NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. -- Playing its northernmost game in 100 years of basketball, things went south for Northwestern State after halftime Saturday as Niagara shot a scorching 80 percent overall and on 3-pointers to blow open a one-point game en route to a 92-76 victory in a Bracketbusters presented by Ramada Worldwide matchup.
The Purple Eagles (17-11) hit 20 of 25 shots overall, including 8 of 10 on 3s, taking a 31-30 halftime edge out to their biggest lead, 89-66 with 3:45 remaining. They coasted home missing their last five shots to finish at 57 percent overall and 60 percent (12-20) on 3-pointers, stats ballooning by their season 42 percent overall aim and 32 percent accuracy behind the arc.
Northwestern (19-7) fell for the first time in 10 games despite a career-best 20 points from senior forward Gary Roberson, who became the fifth Demon this season to score 20 or more. DeQuan Hicks posted 14 points, Jalan West 13 and James Hulbin 12 as NSU sank 47 percent overall but only 6 of 18 on 3s.
"It was 44-43 and we went empty on four of our next five possessions, missing some point-blank shots underneath, and Niagara got on a roll. They got control and their confidence soared. They did a great job getting inside baskets while they couldn't miss from outside, so you give them credit for an exceptional performance," said Demons' coach Mike McConathy.
Niagara went on a 28-10 tear over six minutes to open a 72-53 lead with 9:01 to go, including two straight free throws banked in by Joe Thomas, a 14 percent shooter from the line this year. Meanwhile, NSU's West finally missed after making 21 consecutive free throws over the past month.
Antoine Mason, Niagara's leading scorer playing for the first time in five games, scored 15 of his 20 after halftime, hitting 5-of-6 shots. Juan'ya Green matched his total with 20 and had seven assists with three steals as three other Purple Eagles scored in double digits.
"We've been on the good side of a half like that, and it's a lot more fun coaching on that side of it," said McConathy, referring to a 103-68 rout of Southeastern Louisiana Jan. 19 when the Demons hit 20 of their last 25 shots in a 15-minute explosion ending the first half. "Niagara had a tremendous run that got started thanks to our failure to convert some shots in close, layups and 4-footers, but this was all about them playing great rather than us stinking up the gym. They were sensational in the second half."
The Demons will play on the road for the fifth game in a row next Saturday at 6 in a potential Southland championship game at Stephen F. Austin. The teams are tied for the league lead with 13-2 records with three league outings remaining.
NSU gets back home for its final two regular-season contests, March 7 against A&M-Corpus Christi and March 9 as Sam Houston State visits Prather Coliseum.