RIVERDALE, N.Y. - The Niagara men's basketball team (17-13, 9-8 MAAC) improved to 5-1 in February with a 74-72 victory over Manhattan (10-18, 4-13 MAAC) on Friday night in Riverdale, N.Y. The victory guaranteed a top-6 finish and that coveted Friday bye in next week's MAAC Championships for the Purple Eagles.
In the win, senior Tyrone Lewis became the first player in MAAC history to record 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 200 steals. He needed two rebounds to reach the special feat, and he pulled down his second carom early in the first half to achieve the milestone. The 5-foot-11 guard now has 1,793 points, 503 rebounds, 284 assists and 224 steals in his illustrious career.
The Purple Eagles again used a strong second-half effort to topple the Jaspers, shooting 60.4 percent from the floor (16-for-25) after the break. Niagara, however, went cold down the stretch (it's last field goal a triple by Lewis at the 6:29 mark), and Manhattan mounted a comeback that fell just short.
With NU leading 74-71 with 20 seconds remaining, the Jaspers gathered a rebound off a missed free throw and got the ball in Rico Pickett's hands for the last shot. However, Bilal Benn had other designs, as the Purple Eagle senior knocked the ball away with five seconds remaining before being fouled.
Benn missed both free throws, and Niagara fouled Antoine Pearson so that he couldn't get a game-tying 3-pointer up. Pearson made the first and purposely missed the second, and with 0.3 seconds remaining, Pickett's last-ditch tip at the buzzer went in and out, giving Niagara the 74-72 lead.
"We were able to come into Manhattan and outscore a team that can score a lot of points," Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich said. "We are playing good basketball in February, and that's what we always want to do."
Lewis tied a career-high, connecting on six triples in the second-straight game. He opened the scoring with a deep 3-pointer just five seconds into the game and finished with 21 points. He is now just six points away from tying former teammate Charron Fisher for third place on the school's all-time scoring chart.
Sophomore Kashief Edwards did most of his damage in the second half, scoring 12 of his 14 points after intermission on 5-of-6 shooting. Freshman big Scooter Gillette set a career-high with 11 points on a perfect 5-for-5 effort from the field.
Junior point guard Anthony Nelson continued to stuff the stat sheet, finishing with 12 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Benn recorded eight points and eight rebounds in the win.