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Moments from the 2017-18 season: Niagara men's basketball returns to the postseason



NIAGARA UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS

bench celebrationNIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. -- The Niagara University men's basketball program capped one of its best seasons in recent memory with an invitation to a postseason tournament for the first time since 2013.
 
The Purple Eagles had high expectations entering the 2017-18 season. Niagara returned eight letter winners from last season, including the entire starting five – Matt ScottKahlil DukesChris BartonMarvin Prochet and Dominic Robb. The Purple Eagles were picked fifth in the MAAC Preseason Poll with Scott (first team) and Dukes (second team) earning Preseason All-MAAC selections.
 
Niagara got early preparations for the upcoming season with a trip to Costa Rica in August where it defeated the top two teams in the Costa Rican Liga (LBS). After two exhibition games (Robert Morris and Saint Rose), the Purple Eagles opened the season at Little 3 rival St. Bonaventure. Niagara left the Reilly Center with a 77-75 win to halt a six-game losing streak in the series. Niagara then continued its season-opening road trip against Minnesota, UMass and BYU.
 
The Purple Eagles opened their home schedule hosting a post-Thanksgiving Day tournament where they defeated Alabama A&M before being edged by UT Arlington. Niagara alternated wins/losses in its next four games before reeling off three straight victories to close out its non-conference schedule. The Purple Eagles beat Norfolk State on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Matt Scott, used a defensive stop to down Cleveland State, and held off Cornell in the final minute.
 
After dropping their first two conference games, the Purple Eagles won their next five MAAC games for their longest win streak in five seasons, while also improving to 3-0 in MAAC road games for the first time in their 29-year history as a member of the conference. Niagara had also won six straight true road games, which was the fourth longest streak in the NCAA at the time, for its longest consecutive true road win streak since winning seven straight from February 16, 1962 to January 26, 1963.
 
NU had its win streaks snapped at Fairfield on Jan. 20, but responded with victories versus Manhattan and a throbbing of Canisius where the Purple Eagles poured in 105 points for their most points at the Koessler Athletic Center in program history.

The Purple Eagles won four straight games from Feb. 4-16, including erasing a 12-point second half deficit to beat Iona at the Hynes Center, to improve to 11-2 in their last 13 games and 11-4 in MAAC play. The Purple Eagles routed the Red Foxes to wrap up the regular season and headed into the MAAC Tournament as the No. 3 seed.
 
Niagara's quest for a third MAAC Tournament title ended in the quarterfinals as the Purple Eagles dropped the rubber match with the Fairfield Stags, despite a career-high 29 points from Dominic Robb.
 
The Purple Eagles received an invitation to play in the 10th CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) for their first postseason appearance since the 2013 National Invitational Tournament (NIT). Niagara's opponent in its first-ever appearance in the CIT was Eastern Michigan. The "Battle of the Eagles" was a contrast of style of play with Niagara ranking 13th in the nation in points per game while EMU ranked 44th in scoring defense. In the second meeting between the programs, Eastern Michigan defeated Niagara to end the Purple Eagles' season.
 
Niagara had several individual standouts throughout the season. The duo of Kahlil Dukes (AP Honorable Mention, MAAC Co-Player of the Year, All-MAAC First Team, NABC All-District I First Team), and Matt Scott (NABC All-District I First Team, All-MAAC Second Team) received numerous accolades and set program records, and fellow tri-captain Marvin Prochet led the MAAC in double-doubles (nine) and in rebounds per game (7.9).
 
Here are some of the notable statistics for the 2017-18 Purple Eagles:
 

  • Niagara's 19 overall wins, 12 MAAC wins, and nine home wins were the most in five seasons.
  • The Purple Eagles' 10 road victories led the MAAC and tied a school record in the modern-era set in the 2008-09 season.
  • The Purple Eagles led the MAAC in points per game (83.3), total blocks (145), blocks per game (4.4), total rebounds (1,286), free throws made (588), fewest turnovers (373) and in fewest turnovers per game (11.3).
  • Niagara's 2,748 points are the most in program history.
  • Defeated two Big 4 teams (St. Bonaventure, Canisius) in the same season since 2010-11
  • Niagara was 7-0 in games decided by less than four points.
  • The 9-win improvement was tied for 12th out of 353 NCAA Division I programs