ALBANY, N.Y. – The Niagara men’s basketball team picked up its first win at Siena in nine attempts with a 78-69 win on Friday night to remain in first place in the MAAC.
The Purple Eagles (12-8, 8-1 MAAC) won their eighth straight conference game to set a new program-best mark which was set previoulsy set during the 2006-07 season. Niagara recorded its first sweep of the Saints (4-16, 2-7 MAAC) since the 2004-05 season, which was also the last time the Purple Eagles won at Siena.
“We talk a lot about toughness and attitude and I think our guys are developing that,” head coach Joe Mihalich said. “They found a way to win and winners do that.”
The trio of Juan’ya Green, Antoine Mason and Ameen Tanksley all scored in double figures to overcome a career-night by Siena’s Evan Hymes who finished with a game-high 30 points. Green nearly made history himself on the evening. Green recorded his first-ever double-double with a team-high 19 points and tied a career-best 11 assists, but was one rebound short of the program’s second triple-double.
NU played a clean, balanced opening 20 minutes in a half that featured 10 lead changes and seven ties. Eight of NU’s first 10 baskets were on an assist and Niagara didn’t commit their first turnover until 5:50 remained in the first half.
With the game tied at 35-35, Tanksley sank a pair of free throws to spark a 7-0 spurt in a span of 50 seconds. Siena closed the half by scoring the final four points to trail 42-40 at intermission.
NU opened the second half on a 10-3 run which was capped with a 3-pointer by Marvin Jordan. A triple by Mason at 11:16 gave the Purple Eagles the game’s largest lead at 59-47. However, the Purple Eagles would have to fight off a ferocious rally by the Saints.
In a span of three minutes, Siena cut NU’s lead to 61-59 and eventually to a single point, 70-69, with 2:04 remaining. On NU’s ensuing possession, Green drove in the paint and dished the ball to Devon White for the slam to give NU a 72-69 lead.
“We ran a play that we ran a lot…it doesn’t necessary work all the time but our players made it work,” Mihalich said.
Niagara finished the game making free throws and getting defensive stops. After a missed 3-pointer by Siena’s Rob Poole, Mason made a pair of free throws. Siena’s next two possessions ended in steals by Niagara and Green went 4-for-4 at the line to seal the game.
“The biggest challenge for us was to play this team eight days ago and to have the success we had to convince our team that this will not be the same team at home,” Mihalich stated. “This is what makes the win so satisfying because our guys took it up a notch when they had to.”
NU outscored the Saints in the paint (38-20), scored 20 points off of 12 turnovers and tied a season-high with 18 assists while tying a season-low three turnovers.
Niagara will take its eight-game MAAC win streak crosstown on Sunday when it faces Canisius in an ESPN3 contest at 4 p.m.