Niagara Gazette — When the Niagara Purple Eagles were struggling through their second straight losing season last winter, coach Joe Mihalich reached out to an old nemesis for advice.
Told about promising freshmen Juan'ya Green, Antoine Mason and Ameen Tanksley, former Siena coach Fran McCaffery told Mihalich, "stick with those guys."
Mihalich's patience has paid off a year later, as the sophomore trio has lifted Niagara into sole possession of first place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for at least a day.
Mason scored 23 points and Green had 21 points and eight assists Friday as the Purple Eagles' beat Siena 87-64 in front of 1,449 at the Gallagher Center.
Niagara (10-8, 6-1) has now won six straight conference games and holds a half-game lead over the only team it has lost to, Iona, which plays at Fairfield tonight.
"They're a team to be reckoned with," Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro said.
With it's most lopsided win over Siena since the 1950s, Niagara is off to its best start in MAAC play since 1999, Mihalich's first year on the job.
"Everything is starting to come together," Green said.
The Purple Eagles carved up Siena's zone defense, shooting a season-high 54.2 percent, making 12 of 24 from 3-point range and assisting on 18 of their 32 field goals.
"Everybody was just creating for everybody else," Green said.
Siena (4-14, 2-5) held an early lead but fell behind 40-34 by halftime. Niagara then opened the second second half with a blinding 23-3 run that spanned just five minutes.
"It's the most important five minutes," Mason said. "We knew we struggled in the first five minutes and we wanted to come out strong in the second half."
The Purple Eagles' also clamped down on Siena's star big man, O.D. Anosike, in the second half. The national leader in rebounding and double-doubles had 15 points and six rebounds at the half, but was scoreless with just four rebounds in the second half before getting ejected for arguing with an offical at the 7:50 mark.
T.J. Cline had 13 points off the bench for Niagara, making 5-of-6 shots. Tanksley and Marvin Jordan each had 10 points, Tahjere McCall had six and Devon White chipped in with four points and a team-high six rebounds. Junior guard Malcolm Lemmons was not on the bench after sustaining a head injury in practice.
Niagara hosts Manhattan on Saturday and then travels to play Siena again next Friday.
NCCC 86, Jamestown-Olean 58
John Marsh paved the way for the Thunderwolves (12-5) with 22 points, and Jordan Street added a double-double with 16 points 14 rebounds.
"We came out in the first half and got out to a 47-21 lead," said NCC head coach Bill Beilein. "We forced some turnovers which got us some easy buckets."