The Niagara Purple Eagles battled past the Manhattan Jaspers, 60-56, on Sunday to remain in sole possession of first place with two MAAC games remaining.
“We have a will to win,” head coach Joe Mihalich stated. “Do we have great shooters, do we have great rebounders, are we exceptional at anything? The only thing we are exceptional at is the will to win and that is why I’m so proud to be their coach.”
For the second consecutive game, it was a late 3-pointer by Juan’ya Green that sealed the game. Green, who scored the game-winning triple with 1.5 seconds left to defeat Marist on Friday, connected on a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down to increase NU’s lead to 56-49 with 45 seconds remaining in the game. The basket was a part of five straight Purple Eagles (16-11, 12-4 MAAC) points and Green would ice the game at the charity stripe by making four straight free throws.
“All this guy (Green) does is make us win; whether it is a big play or big shot,” Mihalich said about Green, who finished with a game-high 18 points and tied a game-high with four assists while committing zero turnovers.
The 75th meeting between the programs was close throughout. Niagara, which led 22-21 at halftime, trailed 39-38 when Marvin Jordan made a 3-pointer to put NU up 41-39 with 9:07 left in the game; the Purple Eagles would not trail for the remainder of the game.
Manhattan (10-16, 8-8 MAAC), which entered the game on a four-game winning streak, tied the game on the following possession, but a baseline jumper by T.J. Cline jump started a 7-2 run for the Purple Eagles. The Jaspers closed the deficit to 51-49 with two minutes left before Cline made a layup to push NU’s lead to four with 1:43 on the clock. After a missed 3-pointer by Manhattan on the ensuing possession, Green drained his only 3-pointer of the game with 45 seconds left.
NU recorded its first sweep of Manhattan since the 2009-10 season by winning each game by four points.
“I have a ton of respect for the team we played,” Mihalich said. “I told our guys before the game that this is the toughest team in the league. On our board it says ‘toughest team today is going to win today’. As tough as they are, I think we were a little tougher today.”
The Purple Eagles wrapped up their MAAC road schedule with a conference-best 7-2 record. That mark ties a program-best which was set during the 2000-01 season.
Jordan was the game’s second leading scorer with 16 points. The Peoria, Ill. native went 4-for-8 from behind the arc to tie David Brooks for fifth place in career 3-pointers (204).
Niagara will have three straight home games to close out the regular season, beginning on Saturday against the Southland Conference’s Northwestern State Demons in the final edition of the Ramada WorldWide BracketBusters airing live on ESPN3 at 3 p.m.
(Photo: Niagara University)