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Niagara University fires men's basketball coach Chris Casey

Niagara University has fired men's basketball coach Chris Casey, the school announced Monday.

Niagara announced Casey's dismissal four days after the Purple Eagles lost to Monmouth, 76-72, in the first round of the MAAC Tournament  in Albany.

"We gave the job our best efforts," Casey told The News in a text message Monday. "I wish the university the best moving forward."

Casey's firing comes a little more than four months after Niagara gave him a three-year contract extension through 2021-22.

In six years at Niagara, Casey had a record of 64-129, including 39-77 in the MAAC.

The extension followed a 2017-18 season in which Niagara was 19-14, 12-6 in the MAAC, and played in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. It was the only time that Casey's teams finished better than .500 in his six seasons.

Casey's early teams struggled, winning a combined 22 games in his first three seasons, as a number of players left following Joe Mihalich's move to Hofstra, and Casey was unable to retain his own recruits.

"At the time, when we did the extension, we were very excited about how last season had gone," Niagara athletic director Simon Gray told The News on Monday. "It was successful, we were returning four seniors, and we felt good about the season. We wanted to show our commitment to the program and to coach Casey."

Yet, Gray said, as the season went on, "It became apparent we were not going to sustain success. It’s apparent in the record."

The Purple Eagles finished 13-19 and in a three-way tie for last place in the MAAC at 6-12. Niagara dropped to the lowest seed in the tournament after a loss to Siena to end the regular season, combined with Saint Peter's win against Fairfield. Niagara went 1-3 combined against Saint Peter’s and Fairfield this season.

Niagara underachieved despite having four seniors in the lineup, and the way Niagara finished the season was in stark contrast to its start. The Purple Eagles went 7-6 in their nonconference schedule, which included wins at Pittsburgh and at home against St. Bonaventure, but they limped through conference play.

Niagara won back-to-back games once during the MAAC season and finished 2-8 in its final 10 games, including a 2-6 record in February.

“We struggled during the conference to completely find ourselves,” Casey said prior to the MAAC Tournament. “We found ourselves for moments but not for sustained periods."

Gray said he informed Casey on Monday morning of the decision to dismiss him. Niagara's athletic administration also informed players of Casey's dismissal before the announcement. Gray intends to meet with the team when the players return from spring break.

When asked if Niagara would retain Casey's assistant coaches and support staff, Gray said the status of that group will not change.

Gray said he will immediately begin a national search for a men's basketball coach. Gray will lead the search, but Niagara will not use a search firm to find candidates.

"We’re looking for someone who has been successful and who has experience with our level of basketball," Gray said. "We’re also looking for a community builder, someone who can build relationships and elevate our program."

Niagara graduates four seniors or fifth-year seniors from this year's team, including Marvin Prochet, a forward and a second-team All-MAAC selection who averaged team highs of 15.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in 29 games this season.

Niagara's lone signee — 6-6 forward Amadou Traore from Brooklyn Collegiate — announced on Twitter that he will re-open his recruitment. Traore announced in December that he signed a National Letter of Intent to play at Niagara. Gray said that once Traore officially initiates that request for a release from his NLI, Niagara will grant it.

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