Nu men's basketball scoops up big win
Most Niagara University students are heading to class or still in dreamland at 8 a.m.
But this wasn't the case on Nov. 17 as hordes of those loyal to the purple and white packed the Gallagher Center for an early morning hoops match. "I might not be here if it wasn't the home opener," said senior Kevin Hooks. "It's early, but I had to come out and support my boys."
The Purple Eagles were backed up by a crowd of 2,261 strong, as well as a national audience, who witnessed the clubs first victory of the season. The game was part of ESPN's "24 Hours of College Basketball Tipoff Marathon," a day-long event embracing the experience that is college basketball.
Oh, and did I mention tipoff was at 8 a.m.?
"I don't even get up for class this early," said senior Ashley Ringer. "But for NU basketball ... that's another story."
A close 76-69 win over Drexel gave Niagara an edge to come up with an even 1-1 record for 2009, a season that's set to be heavy on MAAC conference rivalry games.
This game was played without one of Niagara's top players and last season's defensive player of the year, senior Tyrone Lewis. Lewis, who suffered a foot injury early in the semester, was replaced by senior Demetrius Williamson, who tallied eight points and four rebounds in the game.
With Lewis out, players like Bilal Benn and Rob Garrison had to step up into the leader role, and they filled that position with poise. Benn racked up his second double-double of the season with 19 points and 14 rebounds; Garrison netted 20 points, six rebounds and three assists in the win.
"They weren't going to let us lose," said Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich on Benn and Garrison. "They are winners and they are champions."
Niagara also got help from a pair of talented new rookies, Eric Williams and Scooter Gillette, who combined for six points and 10 rebounds in their second career collegiate game.
Despite trailing midway through the first, Niagara had several key runs in the match, thanks in part to the stellar play of Garrison.
"When a player goes out, somebody has to step up," said Garrison. "On this team, we had a lot of people step up and a lot of contributions from everybody. It wasn't just us that weren't going to let us lose, it was the team.
"Without Tyrone Lewis, with a short bench, a young bench, I thought this team took a giant step forward," said Mihalich.
With Lewis out for the time being, Niagara will have to continue to grow leaps and bounds. With rookies like Gillette and Williams, and sophomores Kashief Edwards and Austin Cooley in the lineup, the Purple Eagles won't have to worry about relying on starters to win games.
Just please, for the sake of the fans, no more early morning matchups.