LEWISTON – The Niagara men’s basketball team climbed out of what seemed like an insurmountable deficit to earn one of its more thrilling home-court victories Sunday.
Juan’ya Green scored a season-high 28 points as the Purple Eagles rallied from a 22-point first-half deficit to earn an 86-83 win in the Gallagher Center over New Mexico State to conclude the 2K Classic Tournament benefitting Wounded Warriors Project.
Green scored 16 during Niagara’s 54-point second half to erase a 48-32 halftime deficit. The Aggies took advantage of 15 NU turnovers in the first half, turning them into 26 points, to jump ahead.
The Purple Eagles literally got a grip during the final 20 minutes to beat a team that participated in the NCAA Tournament last year. Niagara didn’t commit any turnovers during in the second half. After pulling within 72-57 with 11:04 left, Antoine Mason’s jumper sparked a 27-6 Purple Eagles run over a span of nine minutes.
Marvin Jordan’s steal and layup with 4:12 left gave NU an 80-78 lead, its first advantage since leading 2-0. Scooter Gillette’s dunk with 2:22 left gave Niagara its largest lead, 84-78.
“That was just a terrific win,” Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. “We had a dud of a first half, no doubt about that, but in the second half we had all those qualities I think that you need to be a great team. I think we really grew up a lot this weekend.”
Still, New Mexico State, playing its second game in as many days in the event, had a chance to win it. The Aggies pulled within 84-83 with 1:21 left on Tshilidzi Nephawe’s layup. After a missed layup and dunk by NU, the Aggies missed a layup for the lead with 11 seconds left.
After two Mason free throws made it a three-point game with nine seconds left, Niagara watched as Bandja Sy missed on his game-tying three-point try with two seconds left. The Aggies grabbed the rebound but didn’t have enough time to get off another shot.
Mason finished with 19 points, while Jordan had 15 and Gillette 10 for Niagara (2-2), which faces St. Bonaventure on at 4 p.m. Saturday at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester.
• In women’s Big 4 basketball, the University at Buffalo fell behind, 34-19, at halftime and couldn’t come back in Fairborn, Ohio, in dropping a 66-51 decision to Wright State at the Nutter Center. Rachael Gregory led UB (1-3) with 14 points, while Christa Baccas added 11.
UB visits Dayton on Friday to start the Marriott Classic, a tournament which also includes Eastern Illinois.