by Julian Ekeze
Special to NFP
Although Friday night's game against the Bengals of Buffalo State did end in a lopsided 96-71 win for the Niagara University men's basketball team, there proved to be some minor glitches the Purple Eagles need to work out before they tip-off the regular season this Saturday, Nov. 9, against Seton Hall.
Niagara was ultimately able to handily beat the Division III Bengals, dominating the stat sheet. The Purple Eagles easily outshot the Bengals and dominated both the offensive and defensive boards. However, often the stat sheet does not tell the entire story. The majority of the game was rather sloppy with the teams collectively turning over the ball 21 times, Niagara accounting for 13 of those 21 turnovers.
The Purple Eagles did not jump out to an early lead, as many would have expected, due in part to the sloppy play. But by the 11-minute mark, the Eagles began to pull away. With 7:54 remaining, the lead was 15. By the end of the half, Niagara had opened up a 20-point lead.
The second half is when Niagara's problems began to show. Buffalo State came out in a full-court press and the Eagles appeared hesitant and unsure on the ball. The Bengals were then able to cut into the 20-point deficit, going on an 18-6 run to bring themselves back to within 11.
Credit to Niagara for being able to weather the storm and answer back with a 19-5 run, but the fact that a full-court press from a significantly smaller and less-talented Division III team troubled them raises some questions as to how the Purple Eagles will handle pressure from a more adequately equipped team.
Niagara's offensive strategy was questionable, too. Very few set plays were run and, instead, the Purple Eagles took turns going at guys one on one - with the majority of those battles given to Marvin Jordan and Antwan Mason, who are clearly considered by the fans and the team to be the top two players. This method was effective, but only due to the difference in sheer size, strength and ability. This may not have the same effect against future opponents, especially if the Purple Eagles are zoned, like they were against the Bengals.
There were many positives from the game, too. After the off-season departure of long-time head coach Joe Mihalich and star players Juan'ya Green and Ameen Tanskley, as well as the loss of a good supporting cast, the Purple Eagles, under new coach Chris Casey, are faced with a number of challenges to overcome and expectations to fulfill. It appears, so far, that Casey has brought in the right type of players to be successful. New guard Cameron Fowler proved to be very influential for the Eagles and will most likely be the starting point guard. Freshman backup Wesley Meyers also showed good potential. Jordan and Mason were impressive, as usual, but so was big man Marcus Ware, who came off the bench and aided the Purple Eagles with a double-double of 17 points and 13 rebounds. Another bonus is that both big men can run the floor, so Niagara should be able to push the tempo a lot. The Purple Eagles have the potential to run teams off the court.
As the season goes on, the team's chemistry should improve, and Niagara should only get better with time.
Overall, the Purple Eagles were impressive and a fun team to watch, despite a few problems to figure out.