Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — The Niagara Purple Eagles have seemingly found a new way to lose with each game this season.
Thursday night, hosting the Fairfield Stags in a battle to stay out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basement, the Purple Eagles shot an abysmal 44 percent from the free throw line in a 72-66 loss that sent them to the bottom of the league standings.
“You can’t blame it all on free throws,” said NU coach Chris Casey. “They’re not trying to miss them. I thought in the opening parts of the game, had we made a few, we would’ve put ourselves in a position where we would’ve been ahead.”
The first half was predictably sloppy given the struggles of the two teams.
Fairfield (6-22, 3-14 MAAC) opened the scoring on the first possession when Coleman Johnson knocked down a long 2-pointer. NU’s Wesley Myers, Marcus Ware and Ramone Snowden drew contact on three straight possessions, but combined to hit just 2 of 6 free throws.
“We had some opportunities in the first half to try to stretch a lead and make them play from behind and we did not do that,” Casey said. “We have to make a few more free throws and a few more shots and play from in front rather than behind the whole game.”
That’d be the story of the rest of the game. The Purple Eagles (6-22, 3-14 MAAC) finished 4 for 13 from the stripe in the first 20 minutes. Fairfield closed the half on a 15-4 run during which NU missed four straight free throws, two of which were the front ends of one-and-ones.
The Stags also shot 55.6 percent (5 for 9) from deep in the first, led by two apiece from Steve Johnston and Maurice Barrow. Fairfield led 34-24 at the break.
Niagara wasn’t able to make a substantial run after the break. The Purple Eagles opened with a 5-1 run, but Fairfield responded with a 4-0 spurt. Antoine Mason, Niagara’s leading scorer, slammed home a pair of one-handed dunks in transition, but both times KJ Rose got inside for an answering layup for the Stags.