Niagara Gazette

Sports

February 8, 2014

NU men falter late, fall short in upset bid

Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — For 40 minutes Friday night, the Niagara University men's basketball team out-hustled the visiting Iona Gaels.

For 10 seconds, it killed them.

Down two as time dwindled off the clock, Iona's Tavon Sledge came up with a loose ball and found a wide-open AJ English on the right elbow. English, left alone after two Niagara players dove for the ball, put up a 3-pointer that spun through the hoop with 7.9 seconds left to give the Gaels a 90-89 win in front of a stunned crowd of 1,259 at the Gallagher Center.

It was Niagara's fourth loss by less than five points this season and the second time this year the Purple Eagles (6-18, 3-10 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) lost on a late basket at home. St. Bonaventure pulled out a 74-72 win Dec. 21 on a buzzer-beating layup.

"I don't know why this is happening, but there's a reason," said NU coach Chris Casey. "And at some point we'll figure out that reason."

NU led 86-74 with 4:09 remaining after trailing by as many as 12 in the first half. The Purple Eagles went into halftime on an 11-4 run and trailed 45-41.

Iona (14-8, 11-2 MAAC) went on a 15-3 run over the game's final four minutes. Niagara did almost everything a team could do to give up a late lead, sending the Gaels to the line and missing its final five free throws. Tahjere McCall's go-ahead 3-pointer rang off the back of the iron and Rayvon Harris' last-ditch put back attempt was way off as time expired.

"I'm proud of our guys for fighting to the very end and finding a way to win on a night when, to be honest, Niagara outplayed us the entire game," Iona coach Tim Cluess said. 

Iona built up its early lead on lights-out 3-point shooting. Niagara attempted 15 more field goals (41-26) in the half and finished with twice as many points in the paint (24-12) and a huge advantage in second-chance points (14-0). But the Gaels went 8 for 16 from beyond the arc and shot 53.8 percent overall compared to 2 for 10 and 39 percent for NU.

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