Sunday, March 8, 2009

Niagara Men Survive in 2 OT Classic

ALBANY, N.Y. - Call Niagara's 93-89 double-overtime victory over Rider Sunday night in the semifinal round of conference tournament an Instant Classic.

Purple Eagles' coach Joe Mihalich called it "One for the Ages."

It was all of that.

The winners needed plenty to make it one from their perspective, though.

They needed a 30-foot desparation three-pointer from junior guard Tyrone Lewis with 1.7 seconds remaining that banked to tie things up and force the first overtime.

Then, they allowed a six-point advantage to slip away in the first extra session as Rider's standout junior guard Ryan Thompson scored five points in the final 30 seconds.

And, then, the Purple Eagles had to rally from a three-point deficit of their own with 2:20 left to play in the second overtime.

After all of that, things weren't fully decided until Thompson lost his dribble bringing the ball into the front court with under four seconds remaining before he could attempt a shot that would have either tied it again or given Rider a lead.

Rider then was forced to follow and Niagara's Bilal Benn sank two free throws with 1.6 seconds left to create the final margin.

"We found a way to win," said Mihalich, about his team that has found plenty of ways to win this season on its way to a 26-7 record.

"We won tonight when things weren't clicking for us. Guys didn't have good shooting nights ... and we still found a way to win."

Niagara got 22 points from 6-10 senior center Benson Egemoyne and 20 points and a game-high 19 rebounds from 6-5 junior forward Bilal Benn, whose rebound total matched the second-highest single-game mark in the history of the conference tournament. Only Todd Mattson of Army's 24 rebounds in a 1990 tournament game accounted for more.

Thompson finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds.

"Just a very tough outcome to swallow," said Rider coach Tommy Dempsey. "Our guys were very determined not get sent home tonight. But in the second overtime we just didn't get it done."

Niagara advances to tonight's 9 p.m. championship game with an NCAA berth on the line against Siena.

The Saints have won their first two games in this event with ease, romping over Canisius, 77-52, on Saturday and, then, by an 80-65 score over Fairfield on Sunday.

"We had a tough game to night, but I think it's going to help us becaus Siena had a couple of laughers," said Mihalich. "But who knows? Maybe that's wishful thinking."

Niagara would seem to be facing nearly every disadvantage in Monday's title contest ... an opponent that has yet to be tested on Siena's home court before a crowd expected to approach 10,000 with most of those rooting for the Saints.

"We want to play in an environment like this," said Mihalich. "who wouldn't? We won 15 road gmes this year. We're used to it. We've done it before.

"We're road tested. Maybe we're road weary, too, but that's what it is. We'll go out and play and give it everything we've got."

NOTES: Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said he believes his team should still get a post-season invitation to one of three national post-season events for which teams will be selected after the NCAA field is finalized.

"We just played a 26-win team (Niagara), and I couldn't see much difference between the two," said Dempsey. "This team deserves to be in the post season."

The Broncs are currently 19-12 and beat both Siena (25-7) and Niagara (26-7) during regular-season play ...

Attendance for Sunday's session of two semifinal-round games was 8,011.

Total attendance for the tournament thus far is 41,062, already the fourth-highest turnout in the event's history.

If a crowd of 5,193 or more turns out for tonight's championship game, then this year's event will have drawn the second-highest turnout in the event's history. If tonight's crowd surpasses 9,025, then this year's event will set an attendance record.

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