Niagara 93, Iona 90 (OT)
How Niagara Won: 'Twas magic is what it was. Down 15 midway through the second half and down seven with 45 seconds left in regulation, the Purple Eagles tied it on a Juan'ya Green three and won it in OT on another trey by Green. Stunning. Iona appeared to have secured the victory that would tie it for first place in the conference but the Purple Eagles, as is so often the case and particularly on their home floor, just wouldn't go away. They came up with key steals down the stretch. They went on a rampage on the offensive glass. And when Iona failed to make the free throws that would have locked things up Niagara barged through the door and shouted, "Here we are."
Players of the Game: Green and Antoine Mason combined to rip the Gaels' hearts out. Time and again in the final 10 minutes they drove into the paint and either scored or went to the line. Mason had a career-high 30 points, 17 of them after intermission. Grey scored 26 to go with eight assists against just one turnover. They outplayed Iona's heralded backcourt combination of Momo Jones (23 points) and Sean Armand (11).
Player of the Game (Losing effort): Opposing coaches are going to exhale from their heels when Iona's David Laury graduates. But that won't be for a while. The 6-8 sophomore, a juco transfer, pummelled the Purple Eagles on the inside, going for a career-high 24 points and 16 rebounds. It was his fourth straight double-double. He's a special talent, and he just became eligible following the first semester.
Best Supporting Role: Niagara swingman Ameen Tanksley doubled up as well: 15 points and 11 boards. Plus two of Niagara's nine steals.
Stat Check: Niagara had 17 of its 20 offensive rebounds after halftime and three on the regulation-ending sequence that led to Green's tying three.
Stat Check II: Iona's Armand, a 76 percent shooter from the line, missed two free throws with Iona up 5 and 32 seconds left in regulation. He also turned the ball over with Iona up 3 and 23 seconds on the clock.
Stat Check III: Green attempted 10 threes. He made two. Pretty good timing on those.
On Fire: Green's stats the last three games: 54 points, 27 assists, 5 turnovers.
What It Means: Niagara's not thinking NIT, but it's now two games up in the MAAC with seven games remaining, four of them at home. Conference regular-season champions are assured NIT berths in the event they fail to win the conference tournament and advance to the NCAAs. Iona remained alone in second place thanks to Loyola's loss at Canisius.
In the House: The Gallagher Center was jumping a good half hour before tip-off. The student section filled. And 1856 sounded like 8156 when Niagara waved its magic wand and for the fifth time won a MAAC game decided by four points or fewer.
Streaking: Niagara's 10 straight MAAC wins are a school record, breaking the mark of nine set in coach Joe Mihalich's debut season.
Replay: It's uncanny. In the last two games the Purple Eagles have made game-winning or game-tying threes in the final seconds of regulation and another in overtime.
Next Up: Loyola looks to bounce back from consecutive losses to Iona and Canisius when it visits the Gallagher Center at 3 Saturday afternoon. Iona moves on to the Koessler Athletic Center for a 7 p.m. Saturday start against the Griffs.
They Said It
Iona Coach Tim Cluess on Niagara's four-shot possession at the end of regulation: "Talked to our guys about why they were so worried about defending the rim when we're up three. They should have been out there on the perimeter on those long rebounds staying with their men, not running in, because only a three would tie it.
"But it's kind of a growing-up process when you're in that situation. And the emotion of the game, the guys were just trying to give their all to go after it, and again how often do four shots come flying out to the three-point line. It's almost like the gods were tipping it out to give them another chance."
Mihalich on Niagara's listless state with 10 minutes left: "I think we all got down a little bit. We got a little frustrated. We were chipping at each other. We really were and that's not us. Myself included. And that's not us. And at one point in time even coach Farrelly was saying the huddles weren't like they needed to be, there was no fight, they were quiet. We lost our fight for a little stretch there.
"And so to get it back, to get it back, makes me as proud as almost anything that happened tonight. Because we could have died. We could have said, 'You know what, we had a good run . . . these guys are pretty good, so . . . you know. But these guys just wouldn't give in."
-- Bob DiCesare
taggedCollege basketball | Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference | Niagara