LEWISTON — It took 55 seconds to flip the game.
For the first 19 minutes of the first half, last-place Saint Peter’s was mostly unbothered by Niagara’s full-court press. The Purple Eagles had six points off turnovers and four didn’t come off the press.
Holding a three-point lead with a minute left, Saint Peter’s never crossed half-court again. Niagara scored 11 points in the final 55 seconds, with nine coming off four steals. Four quick points to start the third quarter sent the Purple Eagles on their way to a 85-51 win Thursday at the Gallagher Center.
Now winners of five consecutive games, including four in seven days, Niagara now faces the most critical part of its schedule with three of the next five games on the road against the three teams ahead of them in the MAAC standings.
It starts with a trip to Manhattan at 7 p.m. Feb. 8 in an attempt to rebound from an 11-point loss to the Jaspers on Jan. 18. Niagara can avenge all four of its MAAC losses in the next five games after dropping games to Fairfield, Manhattan, Marist and Siena over a 14-day stretch in January.
“I think we’ve battled a lot of adversity in the last month,” Niagara coach Jada Pierce said. “And I think for this group, which I really do love, they want to fight through it. They want to fight through it, they’re not shying away from it, they want to help each other and I think we’ve come closer together with the adversity that we faced in the last month. … I don’t want to rush anything, I just know that right now, we’re trending in the right direction.”
Two days after Niagara (11-11, 8-4 MAAC) needed a big third quarter to make up for a 3-for-16 second quarter against Canisius, it started the second quarter 2 of 12 against Saint Peter’s. The Purple Eagles had six points entering the final minute, as Peacock forward Carys Roy scored 13 of her game-high 26 points, many of which came after cracking the press.
Niagara got caught frequently with a post player guarding one-on-one before the half-court line or on the perimeter and Saint Peter’s was able to take advantage driving to the hoop.
Ultimately, the Purple Eagles forced 29 turnovers and had a 42-5 edge in points off turnovers, while tallying 18 steals.
“I knew that it wasn’t going to be something where we were going to blow them out in the first 10 to 20 minutes,” Pierce said. “I knew it was going to be a battle. We were just waiting for the team to kind of respond and you know what, they got their legs, they mentally shifted gears and I think that’s what you saw.”
The halftime break didn’t quell any of Niagara’s momentum and it was needed in the third quarter. Saint Peter’s (5-14, 2-8) scored 21 points on 10 of 15 shooting, but the Purple Eagles had 28, with 12 coming off six turnovers.
After shooting 36.4% in the first half, the Purple Eagles shot 57.1% in the third quarter and had as many made field goals (12) as they did in the first half.
A bulk of the damage came from unlikely sources, including Saige Glover, who saw increased minutes when starter Amelia Strong injured her knee in the second quarter. Entering the game averaging 5.3 points per game, the forward scored eight of her career-high 17 in the third quarter — to go along with nine rebounds — and went a perfect 8 of 8 from the field.
“It was defense, like the steals, the energy from the team, just everything being in our favor,” Glover said. “I was able to get steals, my teammates were helping me there give me passes, I was getting good looks in the post that helped a lot.”
Meanwhile freshman forward Alyssa Rossignol, who had one double-digit scoring game all season, put 12 points in just 14 minutes. On a night when first-team All-MAAC performers Aaliyah and Angel Parker combined for just 12 points, Niagara’s bench tallied 56, including nine from freshman Kylie Buckley and eight from Marlie Dickerson.
“I think overall our team is very interchangeable,” said Rossignol, who scored seven of her points in the first quarter. “I think for the most part, we try to, when our bench goes in, to never have a drop down. I think we’re all able to come in with the same intensity and I think starting from the beginning of the game having that energy, so when you get in, you’re ready to bring that energy.”