BOONE, N.C. — BracketBuster Saturday unfolded just how Joe Mihalich drew it up.

His Niagara Purple Eagles locked in a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference battle royal, Mihalich and his players didn’t stand to benefit from a blowout — win or lose — and certainly couldn’t afford any injuries.

None of that happened, as Stanley Hodge’s 3-pointer at the buzzer lifted Niagara past Appalachian State 76-75 in a back-and-forth game that featured 21 lead changes and nine ties.

“We needed this going into our last two (regular season) games and our conference tournament,” said Mihalich, by phone, after what he called a “phenomenal win.”

“Our biggest lead was nine, and we let that melt away pretty quick,” Mihalich said. “After that, every possession mattered, every shot mattered, every dribble mattered, every rebound mattered.”

Hodge, who finished with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting, scored on a broken play that culminated a frenzied final minute.

Appalachian State took a late two-point lead when Donte Minter hit a jumper with 27 seconds left and Jeremy Clayton hit the first of two free throws with 13 seconds left to put the Mountaineers up 75-73.

Charron Fisher rebounded the miss, then missed a tying layup with 7 seconds left. Tyrone Lewis collected the rebound and Niagara called timeout with 4 seconds left to set up Hodge’s game-winner.

“We tried to get it to Charron, but the ball just happened to tip out to me,” Hodge said in the postgame press conference. “When it left my hands, I knew it was good.”

Mihalich said it was the Purple Eagles’ first game-winning shot at the buzzer since Alvin Young hit one at Rider in 1999, Mihalich’s first year at Niagara.

“I’m just so happy for Stanley,” Mihalich said. “He’s been in the shadow of Charron, and he’s having a great senior year. It was fitting that it was him.”

Fisher, the nation’s leading scorer, finished with 21 points — nearly eight fewer than his average — on 7-of-23 shooting. He added 11 rebounds for Niagara (18-8), which entered the day sharing the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference lead with three other teams.

Benson Egemonye added 16 points and 11 rebounds and Lewis scored 10 points for Niagara, which forced Appalachian State into 23 turnovers. Fisher, Hodge, Lewis and Nelson each played 39 minutes.

Ryann Abraham scored 18 points to lead Appalachian State (17-11), which shot 55.4 percent and made 56 percent of its 3-pointers but lost for the third time in four games. Clayton had 17 points and 12 rebounds and Minter also finished with 17 points for the Mountaineers.

The Purple Eagles are currently 11-5 in MAAC games, tied with Siena, Rider and Loyola atop the conference standings. They visit Siena on Friday night and close the regular season at the Gallagher Center on Sunday against rival Canisius.

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