Niagara wins tight contest over Norfolk State, 65-61

norfolk stateIn what turned into a pretty even game most of the afternoon, Niagara got a late steal and was able to hold off the Norfolk State men’s basketball team in a 65-61 victory on Saturday at the Gallagher Center.

In shades of NSU’s loss against Sacred Heart earlier this season, the Spartans were down by just two with a last second possession. But like that setback several weeks ago, Norfolk State’s opponent again came up with a timely play. This time, it was Niagara’s Kahlil Dukes who became the hero. He made a steal on a pass by the Spartans near the left wing with less than 10 seconds left and sank two free throws to ice the victory.

The Spartans fell to 2-8 despite another strong effort from senior Jonathan Wade and a career day from sophomore Alex Long. Wade had 17 points in the second half, more than half of the team’s production in the period. It was part of an overall 23-point effort for the game on 10-of-20 shooting. Long, meanwhile, tallied career highs of 16 points and 15 rebounds while shooting 6-of-11 overall and adding three blocks.

The Purple Eagles (3-7) led for the last 17 minutes of the second period but never by more than nine. The Spartans continuously fought back, getting to within two numerous times, including late in the game thanks in part to Wade.

Dukes, the team’s second-leading scorer, was kept quiet most of the game. That is, until he made two tough jumpers to extend Niagara’s lead to 58-49 with 4:37 left. It marked the largest lead of the game for either team. But it did not last, as NSU answered with another 3-point play, this time from Long. Wade went over the 20-point mark with a pair of layups and a jumper to cut the deficit to 60-58 with two and a half minutes to go.

Niagara had the ball forever on its next possession, almost a minute and a half in total, before Matt Scott’s layup pushed the lead to four with just 1:03 left. NSU junior Zaynah Robinson then hit a trey from the left wing with 31.5 seconds to go to cut the deficit to just one. After James Towns made just 1-of-2 from the line, NSU had one last great chance to tie or go ahead down by two.

NSU brought the ball up court and used its last timeout with 18.1 seconds left. The Spartans eventually got the ball on the baseline, but Dukes intercepted the pass, got fouled as he went up court, and made both free throws with 1.5 seconds left to ice the win.

The Spartans made just 31 percent in the second half, part of an overall 24-of-68 effort (35.3 percent). They did, however, make all 11 of their free throw attempts in the contest after struggling the past several games at the charity stripe.

Aside from Wade and Long, junior Jordan Butler was the only other player in double figures for NSU with 10. No other player had more than five.

The Purple Eagles held a seven-point edge at 15-8 at the start of the game after Scott made both free throws on a 1-and-1 at the 12:12 mark. Long had nine points early on to keep NSU close, and junior Micah Goss finished off a 10-2 run with a trey from the right wing for a 20-19 Spartan lead at the 6:54 mark.

Chris Barton gave the lead back to Niagara with a trey on the game’s very next possession, and the teams went back and forth the rest of the first half. A couple of buckets by Dominic Robb gave the Purple Eagles the lead late in the period, but Butler made a layup and then two from the free throw line to send the teams into the locker room tied at 30-30.

Robb sparked Niagara by scoring 18 points in the game on 9-of-13 shooting with six rebounds and four blocks.

NSU went ahead at the start of the second half before the Purple Eagles scored eight straight for a 40-34 lead five minutes into the stanza. The advantage for Niagara shrank after Long made 2-of-2 from the line and a jump shot in the lane. The Purple Eagles responded by hitting four straight from the free throw line and then going ahead 49-42 on a trey from Marvin Prochet at the 9:43 mark.

Wade completed a 3-point play on the other end of the court, and Butler made 2-of-2 from the charity stripe to cut the deficit to two before Barton answered with a 3-point play of his own. A little later, Dukes made his two jumpers, including an off-balance, nearly sideways shot, to send the game into its final run.

Dukes finished with 11, and Barton added 10 points off the bench. Prochet tallied nine points and nine boards, and Scott posted nine points and seven rebounds. Thanks in part to Long, however, Norfolk State held a 43-38 advantage on the glass.

Niagara hit 23-of-59 for the game (39.0 percent), and both teams struggled from beyond the arc. The Purple Eagles shot 4-of-17, compared to a 2-of-16 effort for NSU.

The teams also combined for just 16 turnovers – nine from NSU – although the Purple Eagles held a 13-2 edge in points off turnovers. They also made 15-of-18 from the charity stripe, seven more attempts than the Spartans, as they finished with just nine fouls compared to 19 for Norfolk State.

Robinson ended the afternoon with five points, six rebounds and five assists.

NSU will next play at Evansville on Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST.



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