Niagara Gazette

Sports

November 9, 2013

New-look Niagara aims to replicate last season's success

New-look Niagara aims to replicate last season's success despite loss of key players and coach

Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — It feels like much longer than a year has passed since the 2012-13 Niagara University men’s basketball team won the Mid Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season championship, when a core of freshmen and sophomores looked poised for multiple title runs in the upcoming years.

Instead, longtime 15-year Purple Eagles coach Joe Mihalich shocked many on Monteagle Ridge by leaving for Hofstra. Guard Juan’ya Green — the sophomore sensation who won MAAC Rookie of the Year as a freshman and was named first team all-league last season — followed suit, transferring to join Mihalich with the Pride. Ameen Tanksley, another starting sophomore guard, joined them.

All-Rookie forward T.J. Cline left for Richmond. Reserves Malcolm Lemmons and Lawrence Johnson also jumped ship.

In the end, all that remained were five returnees — Antoine Mason, Marvin Jordan, Tahjere McCall, Joe Thomas and Rayvon Harris. And despite a first-year head coach (Chris Casey) and 11 new players, the veterans maintain that not much has changed as the Purple Eagles prepare to open the 2013-14 season tonight at Seton Hall (6 p.m., Fox Sports 2 and WGR 550).

“It all kind of feels the same,” said Mason, a sophomore guard named first-team All-MAAC last season after leading the Purple Eagles in scoring with 18.3 points per game. “We have the same concepts and we’re still going to push the ball.”

“The only thing different is the coaching change,” added Jordan. “The energy in practice has been pretty much the same, and the guys are going hard every day. It’s pretty much the same, just a different look.”

Casey takes the helm as the 21st coach in Niagara history after three seasons at Division II LIU Post, where he went 62-25 and posted back-to-back 20-win seasons. He brings 27 years of coaching experience, including stints as a Division I assistant at St. John’s, Central Connecticut State and Saint Peter’s.

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