For much of the first half of its first-round NIT contest at Maryland on Tuesday night Niagara looked like it might slay the ACC "giant."
The Purple Eagles had a 29-23 lead with 5:39 left in the first half. And, then, reality set in.
The Terrapins went on a 12-3 run to gain the lead a minute before the intermission and only a Ameen Tanksley's three-pointer enabled the MAAC representative to tie it at halftime. But ...
"I thought we had these guys (Maryland) back on their heels a little bit," said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich, speaking to on-site reporters afterwards. "I thought we had a chance in the first half. Then it was dunk, layup, dunk, tie game (at the half). And that was just what they needed to remind them how good they are, that they beat Duke twice. They got a little of that mojo going."
Maryland kept it going in the second half, pulling away after the break for an 86-70 victory to move to a second-round NIT contest.
Niagara did take a quick second-half lead when senior post player Devon White made a free throw, but Maryland went on a 21-2 run over the next five minutes to take control.
"Credit to them ... I like that team," said Mihalich, about a Maryland squad that many perceived to have been just on the other side of the proverbial NCAA tournament bubble. "I said to Mark (Maryland coach Turgeon) afterward that I hope they win it, and I think they can. In these tournaments you win one and you start feeling it. If they can get another one who knows ... we'll be rooting for them."
Niagara's Antoine Mason had a game-high 24 points, including 12-of-13 from the foul line. Tanksley added 18 points and seven rebounds, while freshman forward had 11 points and sophomore guard Juan'ya Green added 10.
Niagara was making its 14th NIT appearance and first since 2009. It was the second meeting between the programs. The only other time Niagara played Maryland was in the 1972 NIT championship game.
Niagara will return 10 of the 11 players on this season's team, losing only the 6-8 White, who averaged less than 20 minutes per contest. The Purple Eagles captured the MAAC's regular-season title and finished with a 19-14 overall record.
Very early expectations are that Niagara will enter the 2013-14 season as one the preseason favorites to repeat for next season's league title, probably along with Manhattan.