By Kevin Sweeney
In conference tournament play, teams are always looking for a few unlikely contributors that can swings the odds in their favor.
Niagara got just that from Chris Barton, James Towns, and Maurice Taylor, and it lifted the Purple Eagles to an 88-69 victory over Quinnipiac to keep their season alive.
In a game in which stars Kahlil Dukes and Matt Scott struggled from the field, the Purple Eagles looked to Barton, Towns, and Taylor for major contributions and got just that.
Barton, a sophomore wing who averages just 6.8 points per game, shot a perfect 5-5 from the field en route to 15 points. Towns, a diminutive 5-10 freshman guard posted 14 points in the span of 6 minutes during the decisive run. Taylor, a senior forward who averages just under 3 points per game, contributed 8 points and 16 rebounds.
The first half was surprisingly low-scoring considering that both teams came into the game in the bottom 4 of the conference in scoring defense, but the Purple Eagles managed to hold a slight 29-27 edge at the break.
Quinnipiac seemed to seize the momentum early the second half with 8 points by senior Daniel Harris in the first 90 seconds of the half, but that positive energy was short-lived as the Purple Eagles got into a groove offensively. Niagara responded with a 14-3 run capped by a 3-point play by Barton to take a 46-38 lead.
After the under-12 minute media timeout was when Towns heated up and gave Niagara the boost they needed to pull away. He drove aggressively to the basket on multiple occasions and hit a pair of triples to help the Purple Eagles make a 21-10 run over a decisive 6 minute spurt that gave them a 16 point lead with under 6 minutes to go.
The Bobcats would never really threaten from then on.
One impressive statistic was the rebounding margin. Niagara outrebounded the Bobcats 39-28 despite Quinnipiac ranking in the top 20 nationally in rebounds per game.
The loss concludes a disappointing end to the season for the Bobcats, who lost 7 straight to close the year. The future is bright though for Quinnipiac (10-21, 7-13) with the presence of freshmen Mikey Dixon and Peter Kiss, who were selected for the MAAC All-Rookie Team. Kiss led the way tonight for Quinnipiac with 15 points, while Dixon added 8 points.
Niagara survives and advances to take on top-seeded Monmouth tomorrow night at 7pm here in Albany. Scott had 19 points, while Dukes posted 18.