The dynamic duo of Juan’ya Green and Antoine Mason led a second half offensive surge as the Niagara Purple Eagles pulled away from the Northwestern State Demons, 92-76, in the 11th annual Ramada WorldWide BracketBusters on Saturday on ESPN3.
“It was a feel good win, a convincing win against a very good team,” head coach Joe Mihalich said.
Niagara scorched the Demons in the second half, shooting 67 percent, including 80 percent (8-for-10) from behind the arc, en route to its most points in a half since dropping 63 on St. Bonaventure in the second half of a 111-75 win on Dec. 21, 2004.
Five Purple Eagles scored in double figures for the third time this season, but it was Green and Mason who carried the bulk of the scoring. The duo each scored 20 points to tie NW State’s Gary Roberson for game-high honors.
Green led NU with 10 points in the first half, while Mason scored five points in the half in his first game since Feb. 2, as Niagara took a slender 31-30 lead into the break.
The Purple Eagles led 44-43 at the 15:25 mark when they exploded for a game-changing run. Marvin Jordan hit a pair of free throws on NU’s next possession and two possessions later, drained a 3-pointer in the corner after Green ripped the ball from DeQuan Hicks. The five straight points started a 28-10 outburst by the Purple Eagles over the next five minutes, which included Mason entering the 1,000-point club when he made a 3-pointer with 9:34 left in the game. Mason joined Green as the third sophomore in program history with 1,000 points.
Niagara, which made 20 of 25 shots at one point in the half, led as much as 23 points in the second half as it improved to 10-3 inside the ‘Taps’ Gallagher Center this season.
“I thought we made good decisions,” Mihalich said about the second half. “We needed to be quick, but not hurry. That’s what they wanted out of their press; make you go fast, be out of control and take the shot they want you to take and we didn’t do that. We made the extra pass, we were under control against their press and we really carved it up.”
The Purple Eagles had season-highs in field goal percentage (66.7), 3-point percentage (60) and assists (19) while holding the highest scoring team in the nation to 76 points (eight below its average) and halting its nine-game winning streak.
Green added a game-high seven assists, four rebounds and three steals to go along with his 20 points; Mason contributed with six rebounds. Ameen Tanksley notched double figures with 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting, T.J. Cline scored 12 on 5 of 6 attempts from the field and Jordan finished with 11 points. Devon White nearly missed out on a double-double with nine points and eight rebounds.
The Purple Eagles concluded their BracketBusters record to 6-3, including 4-0 at home and 2-0 on ESPN broadcasted games. This season is in the final edition of the mid-major event.
Niagara returns to conference action next week beginning on Thursday against Rider on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel at 7 p.m. The Purple Eagles can claim a share of the league’s regular season title with a win.