Niagara Gazette

Sports

March 8, 2014

NU gets 'Cats in MAAC quarters

Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Purple Eagles have found all kinds of ways to lose this season.

Buzzer-beaters, blown leads and comebacks coming up just short seemed to occur every other game. Niagara ended the year on a 10-game skid, seven of the losses coming by 6 points or less.

All that changed Thursday night when the Purple Eagles, seeded 11th in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, upset No. 6 Marist, 78-76, at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass.

Niagara (7-25) faces third-seeded Quinnipiac at 9 p.m. tonight in the quarterfinals, and head coach Chris Casey hopes defeating their late-game demons could lead the Purple Eagles to more success.

“It’s always big to walk away with a win,” Casey said. “It helps us in the learning process. You have to learn to compete. We hadn’t learned to win close games yet. I think yesterday we hopefully took a step in that direction.”

Niagara led 43-24 at halftime and pushed its lead to 24 points with 12:39 left. From there, the Red Foxes (12-19) closed on a 41-19 run, pushing to tie the game all the way until the final buzzer.

NU’s Antoine Mason gave Marist a chance to tie at the end, missing a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left. After a timeout, Marist’s Khallid Hart missed a 3-pointer and big-man Adam Kemp’s put back attempt fell short as time expired.

A pessimist might point to yet another nearly-blown lead by Niagara, but Casey choses to look at the positives.

“Good teams can win in different ways,” he said. “They can come from behind, win fast, win slow. Yesterday we got ahead and kept them at bay.”

Mason led the Purple Eagles with 38 points on 13-for-19 shooting. He added 12 points on 18 attempts from the charity stripe, a team-high four assists and six rebounds.

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