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PITTSBURGH (AP) – Keleaf Tate scored 17 points, James Towns added 12 points and a career-high nine assists and Niagara stunned Pittsburgh 71-70 on Monday night.
Dominic Robb, a Pittsburgh native and the nation’s leader in blocked shots, finished with 12 points, five rebounds and four blocks for the Purple Eagles (3-4), who built a 12-point second-half lead and then fended off a late rally by the Panthers.
Xavier Johnson led Pitt (7-2) with 19 points but his layup just before the buzzer rolled out. The ball was batted to midcourt as time expired and Niagara’s bench poured onto the court. Au’Diese Toney added 12 points and nine rebounds for the Panthers, but Pitt was outrebounded 38-31 and let Niagara shoot 48 percent (27 of 56) from the field.
The Purple Eagles, picked to finish ninth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, won despite playing their fourth straight game without leading scorer and rebounder Marvin Prochet, who sat out his fourth straight game with a toe injury.
No matter. The Panthers couldn’t contain Towns, who got into the lane to set up teammates when he wasn’t knocking down shots. A step back 3-pointer by Towns gave the Purple Eagles a 58-48 lead with just over nine minutes to go and Niagara did not wilt when the Panthers turned up the pressure.
The Panthers came in off perhaps their best 10 minutes of the season in the second half of a 74-53 victory over Duquesne in the City Game last Friday. Pitt used a late 15-0 run to put away their crosstown rivals, relying heavily on a defense that has proven physical and disruptive early in head coach Jeff Capel’s first season.
Yet Niagara hardly played the role of pushover, using a 10-2 burst at the end of the first half to take a 34-33 lead at the break, just the second time this season the Panthers have trailed after 20 minutes. It wasn’t a fluke.
Niagara: The Purple Eagles may have a chance to exceed their modest preseason expectations once Prochet returns. They played with confidence against the bigger, more athletic Panthers.
Pitt: Capel worried about his team coming out flat against Duquesne after a tough one-point loss on the road at Iowa. It wasn’t an issue against the Dukes, and for all the enthusiasm around the program since Capel’s arrival, the roster isn’t talented enough yet to take any opponent for granted.
Niagara: Welcomes New Hampshire to the “Taps” Gallagher Center on Sunday.
Pitt: Will look for its first win at the WVU Coliseum since Jan. 30, 2012 when both schools were in the Big East.
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