LEWISTON — The margin for error is razor thin for this season’s Niagara Purple Eagles.
As the second-worst rebounding team in the country, Niagara can’t afford to have an off shooting night or cough the ball up carelessly.
It did both Friday and ended up with a harsh reality check in a 67-48 loss to at the Gallagher Center.
The Red Foxes (5-14, 4-6 Metro Atlantic) were dominant throughout. They had nine offensive rebounds in just the first half, which helped them attempt 12 more field goals than the Purple Eagles and take a 33-17 lead into the break. Marist finished with 12 total offensive rebounds, though head coach John Dunne appeared to call off the dogs for much of the second half.
Big man Jordan Jones, who entered averaging just 6.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, had 12 and 6 in just the opening half. He finished with 18 and 8. Six-foot-4 guard Michael Cubbage posted a double-double with 12 points and 11 boards while adding six assists as well.
Cubbage's assist total nearly matched that of Niagara (6-14, 4-5), which finished with eight assists and 16 turnovers. It was the third straight game the Purple Eagles failed to post a positive assist-to-turnover ratio — all losses — after a 12-game run of finishing in the black.
"You got to give them credit for their activity," said NU coach Greg Paulus. "They got some really good size and length and did a really good job pressuring at different points and forced us into some tough plays."
The Purple Eagles, who entered as the top 3-point shooting team in MAAC play, also shot putridly, 34.9% overall and 31.6% from deep. They even struggled from the charity stripe, with missed free throws killing a couple of chances to make things interesting in the second half. They were 8 of 14 (57.1%) from the stripe before hitting four straight to end the game.
Senior guard James Towns led NU with nine points, going 4 of 4 from the line. On one of those free throws, he became the 49th player in program history to eclipse 1,000 points.
Niagara's top four scorers so far in conference play, Marcus Hammond, Raheem Solomon, Greg Kuakumensah and Justin Roberts, went a combined 7 for 27 from the floor. Hammond, Solomon and Roberts, each shooting at least 44.9% from deep over eight MAAC games, went 3 of 12 from beyond the arc. Kuakumensah played less than seven minutes while battling foul trouble, and was glued to the bench after picking up his fourth foul on the offensive end with 14:41 left.
Reserves Shandon Brown, Steve Levnaic and Damani Thomas — a walk-on — gave NU a little life in the second half. Thomas had four points and two assists in just over 11 minutes, aggressively driving to the rim against the Red Foxes' pressure defense. He found Levnaic for a 3 — just his third of the season — that capped a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 12 with 8:05 to play. Brown's first trey of the season got the Purple Eagles within 11 with 6:31 left.
"Seeing the ball go through the hole for those guys is a good thing, and they played hard and competed," Paulus said. "And when they have an opportunity to shoot it — if it's the right time within the offense — we certainly feel confident that we want them to be aggressive."
Both times, hot shooting from Marist sucked the air out of Niagara. The Red Foxes shot 52.6% from deep for the game and a scorching 66.7% in the second.
Niagara has a day to lick its wounds before hosting MAAC-leading Quinnipiac at 1 p.m. Sunday. The Bobcats beat Niagara in the teams' first matchup this season, 67-56 back on Jan. 10.
"We just want to make sure that we get better in the next game," Roberts said, "and we just know we have today to kind of think about it. But once tomorrow comes and we wake up the next morning, we gotta move on to the next game."
NOTES: Freshman Noah Waterman (ankle) missed a 13th straight game for the Purple Eagles. ... Niagara's 17-point first half was it's second-lowest scoring half of the season. It scored just 15 in the first half of Nov. 10's loss at Rutgers. It was Marist's best defensive half of the season.