By Jonah Bronstein
Niagara Gazette — Doubled over in disappointment, you almost expected the Niagara Purple Eagles to trudge through some wind sprints.
That's what they do at the end of a practice when they miss too many foul shots.
And that's what they did at the end of Sunday's 77-70 loss to rival Canisius at a sold-out Gallagher Center.
Niagara barely made half of its free throws in the afternoon (12 of 23), particularly in the second half (9 of 17). With the game tied around the six minute mark, T.J. Cline and Juan'ya Green teamed up to go 1 for 4 from the line. Down by two with 1:35 to go, Marvin Jordan, the team's designated 3-point sniper, bricked a pair.
Coach Joe Mihalich complained that Niagara had to shoot into an opposing team's student cheering section in a home game, but Green dismissed that excuse.
The bottom line was the Purple Eagles didn't have enough firepower to beat their suddenly worthy rivals, even from point blank range.
In winning on Monteagle Ridge for the first time since 2002, Canisius (16-9, 9-5) is now one game behind Niagara (14-11, 10-4) in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings.
Niagara, winless in three February games but still enjoying the benefits of their 10-game winning streak before that, maintined its first-place perch by virtue of ninth-place Marist's weekend sweep of Loyola and Iona, the two teams tied Canisius for second place.
"Name one team in the league that wouldn't want to be where we are right now," Mihalich said. "Even with the three losses."
Playing without leading scorer (and leading foul shooter) Antoine Mason (ankle) for the second straight game, Niagara netted just 16 points in the first 16 minutes, falling behind by 16 in the process. But a 16-6 run midway through the second half brought about the game's first tie score, 52-52, with 7:30 left.
There were six lead changes and three more ties over the next five minutes, as Green scored nine straight Niagara points only to have each bucket matched by the Canisius backcourt of Billy Baron (game-high 33 points) and Harold Washington (18 points).
Cline put Niagara in front 64-62 with a 3-pointer at 3:13, but a baseline jumper from Issac Sosa and a kamikaze layup from Baron gave the Golden Griffins a lead they would not relinquish at 2:14.
"Baron would not let them lose," Mihalich said.
Jordan Heath sealed the win at the 52-second mark with a fastbreak slam of a Harold Washington miss that came after Green had stolen the ball from Washington and the Purple Eagles appeared poised to tie the game again.
Green led Niagara with 21 points. Devon White, Ameen Tanksley and Cline each scored 12.
Jordan, the hero in Niagara's win at Canisius two weeks ago, started in Mason's place and shot 0 for 7 from the field and 0 for 2 from the line.
Down the stretch Canisius made 9 of 10 free throws, giving them seven more makes than Niagara in the seven-point win.
"They did everything they had to do down the stretch," Mihalich said. "And we didn't."