The first month of the season proved Niagara University was having a difficult time adjusting to Chris Casey’s man-to-man defense, but the light has apparently switched on.
The Purple Eagles (3-8) won back-to-back games for the first time this season by holding Davidson to 20 percent shooting from three-point range in an 83-72 victory on Wednesday at First Niagara Center.
Junior guard Antoine Mason, the country’s leading scorer, got off to a slow start because of back spasms but scored 19 of his game-high 21 points in the second half. While Mason worked through his struggles, his teammates picked up the load.
Marvin Jordan scored 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting, while Tahjere McCall added a career-best 16 while missing just one field goal in seven attempts. Ramone Snowden chipped in 12 points and six rebounds off the bench for the Purple Eagles.
The Wildcats (4-6) live and die from long distance but Niagara didn’t allow many clean looks as Davidson shot just 6 for 30 from beyond the arc.
“There have been some questions about our defense this year,” Casey said. “I think some of that is newness and learning what we’re trying to do and some of it is we need to work harder to get better at it. I think our last four games we’ve improved defensively. We’re moving more as a unit on the defensive end.”
Niagara was coming off Sunday’s 61-56 victory over Saint Peter’s in which they held the Peacocks to 27.8 percent from three-point land.
“There were questions about Niagara’s defense when you talk to other coaches but there’s certainly no question mark in my mind about Niagara’s defense,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. “That was very, very good defense.”
Said Mason, who also had six rebounds in 33 minutes: “We’re getting more comfortable with each other so we’re communicating more so it’s helping us a lot.”
Niagara needed a stellar defensive effort with Mason hobbled by his back. He said the pain started in the first two minutes of the game and progressively grew worse.
Mason’s jumpers were short in the first half as he went 1 for 4 for two points, then he didn’t warm up to prepare for the second half and stretched on the sideline instead.
Shortly after burying a three-pointer, Mason drove hard to the basket, landed awkwardly and got up holding his back. He went to the locker room briefly before re-entering the game with the Purple Eagles nursing a four-point lead with 8:28 remaining.
“At halftime I told myself either I could play soft or I have to give it all I’ve got,” Mason said. “I don’t do the first option.”
Davidson led 34-31 at halftime when Jordan jump started Niagara with a three-pointer to open the second. Then with 14 minutes left, McCall soared in for a layup and the Purple Eagles led by eight at 47-39. Davidson’s Tom Droney cut the lead to 61-57 but the Wildcats couldn’t get closer than five.