LEWISTON — Niagara tried to give its fans something positive to remember in its home finale Saturday afternoon at the Gallagher Center against a Quinnipiac team that on paper should have run them off the court.
The game didn’t quite unfold that way and just when it seemed the Purple Eagles were going to snap a seven-game losing streak and give the 1,766 in attendance a pleasant basketball memory until the next home game in the fall, they found a way to lose, again.
Only this time, the Purple Eagles have a right to feel like they got hosed.
Umar Shannon’s three-pointer from just over half court found nothing but net, beat the buzzer and added to the mounds of frustration at Monteagle Ridge this season as Quinnipiac escaped with a 90-88 win in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men’s basketball.
Just before Shannon broke Niagara’s hearts, Antoine Mason swished two free throws with 1.7 seconds left to give the Purple Eagles – who at one point led by 17 – an 88-87 lead. After a Bobcats timeout, they inbounded a long heave that Mason seemed ready to pick off as if he was an All-Pro safety in football. Instead, Mason ended up being tackled from behind by Zaid Hearst and the ball bounced off Mason to Shannon, who wasn’t the intended target of the pass. Still, Shannon was rewarded for being in the right place at the right time as he capped a horrific 3-for-16 shooting performance with a shot he’ll never forget.
Did Hearst get away with one?
“He didn’t get nothing but my jersey and shoulder but the ref didn’t call it, so unfortunately somebody has to lose,” said Mason, who led all scorers with 31 points. “They made a great play at the end.”
“I just wanted to make sure the basket was good. I thought the play stood for itself,” said a diplomatic Niagara coach Chris Casey, who did say something to the officials after the shot. “I thought Antoine did a good job of trying to come up with the ball. There was some contact. I’m not standing right there but I think the play stands for itself.”
Was there contact, Shannon?
“They let us play tonight but you have to give a lot of credit to Niagara. They played us aggressive to the last second of the game,” Shannon said.
“Coach drew up a play that was for Zaid Hearst to go to the basket ... but I kind of followed the ball. I wasn’t supposed” to be there, “but I kind of followed the ball because I knew something like that could happen, two guys go up and tip the ball and let the clock run out. I was just in the right spot at the right time.”
Niagara (6-23, 3-15) gave Quinnipiac (19-8, 14-4) all it could handle and then some, especially during an opening 20 minutes as Mason poured in 16 and junior forward Joe Thomas came off the bench to provide a lift by scoring 10 of his 12 points. NU led, 46-33, at the break but had no answers inside to stop Ousmane Drame or Ike Azotam.
Drame had 26 points and 18 boards, while Azotam had 26 and 13 rebounds for the Bobcats, who have won seven in a row. Evan Conti added 15 for Quinnipiac.