, on Saturday night. That came a day after regular season co-champs Rider and Canisius lost on Friday.
The Stags, seeded sixth, led by as many as 14 in the first half thanks to an electric performance from senior guard Tyler Nelson who dropped 19 points in the opening 20 minutes. Niagara got off to a slow shooting start which was further hampered by foul trouble that befell Co-MAAC Player of the Year Kahlil Dukes. The Purple Eagles also were without senior guard Matt Scott, a 19.5-point scorer who didn't play after suffering an ankle injury on Feb. 16.
Fairfield led by 12, 46-34, at halftime, but Niagara rallied in the second. The Purple Eagles got as close as six points as Dukes hit a three-pointer with 15:35 left to cut the Stags' lead to 54-48.
But then Dukes picked up his fourth foul, an offensive foul called as he tried to create from the top of the key, with 13:47 left to play. Without Dukes, Niagara could keep pace with Fairfield but not make the run they needed to overcome the double-digit deficit.
Tough start: Niagara scored the first basket of the game, but then went cold for the next four minutes, going 0 for 6 while Fairfield went on a 7-0 run to take the lead. Niagara hit just three of its first 11 shots as Fairfield built a 12-6 lead.
Technical: Dominic Robb had a thunderous dunk with 10:40 left in the first half, but after completing the play, he shoved Fairfield's Jonathan Kasibabu and the forward hit the floor. The officials went to video review and issued a technical on Robb. Tyler Nelson hit both free throws, which kick-started a 6-0 run that put the Stags up double digits. They had a 26-13 lead at the under-eight timeout.
Back in it: Niagara used a 6-0 run thanks to a three-point play from Dukes and a jumper from the elbow by Keleaf Tate to trim Fairfield's lead to single digits, 29-21.
Foul trouble: Dukes not only fouled a three-point shooter but picked up his third with 3:15 left in the first half. Tyler Nelson hit all three shots to give Fairfield back its double-digit lead.
End of the half: It was a dramatic final seven seconds of the first half. Robb put down a dunk off an offensive rebound but Jerome Segura's three-pointer at the buzzer dropped in and Fairfield took a 46-34 lead into the break.
Final stats: Dukes finished with 21 points while Robb led Niagara with 29 points and 12 rebounds. James Towns and Keleaf Tate each netted 10. Nelson led Fairfield with 27 points including going 4 of 7 from three-point range.
Unlucky No. 3: This was just the second time the Purple Eagles were the third seed in the MAAC tournament. They fell to 0-2 as No. 3. Niagara lost to No. 6 Marist, 66-62, in the 2008 quarterfinals.
Up next: At 19-13, the Purple Eagles will have to wait and see if they get an invite to a postseason tournament. Fairfield (16-15) advances to the semifinals where the Stags will play No. 7 Quinnipiac at 9:30 p.m. Sunday. The Bobcats upset second-seeded Canisius in their quarterfinal on Friday.