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)