Manhattan proves too much for Niagara

LEWISTON — Greg Paulus and the Niagara Purple Eagles passed their first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference test Friday night.

Round 2 was just a little bit tougher.

Niagara fell to a strong Manhattan team Sunday, 67-62, at the Gallagher Center. The Jaspers' size, coupled with Steve Masiello's full-court press, was just a little too much for this relatively-new Niagara team, at least early on.

Manhattan (6-5, 2-0), which was picked fifth in the MAAC in the preseason coaches poll, built a lead as big as 14 points in the first half. The Purple Eagles were outrebounded by seven in the first, and shot just 30% against a defense anchored by 2018 MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Pauly Paulicap.

Still, Greg Kuakuemnsah hit a pair of free throws for the Purple Eagles (3-10, 1-1) before break, and eight straight points to start the second, including two 3-pointers from Marcus Hammond, amounted to a 10-0 run that cut the Manhattan lead to 35-31.

"I thought in the second half, it was much better," Paulus said. "... I really liked our ball movement. I thought we got the ball in positions to attack them and as a result of that, we were able to get some inside-out 3s."

 

Manhattan recovered, again pushing the lead to 14 with just over 10 minutes left. Once again, Niagara found a run, and a 12-0 spurt, during which the Jaspers went 0 for 2 with two turnovers, cut the lead to one, 59-58, with 5:10 left.

Paulicap responded with a pair of hook shots in the paint. Raheem Solomon's jumper with 3:20 left made it a one-possession game, and the score would remain 63-60 for over three minutes of game time as both teams went cold.

The two teams combined to miss their next eight field goal attempts, including a pair of Niagara 3s that would have tied the game. Manhattan's Samir Stewart and Tykei Greene each hit a pair of bonus free throws in the final 16 seconds to put the game away.

 

Niagara shot 48.3% after halftime, including 54.5% from 3. In two games at the Gallagher Center this weekend, they combined to shoot 42.9% from deep, way up from their season average of 32.4%.

I'm hoping we can continue to shoot the ball like that," Paulus said. "... I actually thought we missed a couple open looks as well that I love our guys taking and the conviction that they took them with, so that's something we want to continue to build off of."

The Purple Eagles finished with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio (10-8) for the eighth straight game. Greg Kuakumensah led the way with a double-double, posting team highs of 13 points and 10 rebounds while drawing five fouls and blocking a pair of shots.

After being out-rebounded by 15 Friday against Fairfield, Manhattan held just a 41-34 advantage on the glass. Niagara held even during its comeback attempt in the second half, with both teams grabbing 18 boards.

Greene, who Niagara recruited under Chris Casey, scored a game-high 21 points, hitting 3 of 5 from deep and 8 of 10 free throws. Paulicap added 16 points and seven rebounds.

NU hits the road this weekend, taking on Quinnipiac on Friday and Iona on Sunday.

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Paulus received his first commitment as head coach on Sunday, and it came from close to home.

Rochester's Tah'Jae Hill, a senior point guard for Hilton, announced his commitment on Twitter.

Hill is listed between 6-foot-1 and 6-4 and is averaging 30.7 points per game for the Cadets, including a 49-point outburst in December. He had offers from UB, St. Bonaventure and Siena, and more recently, Cleveland State and Bryant. He also held a Division I football scholarship offer from New Hampshire.

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