ALBANY, N.Y. — Someone had to end their losing streak, and it was Niagara who got the job done. The Purple Eagles took down Quinnipiac 88-69 in the opening game of the MAAC tournament Thursday evening at the Times Union Center.
Matt Scott led the way, as he has all year. The junior paced all scorers with 19 points and led four Purple Eagles in double figures. Kahlil Dukes finished just behind his counterpart with 18 points, including an 11-12 mark from the charity stripe. The redshirt junior also added a team-high six assists while some of his younger teammates got in on the action.
“We learned from both games we played them,” Scott said. First game we were up and gave them the game, then second game we were down and came back in that game. We just tried to play good for 40 minutes.”
The Purple Eagles fell to Quinnipiac in both games this season, first in an 81-78 contest upstate January 2, and then 89-91 in the return game in Connecticut a month later. Niagara entered the MAAC tournament on a five game slide, while Quinnipiac had lost their last six contests of the regular season.
Niagara entered halftime with a narrow 29-27 lead as both teams struggled offensively, but a 27-8 run in the heart of the second half helped the Purple Eagles blow the doors open.
Sophomore Chris Barton matched a season high with 15 points Thursday, a total he reached in this year’s first meeting with the Bobcats. Freshman James Towns, who tallied just five total points in his last six games, poured in 14 points, all in the second half.
“I just came off the bench confident,” Towns said. “I was shooting shots that they were giving me. Pretty much, my teammates were just finding me and I was making plays. I just feel like some games I get trusted a lot.”
Earlier this week, Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore stressed the importance of the interior battle between his forward Chaise Daniels and the Purple Eagles’ Dominic Robb. The Bobcats seemingly gained the upper hand when Robb picked up his second foul 6:29 into the contest, but were unable to take full advantage of his absence.
Daniels posted just three points following Robb’s trip to the bench, and finished the game 5-11 from the field for 11 points along with five blocked shots.
“That falls on me,” Moore said of not taking advantage of the opportunity with Daniels in the paint. “I think we can get situations where we can get him looks a little cleaner, which he sometimes gets. They were situationally double-teaming him as well. All this guy wants to do is win. He’s very unselfish, so whenever they come with a double or breakdown, his mindset is to find a teammate.”
The Bobcats placed four in double figures as well, led by freshman Peter Kiss’ 15. Daniel Harris, playing in what is likely his final collegiate game, added 14 on 4-6 shooting from behind the arc and accounted for the team’s first eight points of the second half. Fellow senior Alain Chigha added a career-high 10.
The Purple Eagles turned the tables from their previous matchups with Quinnipiac, not only earning the win, but controlling the backboard. Niagara out-rebounded the Bobcats 44-32, including 16-10 on the offensive glass. Senior Maurice Taylor led the way with a career-high 16 rebounds.
“We felt like if we could win the glass, we could win the game,” head coach Chris Casey said. “That happened to be true tonight, and Mo really stood up and led that charge.”
For Casey’s squad, which has endured a disappointing 21-59 league record during his four-year tenure, a win in the conference tournament and an opportunity to play top-ranked Monmouth is a solid stepping stone.
“Every game is experience,” Casey added. “Part of experience is going through some things. Tough times, success, learning how to handle that part of it. Our experience today was a win against a good team in the MAAC tournament. That’s a little bit of success for us, and now we have to handle it and do a really good job of being focused tomorrow against a very good team.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.