Niagara strengthens grip on first place with wild 93-90 overtime victory over Iona

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The most important game on the MAAC schedule turned into the best game of the night in college basketball. And in the end Niagara tightened their grip on first place in the conference standings.

Despite trailing by as many as 15 points in the second half the Purple Eagles found a way to beat second-place Iona 93-90 in overtime, with Juan’ya Green’s three-pointer with five tenths of a second remaining proving to be the difference.

Joe Mihalich’s team has now won ten straight conference games, and at 10-1 in MAAC play the Purple Eagles lead Iona (8-3) by two games with seven to go.

The Gaels looked to be firmly in control of the the game despite the offensive efforts of Green and Antoine Mason, who finished with a game-high 30 points. But Niagara made their charge, outscoring Iona 22-7 over the final 6:53 of regulation to force overtime.

The final three points Niagara would score in regulation may ultimately rank among the wildest in college basketball this season, as the Purple Eagles missed three attempts at a game-tying three (rebounding each miss) before Green delivered with 4.5 seconds remaining.

The Gaels, who were led offensively by David Laury (26 points, 18 rebounds) and Lamont Jones (23 points, eight rebounds), left the door open by missing the front end of three one-and-ones and turning the ball over twice in the final 1:22 of regulation. Despite shooting 49.2% from the field Iona turned the ball over 17 times, and Niagara made them pay for it.

The teams would go back and forth in the extra session until Green did his best Ronald Moore impersonation (yes, much more was riding on Moore’s two three-pointers) with his second big three of the game.

Niagara’s win avenges their lone conference defeat, which came at Iona way back in late November. And with another break in the form of Canisius’ 91-74 beating of Loyola (MD) coming their way (both Canisius and Loyola are 7-4), the Purple Eagles find themselves in firm control of the MAAC race. That’s quite the feat for a team expected to be nothing more than a possible sleeper by many before the season began.

Green and Mason have played extremely well for Niagara during this current run and players such as Ameen Tanksley (15 points, 11 rebounds) and T.J. Cline (11 points) have chipped in as well.

In a conference like the MAAC success tends to be determined by three or four days in early March, and with Green and Mason leading the way Niagara’s a team more than capable of getting to the NCAA tournament.

Photo credit: Niagara Athletics (Juan’ya Green)

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.