By Jonah Bronstein
NIAGARA FALLS —
Three hours after their latest discouraging loss, the Niagara men’s basketball team sat idle in New York City waiting for a flat tire to be fixed on the team bus.
That’s the kind of year it’s been for the Purple Eagles.
“It’s one of those stretches where anything that can go wrong is going wrong,” coach Joe Mihalich said Monday night. “Our kids are getting tested. We have to handle adversity better. We have to get tougher.”
Earlier in the day, Niagara sank into last place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with a 51-49 loss at Manhattan, which came into the game on a 15-game losing streak.
And that was hardly the most ominous news to come out of the lost weekend, which also included Saturday’s setback at Saint Peter’s.
The Purple Eagles (4-15, 1-6) played both games without junior forward Kashief Edwards, their only reliable frontcourt player. Edwards had his knee scoped earlier in the week.
Mihalich described playing without Edwards and leading scorer Antoine Mason as being “in a sword fight with a butter knife.”
Edwards is unlikely to play in next week’s home games against Iona and Fairifeld (two of the strongest teams in the MAAC), though he could return in time for the Jan. 28 game at Canisius.
Mason probably won’t play again this season. After averaging 16.7 points over the first three games, the freshman guard has been sidelined by a stress fracture in his foot. The injury wasn’t believed to be season-ending when it occurred, but has been slow to heal.
Mason has been unable to practice since the injury occurred and has sat on the bench wearing a protective boot for the past 16 games. If he doesn’t play another minute this season, he can apply for a medical hardship waiver that will allow him to enter next season with all four years of his eligibility in tact.
Mihalich stopped short of declaring Mason out for the season, but acknowledged that is probably how the situation will play out.
Senior guard Anthony Nelson, who missed the first three games of the season with a face injury, led Niagara on Monday with 14 points and eight assists. He also came up with six steals, moving past Niagara-Wheatfield graduate and Buffalo guard Byron Mulkey for the national lead.
Niagara had two chances to win in the waning seconds, but Marvin Jordan’s open 3-pointer and Nelson’s contested floater off a rebound both missed.
“When we had a chance to make a play, we did not,” said Mihalich who also lamented eight turnovers against a zone defense in the second half and 32 percent shooting in the first half.