NIAGARA UNIV., N.Y. - (Niagara) Senior Anthony Nelson's fourth career double-double inspired Niagara to a 69-55 win over the Siena Saints on Sunday at the Gallagher Center.
"We are very pleased with the outcome today," head coach Joe Mihalich said. "The outcome was because of the way we competed and how hard we worked out there. It was a good feeling in that locker room and I am happy for these guys."
Niagara (4-13, 1-4 MAAC) clamped down on Siena (5-10, 2-3 MAAC) in the second half en route to picking up its first conference win of the season, while halting its six-game skid. NU has won the last three meetings against Siena at home by an average score of 14 points . The Purple Eagles, who led 23-21 at halftime, held the Saints to their fewest points total in the series since Jan. 19, 1996 when Niagara won 52-50.
"This definitely feels a lot better than losing," Nelson said about the win. "It's been a long time coming. We wanted to come out and established ourselves early because we definitely needed it (the win).
Niagara started the second half as the aggressor and it looked to its lone senior to lead the way. Nelson made his presence felt on the offensive and defensive end throughout the game. He scored 15 points in a five-minute span early in the second half which ignited Niagara's second half dominance.
Nelson connected on his first of five 3-pointers, which are a new career-high, to give NU a 27-21 lead with 18 minutes remaining. Nelson would hit his second at the 15:52 mark before draining three straight as the Purple Eagles seized control of the game up 43-32 with 13 minutes on the clock.
"Once it left my hands I felt pretty good about them," Nelson said. "In the first half I was looking for the same shots, but I was knocking them down. They were going under the screens so I knew in order to get their respect I had to start knocking them down and in the second half they started falling for me."
Nelson finished the game with 30 points and 10 rebounds, each one tally short of tying career-highs in both categories. Nelson went 9-for-10 from the free-throw line, which tied a career-best, and set a career-high with eight steals which ties for fourth most by an individual in a NCAA Division I game this season. He is also seven points away from joining the 1,000-point club.
After Siena cut the lead to 43-36, Niagara went on a 12-5 run which was capped by a 3-pointer by Marvin Jordan with five minutes left. A free throw by sophomore Eric Williams one minute later gave the Purple Eagles their largest lead at 61-42. Williams would finish the game with seven points and six rebounds.
The Purple Eagles' pressure forced the Saints to 2-for-15 shooting from behind the arc and 32 percent shooting from the field in the game. Niagara also outrebounded Siena, 43-37.
"Coach really emphasized on rebounding before the game so we made sure we boxed out and went after the ball," junior forward Kashief Edwards said.
Edwards was the other Purple Eagle to score in double figures. Edwards had 13 points, added seven boards and had two blocks.
Niagara will travel to the metro New York area this weekend for two games beginning on Saturday, Jan. 15 against the Saint Peter's Peahens at 2 p.m.