NIAGARA UNIV., N.Y. – The Niagara Purple Eagles wrapped up their conference home opening weekend by edging the Fairfield Stags, 71-67, in a battle of first place teams on Saturday.
Niagara (7-7, 3-1 MAAC) halted a couple of six-game winning streaks by Fairfield (10-6, 2-2 MAAC). The Purple Eagles snapped their six-game skid against the Stags while also stopping their six-game winning streak which was the longest in the conference.
“This is a hot team, we beat not just a good team but a hot team,” head coach Joe Mihalich said. “It was a great win, it was a hard fought win. We talked about being tough early because we thought those games Fairfield won they were the toughest team early on. I thought we won that little game within the game.
Juan’ya Green was the catalyst to NU’s first win against Fairfield since Jan. 4, 2010. Green led all scorers with a season-high 31 points for his fourth career 30-point game. Green was four points away from tying his career-high of 35 points, which he netted against Fairfield in his first-ever MAAC game in Dec. 2011. Green went a game-best 12-for-13 from the free-throw line, had a game-high four steals and led the team with three assists.
“Juan’ya played like an all-conference player,” Mihalich stated.
NU set the tone early in the game as the Purple Eagles forced six turnovers in the opening five minutes to take an 11-2 lead on the conference’s leader in scoring defense. Fairfield immediately answered with an 11-0 run before NU regained the lead with a Green jumper on the next possession. NU led 29-24 with 3:47 left in the half, but Fairfield went on a 7-2 spurt as the half ended tied at 31-31.
In the second half, Green scored 21 points while twice putting NU ahead in the tightly contested game.
Fairfield scored the half’s opening points and led 36-35 when Green converted a four-point play to give Niagara its first lead of the second stanza. The score was tied at 53-53 with 7:54 remaining when a pair of free throws by Green started a 7-2 run. Green also scored NU’s last field goal of the game – a driving layup with 5:05 remaining – as NU led 62-58.
Green and Marvin Jordan combined to go 9-for-10 at the charity stripe as the Purple Eagles held off Fairfield in the final minutes. NU finished with a season-high 27 free throws on 37 attempts.
“I just told our guys what a great win that was and to get use to it because this is what every night is going to be like,” Mihalich said. “With the conference this year, every night is going to be like that with two teams going toe- to- toe; anybody can win and anybody can lose and our guys came out.”
Antoine Mason joined Green in double figures with 11 points for his 21st straight game scoring in double figures dating back to last season. Devon White led the game with a season-high eight rebounds and added nine points.
Niagara steps out of conference play on Tuesday when it travels to play the Brown Bears at 7 p.m. to start a three-game roadtrip. Fans can listen to the game on WWKB 1520 AM and online at Purple Eagles All-Access.