Niagara Gazette — LEWSITON — The Niagara Purple Eagles could’ve used a lesson in closing out games a week ago.
After blowing a late lead for the third straight game, they got it Friday night courtesy of the rival Canisius Golden Griffins.
Canisius’ Chris Perez hit the go-ahead layup with 57 seconds left and star guard Billy Baron hit six straight free throws to put the game away as Niagara lost its third straight to a top Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference opponent, 71-65 at the Gallagher Center.
Niagara (6-20, 3-12 MAAC) held its largest lead, 44-33, with 17:01 left in the second half and led by nine with 12:30 remaining. That’s when Canisius (17-9, 11-4 MAAC) made its run.
Jordan Heath finished a put-back dunk, Perez hit a pair of free throws and Baron hit a layup to pull within three. NU senior Marvin Jordan missed 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions, and Baron unloaded from deep to tie the game at 52.
Canisius took its first lead of the second half with 7:44 left when Heath drained a 3 from the corner. Jordan responded with a trey of his own just 10 seconds later, and Antoine Mason hit a high jumper over the 6-foot-10 Heath to push give NU a 61-57 lead.
The Golden Griffins tied it at 61 on a Phil Valenti free throw with 4:30 left, and both teams went cold for almost two minutes. NU’s Marcus Ware snapped the streak with a put-back off a Mason miss with 2:49 left, and NU had a chance to extend its lead after Baron came up short on a jumper.
Mason dribbled around the outside of the arc, trapped by a cheating Canisius defender each time he attempted a drive. Eventually, he coughed the ball up to Perez, who was fouled by Ramone Snowden on a fast break.
Perez sank both free throws to tie it at 63 with 1:55 remaining. NU coach Chris Casey called a timeout to set up a play, but Canisius coach Jim Baron switched defenses and Niagara ended up with a shot clock violation.