Purple Eagles top Fairfield in Paulus' MAAC debut

James Neiss/staff photographerFormer NU head coach Chris Casey, now a Fairfield assistant, greets former player Marcus Hammond, one of six current Purple Eagles he recruited to the program during his time on Monteagle Ridge.

LEWISTON — Twelve games in, it’s pretty easy to get a read on Greg Paulus’ Niagara Purple Eagles.

Game in and game out, they post similar numbers. They force a bunch of turnovers, limit their own mistakes and share the ball. They also give up a ton on the glass, especially on the defensive end.

The pros beat the cons Friday night and Paulus picked up a win in his Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference debut, 71-58 over Fairfield at the Gallagher Center.

Niagara posted a positive assist-to-turnover ration, 16-10, for the seventh straight game and forced 16 Fairfield turnovers. It also was crushed on the boards, 39-24, allowing a whopping 20 on the offensive glass.

“I think we’re working on creating that identity,” Paulus said. “Offensively, we want to be a team that is balanced. … Defensively, we’re going to have some different lineups in there, and for us it’s important to try to have five guys rebounding the basketball.

“A strength of theirs is offensive rebounding. They did a great job getting 20 of those, and that’s certainly something that we’re going to continue to need to work on and build on moving forward.”

The difference Friday was a hot shooting night from the Purple Eagles (3-9, 1-0). They went 28 of 52 (53.8%) from the floor and 9 of 20 (45%) on 3-pointers.

Fairfield (4-8, 0-1), meanwhile, hit just 4 of 14 (28.6%) from deep. Leading scorer Landon Taliaferro, who entered hitting 44% from deep on the year, finished with just 3 points, going 1 for 9 from beyond the arc and 1 of 13 overall.

The Stags’ second-leading scorer, Jesus Cruz, finished with just eight points. The duo entered averaging 30.5 combined points per game.

“We really just wanted to make those guys work for everything,” Paulus said. “They’re really good players, they had some good looks. Fortunately for us, they didn’t make some of them and I thought other times … it was a really good job from the guys that guarded them.”

James Towns, as usual, led Niagara in scoring, dropping 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Raheem Solomon followed with 15 points, while Greg Kuakumensah (14) and Marcus Hammond (13) also scored in double figures.

Solomon had 12 points and grabbed three key offensive rebounds in the second half. After sitting for nearly eight minutes, he came out firing, drilling a pair of 3s and just missing a third that would’ve brought the roof down.

Nick MacDonald hit a 3 about a minute later. Solomon followed a MacDonald miss for two more points, and Kuakumensah took a charge, capping a 10-4 run that pushed the Niagara lead to double digits for the first time, 64-53.

“I was just waiting my time to just go it,” Solomon said. “Just be ready.”

It’s the Purple Eagles’ first MAAC-opening win since 2015-16. They’ll look to stay unbeaten at 1 p.m. Sunday, when they host a Manhattan team that beat Canisius on Friday, 71-67.

“It’s a new season basically,” Towns said, “and we’re 1-0 right now, so we at the top.”

NOTES: Chris Casey, Paulus’ predecessor and a current Fairfield assistant, took time before the game to greet a few fans and catch up with each of his former players. … Damani Thomas, a Niagara walk-on, played over four minutes in the first half as the Purple Eagles battled four trouble up front.

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