By Mike Meiler email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — NEWARK, N.J. — The NCAA issued an under-the-radar edict to men’s basketball referees over the offseason to cutdown on hand checking and other defensive fouls in an effort to (eventually) open up the offensive part of the game and increase scoring, which dipped to 67.5 points per game last season — the lowest since the 1981-82 season.
The first game of the Niagara Purple Eagles’ 2012-13 season gave a glimpse of what the game might look like while teams adjust. Niagara and the Seton Hall Pirates combined to commit 73 fouls — 11 shy of the NCAA record set in 1953 — in the Purps’ 83-72 loss Saturday night at the Prudential Center.
“It’s obviously something we’re going to have to adjust to, as are most teams,” said NU’s Chris Casey, who made his debut as head coach of the Purple Eagles. “It’s going to be important that we continue to work on guarding without fouling, but that’s fixable.”
The teams shot a collective 102 free throws, though both teams struggled from the line. Niagara (0-1) shot 64 percent (32 of 50) from the stripe, while Seton Hall (1-0) hit 63.5 percent (33 of 52). NU had four players foul out, including starters Marvin Jordan, Ramone Snowden and Cameron Fowler. The Pirates had two players disqualified.
The biggest difference came on shots from the field, of which the Pirates hit 48 percent (24 of 50) compared to NU’s 37.3 (19 of 51). Both teams struggled from the 3-point line, hitting twice apiece from deep. Seton Hall moved the ball markedly better, dishing 11 assists to NU’s 6.
“If you don’t make shots, assists will be low. We found ways to score, but if we make a few more shots, maybe we put ourselves in a different spot at the end,” Casey said.
NU never led and trailed 39-24 at half. The Pirates led by 19 before the Purple Eagles closed the game on an 8-0 run.
The loss overshadowed a great game from Niagara junior Antoine Mason, who scored a career-high 34 points.
“Antoine is always a scoring threat whenever he steps on the floor,” Casey said. “He’s going to score points, but we’re going to have to have other guys score points, too. We have to shoot the ball better.”
Six freshmen suited up for NU. Snowden had seven points and led all players with 15 rebounds in his debut. Fowler had no points, rebounds or assists, while Wesley Myers had five points and three rebounds off the bench before also leaving the game with five fouls.
Casey said Snowden’s big game on the glass was expected.
“He’s rebounded the ball wall in practice, and what you do in practice is usually what you do in games,” Casey said.
Senior forward Marcus Ware, who transferred in from Monmouth this season, was the only other Purple Eagle in double figures with 10 points. Sophomre guard Sterling Gibbs, a transfer from Texas, led the Pirates with 23 points. NU held Seton Hall’s Fuquan Edwin and Eugene Teague, who both averaged double figures last season, to a combined nine points.
Casey said his biggest takeaway from the sloppy game was his team’s effort.
“Our guys played extremely hard. That’s always a building block, if you can bring that every night,” he said. “Free throws, shooting, guarding without fouling... those are things you can work on in practice. Playing hard is key, and I thought we did that.”
The Purple Eagles open their home schedule against Big 4 rival Buffalo at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Gallagher Center.
Follow Niagara Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.