WEST POINT — Anthony Nelson looked like a guy who’d yet to play this season when he committed four turnovers in the early portion of Niagara University’s second-round appearance in the Legends Classic tournament.
That didn’t stop the team’s lone senior from showing his experience when it counted though, as Nelson’s basket with just a second left on the shot clock proved the game’s winning play as the Purple Eagles evened their record at 2-2 with a 65-61 victory over Bowling Green on Friday.
Nelson’s shot, which came with just under a minute to play and gave Niagara a 62-58 edge, came off a nifty feed from Kevon Moore. The Purple Eagles’ senior leader finished with just four points, but came through at crunch time.
“Having Anthony made a huge difference. He was really rusty, he hadn’t practiced for two weeks, and it was the first time he’d gone live with the face mask on,” Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. “But he’s the glue guy. We needed him to make a play, and he did. And we were able to do so many more things because of him.”
While Nelson struggled to get things going early, freshmen Marvin Jordan and Malcolm Lemmons picked up the slack. Jordan hit a trio of 3-pointers and finished with 17 points on the day while Lemmons added 13 points and four rebounds in the victory.
The Purple Eagles needed all the help they could get as leading scorer Antoine Mason sat out with a sore foot and sophomore post player Eric Williams couldn’t go because of a bad knee.
“This was a gut check for our guys for sure,” Mihalich said. “I’ve been saying this, but it’s true, we’re just so young and the only way for these guys to get better is to just play.”
Niagara was down by two at the half, but got in front by as many as nine in the second half, jumping up 57-48 when Jordan buried a 3-pointer with 5:26 left.
The Falcons made it a two-point game on Auston Calhoun’s layup with 1:21 to play, but Nelson hit his shot to keep the Purple Eagles in front.
Bowling Green cut it to 62-61, but Jordan buried a pair of free throw with 19 seconds left and Moore added another with just four seconds left.
Jordan’s smooth strikes showed the freshman is ready to contribute in key spots.
“He looked like a senior out there making those,” Mihalich said. “It was like swish, swish.”
Kashief Edwards added 15 points for Niagara, which plays Albany today, while forward Scooter Gillette added five points in 10 minutes of action, but got three personal fouls in a short window of opportunity.
“Scooter’s close, he’s close to making plays,” Mihalich said. “It’s one of those things where I feel like he’s on the verge. One of these days he’s going to break out and have a big game for us. And success breeds confidence.”
Bowling Green (1-4) had four players in double figures, led by Dee Brown’s 12 points. Scott Thomas, Cameron Black and Torian Oglesby all had 10 points for the Falcons.
As for today’s opponent, Albany, Mihalich think they’ll be better than advertised. Although the Great Danes won just seven games a year ago, they took Detroit to overtime on Friday in the game following Niagara’s, and impressed the Purple Eagles’ coaching staff.
“They’re a lot better than I thought. Other than Georgia Tech, they’re as good as anybody we played,” he said.