Niagara Inching Towards Breakthrough In MAAC Play

It has not been easy for Niagara under head coach Chris Casey, they have remade the roster quickly and competed during conference play, but haven’t seemed to get the bounces to go their way.

Iona's A.J. English gets the foul call with 2.3 seconds left against Niagara. He would hit both free throws and the Gaels would prevail 80-79.
Iona’s A.J. English gets the foul call with 2.3 seconds left against Niagara. He would hit both free throws and the Gaels would prevail 80-79.

Take Friday night, for example, the Purple Eagles attacked the Iona Gaels and went ahead twice in the game’s final minute. However, an untimely call – whether controversial or not – went against Niagara and Iona escaped with a one-point win. Sunday, they played toe to toe with Siena, but just could not close a gap that got as large as nine with just over two minutes left.

While it seems every time they get in a close game it is a mistake that doesn’t go their way, Casey said he knows that they are close to a break through.

“We have to continue to work at it and we do look at those things on film and they all are they’re all correctable errors,” Casey said. “You never want to say you’re totally beating yourself, you got to give credit to the other team’s that do some good things, some very good teams and very good coaches in our league, but I feel like we’ve competed very hard and we’ve been very close, but we have to get over the hump. Some of that is making less mistakes and we realize it.”

Last season the Purple Eagles struggled in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, but found their stride pulling off an upset over sixth seeded Marist in the conference tournament. Over Casey’s tenure the Purple Eagles have played 11 games that have been determined by four points or fewer and their record is 3-8 in such games.

Sophomore Ramone Snowden, who leads the team with 11.6 points per game, said that he has seen the improvement, especially defensively where they have allowed 10 fewer points per game compared to last season.

“Defensive-wise we improved so much,” Snowden said. “The other day in film, he put clips together and we saw how we’re up by like 6 or 5 and we come down and then make a mistake. It’s on us to realize out on the court and make the next play the best one we can make.”

Niagara's Dominique Reid grabs an offensive rebound and throws down a two-hand dunk against Siena.
Niagara’s Dominique Reid grabs an offensive rebound and throws down a two-hand dunk against Siena.

Through eight conference games under Casey, the 2-6 record has been the same, but the teams could not be more different from a year ago. The roster has been turned over, the Purple Eagles are the fifth youngest team in the country and with that has come some early growing pains. However it appears that the group has started to show signs of progress.

“We have to learn how to win,” Casey said. “We play hard, we’re making some good plays, we have to make a few more good plays and we come out on the other end of these things, but you have to go through it before you can get good at it.”

Freshman starter Karron Davis has started to show signs of progress – averaging 8.1 points per game – while redshirt freshman Dominique Reid has started to show his potential. The 6’8″ big man missed his senior season in high school and redshirted once he got to Niagara had two successive ACL surgeries in as many seasons. He was cleared to play in June and has started to build up, to a point where he has provided the rebounding presence they currently lack.

“He’s trying to feel his way back and he’s starting to get some of that back,” Casey said. “I think he’s got a high ceiling and a lot more room for growth, but he has been starting got come on the last two games.”

Reid has averaged 9.9 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game in conference play and on Sunday scored 16 points against Siena, two off his season high set earlier in the month against Monmouth.

“You can see he’s getting there and getting to where we need him to be,” Snowden said. “He’s dominating on the boards so far lately and he’s had a couple of games that were pretty good.”

Now to try and break through, the Purple Eagles have to head to close out series on the road against Monmouth and Iona – two teams that enter the weekend tied for first in the conference. However, if the breaks could go Niagara’s way, they could come home with a couple of wins.

“We felt like we played well against both those teams the first time and we’re going to try to do the same the second time,” Casey said. “But the focus is on us getting better and continuing to work hard.”

Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]

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