Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — With the exception of two successful free throws, Antoine Mason couldn’t get the ball to drop in the first eight minutes of Niagara University’s mens basketball game against Brown on Sunday afternoon.
Then he got hot. Very hot. When the final buzzer sounded, Mason scored a career-high 39 points to lead the Purple Eagles’ 68-65 win over the Bears at the Gallagher Center.
What mattered more to the nation’s leading scorer was the number under ‘Niagara’ on the scoreboard.
“I just come out an try to play and get ‘Ws,’ “ Mason said. “Points don’t matter. ‘Ws’ count.”
What mattered more to Niagara head coach Chris Casey was his team’s strong defensive play.
“That was a good college basketball game,” Casey said. “That’s a very good team. It’s a very well coached team. They brought a lot of stuff that makes them hard to defend. They’ve got some guys that can shoot the ball. I thought we did a good job of speeding them up a bit and making them play a little faster than they wanted to. I thought that helped us, and our guys stayed tough when they needed to stay tough.”
Being able to defend Brown (6-5) was most important to preserving Niagara’s lead, especially with the Purple Eagles having some moments when, like Mason experienced early, their hard work simply wasn’t being rewarded with baskets.
“We talk all the time of getting control of the game with your defense and your rebounding,” Casey said.
The defense included two big blocks by Joe Thomas that helped Niagara eventually extend its lead in the late stages of the first half. Thomas, who also scored Niagara’s first four points, finished with three swatted shots.
Even Brown’s head coach, Mike Martin, felt it was Niagara’s defense that made the difference.