Thursday, November 20, 2014

Niagara survives late Saint Peter's rally to win MAAC opener

Karonn Davis' three with 1:12 remaining in regulation gave Niagara a 61-59 win over Saint Peter's in first MAAC game of season. (Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer)

Niagara's last win in the 2013-14 season was one in which the Purple Eagles built a comfortable lead, then had to endure a furious rally from Marist to prevail and advance to the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament in Springfield last March.

Eight months later, playing the first conference game in the nation after scheduling issues forced their hands, Niagara had a similar experience, jumping out to a double-digit lead only to lose it with just over a minute remaining in regulation, then get it back on a three-pointer from freshman Karonn Davis to provide the final margin in the Purple Eagles' (1-1) 61-59 victory over a hard-luck Saint Peter's (0-3) team once again playing without the injured Desi Washington at the Yanitelli Center.

Yet Davis' triple, which gave Niagara the lead with 1:12 to play, was only the beginning. After Jamel Fields turned the ball over with 52 seconds remaining, Davis' attempt another three that would have effectively iced the game bounced off the rim and into the hands of Marvin Dominique. A mid-range jumper from Chazz Patterson fell off the mark, but Dominique again scooped up the rebound, only to run out of time before getting a shot off in an attempt to beat the buzzer.

"They ran some good stuff out of bounds, they got it to the right guy, (and) we were trying to keep it away from him," Niagara head coach Chris Casey recounted when describing the game's final possession. "We just were lucky there wasn't another half-second on the clock. It's always a war playing them. They're very well-coached, they're tough, they're physical, and we did a great job of being tough back."

Rayvon Harris' 19 points led the Purple Eagles and all scorers, while his teammate Ramone Snowden poured in a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double to aid Niagara, who shot 59 percent from the field in the second half, in the victory. Dominique led Saint Peter's with 18 points and 13 rebounds in the losing effort, his second consecutive double-double.

"For us, on the offensive end, the first 30 minutes really, we were not making layups," Peacocks head coach John Dunne stated, "and then the last 9-10 minutes, some guys started to feel good because the ball went in the basket. For us, it's really all about getting better on the offensive end."

Offensive struggles plagued the Peacocks for most of the game, making just seven field goals in the first half, including a 7:18 drought without a made shot that carried over into the beginning of the second period before Tyler Gaskins; who scored 14 of his 16 points after the intermission, ended the dry spell for Saint Peter's, whose stifling defense kept the game close at halftime, as Niagara only led 24-20.

A 10-3 Purple Eagles run shortly thereafter gave Niagara a 41-29 lead with 13:31 to play, maintaining their double-digit margin for the next several minutes when an Anders Skou Hansen layup made the score 53-41 in favor of the visitors with 6:52 left in regulation. Yet the Peacocks gradually chipped away, turning the tide with an 18-5 run punctuated by back-to-back three-pointers from Gaskins, the latter of which put Saint Peter's ahead 59-58 with 1:23 remaining. On the ensuing possession, Davis picked up the inbounds pass and calmly stepped into a deep three from just off the right baseline, draining it for the deciding outcome.

After gutting out the road victory, Niagara returns to the Gallagher Center to welcome Hartford this Saturday before a neutral site date with St. Bonaventure one week later inside the First Niagara Center, while Saint Peter's takes to the road still in search of their first win, with preliminary round games in the Barclays Center Classic on deck against La Salle on Saturday and Rutgers on Tuesday.

"At this point with our team, we're so young," Casey reiterated. "We have eight guys that just played their second Division I game, we basically recruited an entire team in 14 months. We've got four freshmen, seven sophomores and one junior. What we keep stressing with our team is 'let's just keep getting better and work will show through."

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