By Connor Giblin
ATLANTIC CITY, NJ – Redshirt senior Jordan Jones recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds to pace four Red Foxes in double figures, but fourth-seeded Marist could not catch up to fifth-ranked Niagara’s 19-point, second-half lead and fell to the Purple Eagles 67-62 in the 2021 Hercules Tires MAAC Men’s Basketball Championship quarterfinals on Thursday evening at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.
Junior guard Matt Herasme buried a three-pointer 3:15 into the game, but Marist hit just two of its first 12 shots.
Following that triple, Niagara went on a 6-0 run over four minutes to build a 13-5 lead at the 11:47 mark of the first half.
Freshman forward Javon Cooley broke the scoring slump with a right-corner three that cut the Red Fox deficit to 19-10 with 8:28 on the clock in the first half.
Marist got as close as 21-15 after a Jones layup from the left block, but Greg Kuakumensah snagged an offensive rebound on a free throw attempt and converted a nostalgic three-point play to return the Purple Eagle edge to 25-15.
With 24 seconds until halftime, sophomore forward Henry Makeny scooped up a loose ball and slammed it home, making it 28-20 Niagara at the break. The Red Fox defense held the Purple Eagles without any points in the final 3:38 of the first.
Jones scored four of Marist’s first six points in the second half, and drew a pair of fouls that led to the Red Foxes reaching the bonus just after the first media timeout of the frame.
Five minutes in, Niagara started a 12-2 run that extended its advantage to 49-30.
Junior guard Raheim Sullivan and freshman guard Hakim Byrd rattled off a combined 14 consecutive points to close within 56-46 with less than eight-and-a-half minutes to go.
Herasme drilled his third three-pointer of the night from the left wing at the 3:46 mark to climb within 62-54.
Niagara’s lead whittled to 64-60 with 1:06 remaining after free throws from Jones.
Marist forced a Purple Eagle turnover with 6.1 seconds to play, trailing 65-62, but could not link up on the inbounds play.
“I tip my hat to Niagara, they out-hustled us in the first half… I thought we got into a rhythm to start the second half, but we couldn’t cut into the lead… We competed, and we showed a lot of character and grit, but we just fell short… I’m extremely proud of (the players). We became a team within the last few weeks of the season, but we’re not there yet. If we want to get to the point where we can be championship team, we have another step or two that we need to make.” – Head Coach John Dunne in the postgame press conference to the media.