BUFFALO — Walking in to KeyBank Center for the first time on Friday, Breon Harris was struck by its enormity.
“I felt so small,” the 5-foot-9 Niagara Falls native said. “It was just huge.”
Coming back downtown for the opening game of Saturday’s basketball doubleheader, Harris hit the big shot from downtown and got down on the floor to secure Daemen’s 83-81 comeback win over Wilmington.
The win was the seventh in a row and sixth that required a second-half rally for the Wildcats (7-1), ranked No. 17 nationally in Division II with their only loss against the No. 1 team in the country. And though it was the first time Daemen played at Western New York’s largest indoor venue, it also extended the Wildcats’ home winning streak to 14 games dating to last season.
Harris elevated his game and made a deep 3-pointer for the go-ahead points and got back to his Niagara Falls roots in diving for a loose ball in the closing seconds of a game in which Daemen was in a deficit for most of the last 25 minutes.
Giving a shoutout to his Niagara Falls High School coach in the postgame press conference, Harris said, “Sal Constantino would be most proud of the defensive play at the end.”
Daemen’s leading scorer, D-II All-American candidate Andrew Sischo, capped his 24-point, eight-rebound performance by poking the ball free on a double-team and Harris hit the deck to make the steal and call timeout with 5 seconds left. With the victory close in hand, Daemen’s bench erupted to embrace Harris as he ran over screaming and flexing.
“It was exciting running to the bench and they had the same energy I had diving for the ball,” Harris said. “I liked having the Daemen Nation out there. I feel like they are right on my back with me and they ride with us. For them to be here in this environment was just a big moment for us. It was really exciting and electric in there and it felt real good.”
Finishing with 21 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals, Harris also made the biggest offensive play of the game when he pulled up from 25 feet with a man in his face and sank his fourth 3-pointer to put Daemen ahead 82-81 with 32 seconds left.
Coach Mike MacDonald called the high pick-and-roll play for Harris and Sischo, “but I didn’t think he was going to shoot a 3,” MacDonald said. “I was hoping he’d go downhill. But sometimes downhill for Breon is uphill.”
Harris could sense that “coach wasn’t too happy with me shooting it,” he said. “But the flick of the wrist, it just felt smooth. I felt like it was going to go in.”
After the game, Sischo told Harris, “I was mad at you for shooting that at first.”
“I know he can get to the rim and I know how good he is at the rim,” Sischo added. “I don’t know how he saw it. We were facing each other. I don’t even think he saw the rim.
“But that’s Breon. You let him do his thing and good things happen most of the time. You got to live with the bad stuff but a lot of good things come out of it.”
This was the second straight game Harris made four 3s, showing the improvement the fifth-year senior has made in his long-range game since his freshman season when “I was probably the worst shooter on our team,” he said.
“It’s been fun,” Sischo said, “to see the evolution of Breon.”
Daemen had to overcome hot shooting from Wilmington (0-5). The Wildcats from Delaware went 15 of 28 from beyond the arc — among the best shooting performances in program history aside from their 2-of-7 showing at the foul line — and led by as many as seven points with a little more than seven minutes to go.
Keeping their composure late in close games has been the hallmark of Daemen’s early season run.
“We stay calm,” Harris said. “We try to let the game come to us.”
Until the time came for Harris to reach out and snatch a win.
“I was happy for everyone that came,” Harris said, “to see Daemen put on a show.”
After the Daemen game, Canisius beat St. Bonaventure in a Big 4 showdown at KeyBank Center, 61-57.
— Jonah Bronstein
NCCC 96, Frederick CC 77
David Petit-Homme scored 18 points, Hunter Anderson (Park) added 16 and Nigel Scantlebury chipped in 14, leading five players in double figures as the Thunderwolves (7-0) won for the second time in as many days.
William Kondrat scored 12 points Saturday, and Nate Luckman (Barker) had 10.
Friday, NCCC — the No. 11 team in the NJCAA Division II poll — beat Allegany College of Maryland for the second time this season, 90-81 on the road. The T-wolves won 77-71 back on Nov. 10 at home during the NCCC Classic.
Petit-Homme and Kondrate combined for 42 points and 10 rebounds on Friday.
NCCC 86, Frederick CC 67
The ninth-ranked Thunderwolves faced their toughest test of the season Saturday, winning by less than 20 points for the first time.
Aubrey Halloran scored 20 points and grabbed four rebounds to lead the way. Paige Emborsky (Newfane) and Cierra Harrison both scored 16 points.
Both NCCC teams play again Tuesday at Finger Lakes CC.