Niagara University produced perhaps its biggest victory of the season but had to hold back a late rally by Loyola (Md.) to do it.
The Purple Eagles led by 10 points with 4:13 left in the game then needed a Juan’ya Green steal and a pair of free throws at the end to down the defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament champions, 62-61, on Wednesday in Baltimore.
“This was just a great win,” said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. “It was a character win and it was hard fought. It might be too early to say this, but when we look back this could be the game that helped us become a good team.”
The Purple Eagles (3-5, 1-1) were clinging to a 60-58 lead when Antoine Mason was called for an offensive foul with 28 seconds remaining in the contest.
Then Green, the MAAC Freshman of the Year last season, came up with a steal off Dylon Cormier on the ensuing possession. Cormier drove to the basket off a screen and Green faked as if he were going to double team.
Cormier jumped to pass the ball out to the wing but Green picked it off and was fouled by Loyola’s Robert Olson.
“Great players, make great plays,” Mihalich said.
Green hit two free throws to give Niagara a 62-58 lead before Anthony Winbush drained a three-pointer as time expired.
Green led the Purple Eagles with 19 points and five assists, Mason added 14 points and Ameen Tanksley 10.
Loyola put together a late eight-point run to tie the score at 58, but it wouldn’t be enough.
Cormier led Loyola with 17 points, while Olsen, a senior, chipped in 10 points.
Loyola (7-3, 0-1) had won six in a row before back-to-back losses to Florida Gulf Coast and Niagara.
The Purple Eagles won their sixth straight visit to Reitz Arena.
Niagara snapped its three-game skid during its longest road trip of the season; this was the fourth of five games.
Mihalich is one win shy of reaching 250 for his career. Mihalich, who is in his 15th season as coach, is the winningest coach in MAAC history.
Elsewhere, the University at Buffalo’s Javon McCrea scored 31 points and added 11 rebounds and four blocks as the Bulls defeated Milwaukee, 72-52.
Auraum Nuiriankh broke out of a season-long scoring slump to score 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting while Will Regan added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Bulls.
McCrea’s fingerprints were all over this one. The junior from Newark was unstoppable in the paint and was 15 of 19 from the field in just 27 minutes.
Joran Aaron scored 23 points for Milwaukee.
The Bulls had dropped five of six before Wednesday’s victory.
Niagara and UB meet on Saturday night at Alumni Arena.