Niagara 71, Fairfield 67
How Niagara Won: A look at Fairfield's shooting numbers (28 of 53) might spring the conclusion the Purple Eagles somehow escaped a sub-par defensive effort. A look at Fairfield turnover count (21) shines a light on what really transpired. A lack of size leaves Niagara's zone susceptible on the interior, but their quickness creates the kind of mayhem that leads to mistakes and the Stags made too many to escape with what would have been a third straight sweep of a trip to Western New York.
Player of the Game: There was no stopping Juan'ya Green. He took the game into his own hands over the final 10 minutes, scored 15 of Niagara's final 20 points and finished with a season-high 31. It's understandable that coach Joe Mihalich wants to work freshman point guard Tahjere McCall into the mix. But the fact is Green's at his best when he's quarterbacking the offense instead of playing the 2 guard.
Best Supporting Role: Niagara center Devon White made his presence felt right from the outset with two steals inside the opening three minutes. He finished with eight points, eight rebounds, three steals and a block. But it's worrisome he picked up at least his third flagrant foul of the season. If he gets ejected at some point Niagara will have issues.
What It Means: The Purple Eagles (7-7. 2-2) retained a share of first place by knocking off a team that had won six straight, including Thursday night's destruction of Canisius at the Koessler Center. Size could be an issue for the Stags (10-6, 2-2) over the long haul but they were only a decent Derek Needham shooting night away from maybe leaving Buffalo with two wins. Needham, one of the conference's top guards, was just 5 of 17 from the field, including 1 of 9 from three.
In the House: The students are still at home but the local support (1,445) appears to be growing.
Stat Check: This shows how effective Niagara was in taking dribble-penetration straight to the basket. The Purple Eagles had 21 field goals -- and only four assists. (Green had three of them).
Stat Check II: Someone look up the last time the Purple Eagles scored 71 points with only two threes to their credit.
They Said It:
Joe Mihalich on Niagara's array of offensive weapons: "We have the luxury of (Green) having the ball or Antoine having the ball. If MJ’s in there you got to guard him because he can shoot. Now you got Devon that can score down low. Ameen. So it’s a balance and I think Juan’ya be the first guy to tell you that the reason he can play some one-on-one there is they can’t help off of Mason, they can’t help off of MJ, they can’t help off of Dev now. Tonight was his chance to kind of take advantage of what was there. Maybe next time it could be Mason. After that it could be Devon being able to do it."
Mihalich on the mindset coming in: "We talked about being tough early because we thought that those games that they won Fairfield was the toughest team early on. So I thought we won that little game within the game."
Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson: "For us it came down to our missed free throws (6 of 15), out turnovers (21) and the free throw disparity (Niagara shot 37). Those were three things that were amazing. We were very poor from the line. We threw the ball all over the place, and Joe's team forced us to do a lot of that. And the free throws, the disparity's almost insurmountable."
Heating Up: Green had 52 points over the last two games, marking the first time this season he's gone over 20 in consecutive starts.
Cooling Off: Freshman T.J Cline's unorthodox shooting stroke might appear less ugly if a shot found the basket every now and then. He started out the season shooting 5 of 8 from three. Since then he's 9 for 50, including 0 of 4 Saturday.
Next Up: The Purple Eagles step outside the MAAC to play at Brown Tuesday night. Fairfield plays its fourth straight conference road game at Loyola Friday night then returns home Sunday for a rapid-turnaround rematch with Niagara.
-- Bob DiCesare
taggedCollege basketball | Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference | Niagara