By Jonah Bronstein
Niagara Gazette — Niagara men's basketball coach Joe Mihalich said there were "a few things to be discouraged about" from Friday night's season-opening loss at Oregon State, "but a lot of things to be encouraged about."
At the top of the list of encouraging signs was the play of freshmen T.J. Cline and Tahjere McCall.
"They are both fearless," Mihalich said.
Cline, a 6-foot-8 forward, had 11 points and four rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench. He played about half of his minutes at the center spot, and while he didn't solve the Purple Eagles problems with interior defense and rebounding, Mihalich likes what Cline offers from that position on the other end of the floor.
"He's a very good offensive player," Mihalich said. "He's getting better defensively. He's a true gamer."
Cline hit two of the Purple Eagles' 16 3-pointers in the game, becoming the player 6-7 or taller to provide long-range shooting for Niagara since J.R. Duffy and Clif Brown were seniors on the 2007 NCAA tournament team.
McCall, a 6-4 guard, had eight points, a team-high eight rebounds and three assists in 19 minutes off the bench. His 12 field goal attempts were third on the team after top-scoring options Juan'ya Green and Antoine Mason, and his six free throw attempts tied Mason for the team-high.
"He's very aggressive, playing free out there, making plays, forcing the action," Mihalich said. "I mean this in a good way — he's a somebody you have to get a little more under control. It's going to be a lot easier to reel him in than it would be to try and get him going if he wasn't playing with confidence."
Niagara was at significant size disadvantage in the 102-83 loss. The result was a minus-15 rebounding margin and 57-percent opponent's field goal shooting, which negated the Purple Eagles' offensive success.
"We've proven that if we don't get better defensively and rebound the ball better we will make it tough to win games," Mihalich said. "But we did a good job scoring the ball and after watching the tape, we came to the conclusion that we were a lot closer than we thought."
The Purple Eagles play their first home game tonight against St. Francis.
"They're a solid defensive team with good guards that was leading Penn State in the second half," Mihalich said. "They are not very bid, but are very quick. But we still have got to defend and rebound better."