By Paul Gotham
BUFFALO, NY – The Niagara Purple Eagles men’s basketball team entered play Sunday with one of the longest conference winning streaks in the nation.
That streak was in doubt until the final moments and then some.
Marvin Jordan hit the game-winner with four seconds left on the clock as Niagara (13-8/9-1) defeated the Canisius Golden Griffins (13-8/ 6-4), 66-65 in Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference action at Koessler Athletic Center.
Jordan’s catch-and-shoot three capped a furious ending which saw the Purple Eagles erase a ten-point deficit and withstand five late lead changes.
“Epic battle, does that word get used too much,” asked Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich. “It was just an incredible game. Two arch rivals, a sell out – we’re good; they’re good. Today we came out on top. We could play that team 50 times, and it would probably be 25 each.”
Trailing by one, Niagara’s Juan’ya Green drove the right side of the lane before sending a cross court pass to Jordan in the opposite corner for the game-winner.
“I was thinking about going to the hoop and getting a foul,” Green said. “I kinda slipped when I tried to make my move. I saw Marvin in the corner and passed it to him.”
The assist was Green’s game-high eighth. Jordan led all with 23.
“I just knew to be shot ready the whole time,” Jordan commented. “You never know what can happen that late in the game. I trusted him to trust me.”
Jordan’s shot barely eluded the outstretched fingertips of 6’10” Jordan Heath closing out hard on the shot.
The basket was almost for not.
As soon as the ball went through the twine, Billy Baron took the inbounds pass and raced to the opposite end of the floor hitting a runner from just outside the lane. For a few fleeting moments it appeared that the Griffs claimed victory. Game officials reviewed the play on monitors before disallowing Baron’s shot.
“I couldn’t even watch them decide if it was good or not,” Jordan said. “I just took a seat on the bench.”
Jordan scored six of 19 second-half points during an 11-0 run.
Green intercepted a pass on the next possession and led Jordan ahead of the defense for another layup.
A long rebound and Green found Jordan ahead of the pack for Niagara’s first lead of the second half at 53-51.
After a Canisius timeout, Green grabbed a defensive rebound and went end-to-end for a four-point advantage.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of them,” Mihalich said of his team. “It seemed like we were dead and just wouldn’t give in.”
Chris Manhertz finished at the rim. Washington hit one-of-two from the free throw line. Jordan Heath gave Canisius back the lead when he used an upfake and a dribble to step into a jumper. Canisius led 56-55 with 4:30 to go.
Ameen Tanksley hit a pair of charity tosses to give the advantage back to the Purple Eagles.
Manhertz hit a pair of free throws, Jordan Heath had a follow up dunk in transition for the four-point Canisius edge with 2:45 remaining.
“Proud of our team,” Mihalich added. “We beat a good team.”
Jordan’s winning three was the junior’s third of the night. He was nine-of-18 from the floor including 3-of-12 behind the arc.
Mason added 14 points. The sophomore scored in double figures for the 21st time this season. Mason has 27 straight double-digit performances dating back to last season.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Canisius head coach Jim Baron said. “They’re a good team. They’re playing with confidence. They got some athletes.”
Manhertz paced the Griffs with a career-high 17 to go with 15 rebounds including eight on the offensive end.
Washington added 12. Sosa chipped in 14.
T.J. Cline sparked an early 12-2 run as the Purple Eagles took a six-point advantage. The freshman forward grabbed a loose ball, finished at the rim, and Niagara trailed 11-9. After Mason drew a blocking call on Washington in transition, Cline took the inbound pass and fed Tanksley for a three and a 12-11 Niagara advantage.
Cline grabbed a long offensive rebound and led Malcolm Lemmons for a trey to push the lead to six. The Plano, Texas native capped the run with a basket at the rim and a 23-19 NU edge.
Manhertz tied the score with back-to-back baskets. Manhertz corralled the rebound on a Jordan Heath three-point attempt and finished the putback. Billy Baron drove the lane and dished to Manhertz for the layup and a 23-23 score. One free throw later and Manhertz completed the three-point play as Canisius regained the lead.
The Blue and Gold closed the half on an 8-2 run to take the 32-25 halftime advantage.
Harold Washington grabbed a pass from Baron on the break and sliced through the lane for a layup. Isaac Sosa used an upfake and one dribble to create space for his third trey of the half.
Reggie Groves ended the stanza in dramatic fashion. With the clock running down, it appeared the Purple Eagles stuffed a high-ball screen between Baron and Manhertz when Groves cut to the top for a catch-and-shoot 3 from Baron as the horn sounded.
A trio of early threes gave the Golden Griffins the lead at 11-7. Washington pulled up from 22 feet to put Canisius on the board. After Manhertz hit a jump hook in the lane, Jordan Heath connected for three from the top. Baron pulled up in transition for the four-point advantage.
Niagara has won nine straight MAAC games – the eight best mark of that kind in the country.
Canisius held Niagara to just one field goal in the final 7:30 of the first half.
Sunday’s meeting was the 173rd in the series – the most against any single opponent in either schools’ history. Niagara has won 18 of the last 21 meetings between the Little 3 rivals.
Canisius hosts Loyola, Thursday night. Tip time at the KAC us scheduled for 7 p.m.
Niagara hosts Iona on Thursday with the same tip off at the Taps Gallagher Center.