LEWISTON, N.Y. (WIVB) — Noah Thomasson and the Niagara Purple Eagles were inspired by greatness inside the Gallagher Center.

Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame member Calvin Murphy sparkled in his tailored suit as the glittering guest of honor Friday night, while Murphy’s running mate and 1972 NIT MVP Marshall Wingate, along with Niagara’s all-time assists leader Anthony Nelson, augmented the star power on Monteagle Ridge.

Thomasson, the current star on campus, took over down the stretch of what started out as a lackluster night for the Purple Eagles. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s leading scorer and native of Murphy’s NBA hometown Houston continued his MAAC Player of the Year campaign in Niagara’s 79-73 win against Quinnipiac. Thomasson had 21 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in leading the Purple Eagles back from 17 points down to an overtime victory.

Back at Niagara for the first time in five years, Murphy, the school’s all-time leading scorer and most famous alumnus, visited the Purple Eagles’ afternoon walkthrough before dressing to impress as the main attraction on a night when bobbleheads were gifted in his honor. Murphy sat behind the bench with Father James Maher, university and MAAC president, and was showered with cheers when introduced on the floor during the first half.

“For us to have him back and honor him in this way and be a part of our team is something that is really special, and something we will always remember,” said Niagara coach Greg Paulus, who was showered with water bottles in the locker room after the Purple Eagles’ fifth straight win, the program’s best streak in five seasons.

Niagara (14-9, 9-5) is now fourth in the MAAC standings, with second-place Iona (17-7, 10-3) and Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino visiting the Gallagher Center on Sunday.

Thomasson was enchanted by meeting Murphy and hearing his retelling of legends, the 68-point performance at Syracuse, the NCAA tournament dance to close his unforgettable career in 1970 with an unbreakable point tally (2,548) established in three years (33.2 scoring average).

“I know Calvin Murphy as a Rockets guy, and seeing him growing up as a kid, just watching him do the broadcast, so the opportunity to meet him was just a blessing,” said Thomasson, a senior point guard in his second year at Niagara, who ranks near the top 50 nationally averaging 18.7 points per game, less than half of Murphy’s sophomore average (38.2). “It’s a good opportunity for us just seeing people who came before us and paved the way for us,” Thomasson added.

Thomasson had 12 points, six rebounds and four assists in playing the entire second half. He scored or assisted 13 of the final 18 points, as Niagara came back from 10 down in the final seven minutes, and Thomasson’s step-back 3-pointer with 22 seconds left gave the Purple Eagles a 60-57 lead, their first since the opening possessions. He scored five points in overtime.

Freshman 7-footer Harlan Obioha had his best game as a Purple Eagle with 11 points and 11 rebounds, both season-highs. The husky center from Hoxie, Kansas did most of his damage in the second half.

“Harlan gave us some tremendous minutes and spark,” Paulus said. “Some terrific momentum plays.”

Paulus was pleased that the Purple Eagles, in improving to 8-2 at the Gallagher Center this season, honored their distinguished alumni — Murphy in particular, “the greatest player in the history of our program.”

“You can feel how much he loves Niagara,” Paulus said. “And he hasn’t forgotten it, despite his jersey hanging in the rafters here, and down at the Toyota Center down there with the Houston Rockets. That’s special. He’s in the Naismith Hall of Fame. There is a rich tradition here.”

Introducing the man of the hour at a pregame meet-and-greet with fans, Paulus said that on just about every recruiting trip he makes across the country, he encounters someone excited to share a Calvin Murphy story.

“For him to come back and share his wisdom, it’s something we will always take with us,” Paulus said. “And we are appreciative of all he has done for our program.”

Murphy reminded the gathering of the reciprocal love and appreciation for his alma mater.

“Absolutely nothing could I do for Niagara compared with what Niagara did for me,” Murphy said. “When they were recruiting me that’s the thing they said they were going to do. I wanted the car and some money, they said no, what we are going to do for you is a first-class education and a chance to be somebody in life. And god bless them, that’s exactly what they did.

“You cannot ever get rid of me. This is home, and I’m here for life.”


Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.