ALBANY — The Niagara men’s basketball team shook off a late start in the MAAC Tournament, but the Purple Eagles couldn’t pull together a final run in a 76-72 loss to Monmouth.
The 11th-seeded Purple Eagles were unable to convert on a possession with less than 30 seconds left in regulation, as Nick Rutherford forced a turnover to give the ball back to the sixth-seeded Hawks. After Marcus McClary made one of two free throws with 12.6 seconds left, the Purple Eagles (13-19) took possession following a timeout, and Marvin Prochet’s 3-point attempt with 3.1 seconds left caromed in and out of the hoop in a first-round game that creeped into Friday morning at the Times Union Center.
Prochet thought the shot was good, as he'd practiced it and taken it so many times before. In fact, Monmouth guard Ray Salnave watched just as Prochet hit that same shot to send a game to overtime Sunday against Siena in the Purple Eagles' regular-season finale.
"Everything about it felt good," Prochet said. "I shoot that shot every day, every day after practice and before practice," said Prochet, who had 11 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks in his final game at Niagara. "It's unfortunate it rimmed out like that, but when I shot it, it felt good."
As the ball sailed in the air, Salnave thought back to that game against Siena -- a 72-65 win for the Saints in overtime, which helped the Hawks earn the No. 6 seed in the MAAC Tournament.
"Marv hit a side-step three to go into overtime and, honestly, the first thing I thought when it went up (tonight) was that it was good," said Salnave, who led Monmouth with 20 points. "I was just thinking, 'not again, he's not hitting a big one again.' So, luckily, it rattled out and we got the rebound and secured our win."
Monmouth's Diago Quinn didn't even see who shot the ball.
"I just saw it go up and rattle out," said Quinn, who scored 14 points and had nine rebounds. "I figured it'd be him to shoot it, but it's kind of like when you almost get hit by a car. It's like, 'oh thank God.' "
Monmouth (12-20) will face No. 3 Quinnipiac at 7 p.m. Saturday in a MAAC quarterfinal at the Times Union Center.
Raheem Solomon led the Purple Eagles with 24 points. Dominic Robb had four blocks and seven points against the Hawks. Robb entered as Niagara’s school record-holder with 221 blocked shots.
The 6-foot-8 senior forward led the MAAC with 65 blocks in 31 regular-season games.
Originally scheduled to tip off at 9 p.m., the start of the first-round game between Niagara and Monmouth was pushed back for more than an hour, after the opening game of the night, St. Peter's' win against Marist, went to overtime, which also delayed the Manhattan-Fairfield game.
The Hawks tied the game at 10-10 on Salnave’s shot at 14:19, but Solomon answered 13 seconds later with a 3-pointer that gave the lead back to Niagara at 13-12. Marcus Hammond’s fall-down 3 pointer punctuated an 11-4 run by the Purple Eagles that opened their lead to 21-14 with 9:54 left in the half.
The Purple Eagles entered the bonus with 8:12 left in the half, but the Hawks slowly whittled away at what was a 7-point lead, and took a 23-22 lead with 5:30 left on Nick Rutherford’s 3-pointer, then took a 26-24 lead less than a minute later, as Deion Hammond’s 3-pointer for Monmouth sandwiched Robb’s layup.
But Chris Barton’s 3-pointer with 3:32 left in the first half tied the game at 27-27, and with 1:15 left in the half, Marcus Hammond completed a 3-point play that appeared to help Niagara. But with 12 seconds left, Salnave tied the game on a layup with 12 seconds left, and Niagara’s last shot just before the buzzer bounced off the backboard.
Niagara led twice early in the second half, as Prochet’s 3-pointer 41 seconds into the second half broke a 33-33 tie. Niagara and Monmouth were tied four times in the first seven minutes, and Solomon’s three free throws tied it a fifth time, at 53-53, after he was fouled by Mustapha Traore on a 3-point attempt, and Monmouth appeared to take control when it opened its lead to five points at 60-55 with 9:51 left. But again, the Purple Eagles answered with five points to tie it at 60-60 with 8:24 left on Barton’s free throw on the front end of a 1-and-1.
The Hawks continued to answer, and took a 69-67 lead with 2:51 left on Quinn’s free throws. Then, after Marcus Hammond tied the game at 69-69 with 2:30 left, the Hawks used a 5-point swing with less than 2:20 left to open its lead to 74-69. But Solomon hit a 3-pointer with 59 seconds left to bring Niagara back within two points.
Niagara assistant Marc Rybczyk joined the Purple Eagles on the bench Thursday at the Times Union Center.
Rybczyk is currently on leave from his coaching position at Niagara. Rybczyk was diagnosed in October with Stage IV non-Hodgkin's Diffuse Enlarged B-cell lymphoma, an aggressive and common blood cancer that requires an equally aggressive treatment and is mostly seen in patients at age 60 or older.
He lives in Albany with his fiancée, Siena women’s basketball coach Ali Jaques.
"I missed Marc a lot this year," Niagara coach Chris Casey said. "In terms of basketball, he's someone that does a lot for us, so you miss him, in terms of the work he needs to get done. But moreso, he's someone I've known for 30 years and his father gave me my first coaching job. It means a lot to see him getting better and continuing to fight. I pray every night for him, that he'll heal, 100 percent, and be back with us, 100 percent, as soon as possible."