Niagara Gazette — Antoine Mason took three weeks to recover from a rolled ankle and the Niagara Purple Eagles offense is rolling once again.
Niagara stumbled into a three-game losing streak when its leading scorer began limping toward the end of that first loss, then leaned on defense and late-game guile to pull out a pair of road wins. Mason returned to the lineup for Saturday's 92-76 BracketBuster win over visiting Northwestern State, but wasn't quite himself in an evenly-matched first half with the nation's highest-scoring team.
"There were two options," Mason said. "I could've either sulked about the first half, or let the game come to me."
Mason shook off the rust shortly after halftime, splitting a double-team on the perimeter and soaring through the lane for a one-handed slam. In a matter of moments, his point total rose from four to 20, and Niagara's lead grew at the same rate.
The Purple Eagles as a whole scored 61 points on 67 percent shooting in the second half, their highest-scoring half since a 111-75 win over St. Bonaventure in 2001. They made 8-of-10 3-pointers in the period.
"We made good decisions," coach Joe Mihalich said. "Our battle cry throughout the week was if they don't pressure you, be surprised. It was to be quick but not in a hurry. That's what they want out of their press. Make you go fast, make you be out of control. Take the shot that they want you to take. And we didn't do that. We made the extra pass. We were under control against their press, and we really kind of carved it up."
Mason passed 1,000 career points midway though the second half, joining sophomore teammate Juan'ya Green in the milestone club.
Green, who also scored 20 points Saturday, said having Mason back makes a big difference for the Niagara offense.