NIAGARA UNIV., N.Y. – The Niagara men’s basketball team recorded its seventh straight conference win after battling past the Manhattan Jaspers, 64-60, on Saturday at the Gallagher Center.
With the game deadlocked at 58-58 with 2:26 remaining, Niagara (11-8, 7-1 MAAC) ended the 74th meeting between the programs on a 6-2 run to have a half-game lead for first place in the MAAC.
“We snatched victory from the jaws of defeat tonight,” head coach Joe Mihalich said. “That (game) had loss written all over it but these guys wouldn’t let it happen.”
The Purple Eagles received significant contributions at the free-throw line. Niagara went 38-for-49 at the charity stripe to account for 58 percent of the scoring and was its most made free throws since sinking 40 against Canisius on Feb. 16, 2005. Antoine Mason made a career-best and a team season-high 13 free throws. Ameen Tanksley also had a career-day at the free-throw line, going 9-for-10 at the line.
NU needed every 38 free throws to pull out the win, including going 6-for-8 at the line in the final 2:26.
The Purple Eagles largest lead of the game was 35-25 with 1:52 left before halftime and led by nine early in the second half when Manhattan (5-13, 3-5 MAAC) crept back into the game.
The Jaspers had a 12-2 run to regain the lead at 53-47 with 8:43 remaining. Freshman Tahjere McCall, who finished with a career-best 12 points, made consecutive floaters in the paint to help restart NU’s offense.
The duo of Juan’ya Green and Mason soon picked up the load in the final minutes. Mason made four straight free throws to bring NU to 57-56 at 4:02. Green, who was kept quiet for most of the game, made a jumper in the paint to tie the game at 58-58 with 2:26 left. From there, Green made three of his next four free throws as Manhattan suffered a turnover and missed 3-pointer on consecutive possessions.
Manhattan’s Michael Alvarado made a layup to cut NU’s lead to 61-60 with 48 seconds left. ON NU’s next possession, T.J. Cline was fouled on a putback layup attempt and he converted a pair of free throws to extend NU’s lead to three points with 18 seconds left.
Niagara forced Manhattan’s RaShawn Stores to take an off balance 3-pointer with three seconds left, which hit the side of the rim. McCall was fouled and made 1-of-2 free throws to seal the game.
Mason led NU in scoring for the 12th time with 15 points for his 26th straight game in double figures. Tanksley followed with 13 and Cline had 11 points.
Niagara heads on the road next week, beginning against Siena on Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. The game will be aired on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel, WWKB 1520 AM and online audio via Purple Eagles All-Access.