By Jonah Bronstein
Niagara Gazette — Trailing by three touchdowns at halftime Sunday, the Niagara men's basketball team had a coming of age moment. Instead of pointing fingers, the Purple Eagles pulled together. Determined to win the second half for the first time all season, they also wanted something to show for their effort.
"It wasn't going to be a moral victory, lose by 10 or lose by five," guard Antoine Mason said. "We had to had win."
"Everybody had pride and everybody fought back," backcourt mate Juan'ya Green added.
Mason, Green and reserve center Scoot Gillette led the way as the Purple Eagles erased a 22-point deficit and pulled out 86-83 win over New Mexico State (1-3) in the closing game of the 2K Sports Classic at the Gallagher Center.
"In the second half," coach Joe Mihalich said, "we had all the qualities you need to be a great team."
Down 67-51 with 13:30 to go, Niagara outscored New Mexico State 33-11 over the next 10 minutes and held its ground down the stretch to even its early season record at 2-2.
After giving up 26 points off 15 turnovers in the first half, the Purple Eagles didn't give the ball away once in the second half. They clamped down on the dangerous Daniel Mullings, holding him scoreless after he netted 26 points in the first 25 minutes. And of the 40 points in the paint they allowed the Aggies, just four came in the final 12 minutes.
"It all came down to heart," Gillette said.
Averaging only nine minutes in the first three games of his senior season, Gillette played the final 16:08 Sunday, providing sturdy defense against New Mexico State's 7-foot-5 tugboat, Sim Bhullar, who made the 6-8 Gillette "look like (5-11) Marvin Jordan," Mihalich said, scored 10 points on aggressive dives to the basket, and had a critical blocked shot and defensive rebound in the closing minutes.
"Big contributions," Green said of Gillette's play. "He got stops for us, rebounds, he scored. If he gives us that every game, we'll be good."
Green had 16 of his season-high 28 points in the second half and also dished out six assists. Mason had 19 points, including two free throws that set the final score with nine seconds left, seven rebounds and three steals. Both players were named to the all-tournament team for the weekend.
"It feels good knowing that we can play hard and we learned that we could grind it out," Mason said.
"We really grew up a lot this weekend," Mihalich said.2K Sports Classic Niagara Subregional All-Tournament Team Mike Muscala, Bucknell (MVP) Bryson Johnson, Bucknell Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State Juan'ya Green, Niagara Antoine Mason, Niagara