Trojans fall in NIT

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 17, 2004

AMHERST, N.Y. - The Troy State Trojans built up a 17-point lead on the Niagara Purple Eagles early in the first half Wednesday, and Don Maestri didn't enjoy one second of it.

"I don't think you're going to put many teams away in the postseason, especially when you have two teams that match up fairly well," Maestri said.

Maestri was right.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

A game that featured two the nation's highest scoring teams lived up to its billing. Niagara overcame the deficit before halftime, but Troy battled back and took an eight-point lead early in the second half. But the Purple Eagles rallied again and downed the Trojans 87-83 before 2,222 boisterous fans in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament at the University at Buffalo's Alumni Arena.

"The people that were here they got what was promised," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said.

Niagara (22-9) will play Nebraska Saturday in Lincoln. Troy State will have to take solace with a 24-7 record and a its first-ever NIT appearance.

"If we could go further, great," Maestri said. "(If Niagara can go on) it's great for this level of college basketball."

Greg Davis led the Trojans with 18 points but had just three assists. Rob Lewin added 16 points while Kendrick Johnson added 14. The Trojans shot 41.1 percent to the Purple Eagles 41.4. Troy hit 8 of 24 three-pointers, but five came in the first 8:16.

David Brooks' three-pointer with 1:20 left in the game gave Niagara an 83-81 advantage and the lead for good. Alvin Cruz' running lay-up with 22 seconds left sealed the game. As time expired the students steamed on the court and celebrated Niagara's first NIT win since 1987.

The lead changed several times early in the second half before Lewin keyed a 12-4 Trojans run with seven points and gave them a 74-66 lead with 6:58 left, their biggest of the half.

The Trojans jumped to a 29-12 lead with 11:01 left in the first half on the strength of five three-pointers.

"It almost (seemed too easy)," Maestri said. "I'm not so sure they may not have duped us into thinking that this may be an easier game."

"We knew they would come back," Davis said.

Niagara responded with 29-12 run and tied the game with 58 seconds left on Tremmell Darden's three-pointer. Johnson's basket with 40 seconds left gave Troy State a 43-41 lead at halftime.

Darden led Niagara with 26 points and Juan Mendez scored 20. Cruz scored all 14 of his points in the second half.