There were 40 seconds remaining and Niagara trailed Canisius by two points when Antoine Mason uncorked a three-pointer looking for a foul.
The shot missed badly – wide right – and Mason fell to the floor and looked toward an official for some help. The jumper looked similar to his first shot of the game, perhaps a sign of things to come.
Mason complained to official Kevin Ferguson, showed him evidence that his right arm had been nicked but to no avail. It was that kind of night for Mason.
The national scoring leader was held to 17 points, nine under his average, in Niagara’s 71-65 loss Friday night at the Gallagher Center.
He shot just 7 of 23 from the floor – 1 of 7 from long distance – but the most surprising stat was two: The number of free throws Mason attempted.
Mason gets a huge chunk of his points from the foul line and averages 11.2 attempts a game.
“I just have to play through it, I can’t expect any calls,” Mason said. “I just have to keep fighting.”
Mason is a slasher and doesn’t rely heavily on his jumper but on Friday he was greeted with waving arms from Canisius defenders whenever he ventured into the lane.
“I thought he drove the ball really well,” Niagara coach Chris Casey said. “I don’t have a bird’s eye view of what went on under the basket. I thought the play was physical under the basket and I thought he had some very, very good drives. But I’m not standing under there so I can’t see what transpires.”
But credit also has to go Canisius senior guard Chris Perez, who shadowed Mason for most of the night.
“I knew coming into the game that he was going to take a lot of shots and Coach Baron challenged me the past couple of days to play good defense because he said we weren’t playing defense,” Perez said. “I took it to heart and I told Billy and the guys that I was going to need them to help me out with Mason because he’s such a great scorer. But I think overall it was a team defense.”
The Golden Griffins went back and forth between man and zone to try and confuse the Purple Eagles.
“They really didn’t have any set momentum,” Canisius coach Jim Baron said.
In turn, they helped contain Mason.
“He’s the leading scorer or whatever, I don’t care,” Perez said. “We got the win.”
Niagara came out ready to play, obviously remembering the sick feeling of losing back-to-back last weekend to Iona and Manhattan.
Wesley Myers missed a short jumper but Rayvon Harris followed with a one-handed tip slam for a 20-14 lead. Moments later, Mason scored four straight points and Niagara had its biggest lead of the half at 27-18 with 12 minutes left.
The Purple Eagles led by five at the half, 37-32, despite Mason shooting a ghastly 3 for 10 from the field. It was a nasty trend that continued.