Gameday: Canisius at NJIT, CIT quarterfinals

By Nick Veronica

Canisius scored a season-high 87 points in its CIT victory against Darmouth last week and dropped 82 on a 21-win Bowling Green team in the second round. What’s gotten into the Griffs offense?

You could attribute the surge to the 30-second shot clock the NCAA is testing in this tournament, the recent return of forward Phil Valenti or the team’s enthusiasm for playing in this tournament.

Whatever the reason, the Griffs will need more of it Saturday evening in their CIT quarterfinal matchup against NJIT. The Highlanders are averaging 82 points per game in the postseason and have only been beaten twice this year at home in Newark, N.J.

A win would send Canisius to its first CIT semifinal birth on Tuesday, with the championship to be played Thursday.

And if NJIT wins, that would send thier fans back onto the court. They stormed the court on Monday … after beating Cleveland State … in the second round of the CIT.

NJIT Highlanders:
20-11 overall, 14-2 home (including four non-Division I teams). RPI: 158. BPI: 187. KenPom: 165. Streak: W5.

Canisius Golden Griffins: 18-14 overall, 8-7 road. RPI: 177. BPI: 154. KenPom: 145. Streak: W2.

Vegas line: At the time of this writing, NJIT was a 2.5-point favorite. Over/under was 141.5.

About NJIT: The country’s last remaining independent team received national attention this year for beating Michigan in Ann Arbor back when the Wolverines were still ranked. Sophomore guard Damon Lynn stands at only 5-foot-11, 165 pounds, but slices defenses for 17.4 points a night while handing out 3.8 assists per game.

Canisius’ perimeter defense will have its hands full Saturday. The Highlanders, led by coach Jim Engles, convert 38.6 percent of their three-point attempts, putting them just outside the top 30 nationally. Lynn, a 37.1-percent three-point shooter, leads the team with 121 threes made, but both Winfield Willis and Tim Coleman are more even more accurate, shooting above 43 percent from behind the arc while netting 56 and 33 three-pointers, respectively.

(NJIT to the the MAAC? Probably not. The school is looking to step up — recently unveiling plans for a $100 million facility with a 3,500-seat arena that will open in 2017 — but it isn’t really a fit in the MAAC, which is made up of small, private schools. Just ask the commish.)

Crumpton returns to practice: About the only bit of news from Jim Baron’s media session Thursday was that forward Jermaine Crumpton had returned to practice after missing the last nine games. Crumpton broke his foot in a loss to Monmouth on Feb. 8 and needed a surgery to put a screw in the bone, a team source said. He was cleared for practice earlier this week and is expected to play Saturday.

“Having guys back is refreshing,” Baron said. “Now we can play more players. Those guys deserve to play in the postseason, Valenti and now Crumpton coming back a little bit. It’s a great experience for us and I’m elated to be a part of it and to have our team be part of it. They deserve it.”

CIT semifinal matchups: Evansville will host UT-Martin in a semifinal game Tuesday, with the Canisius-NJIT winner facing Northern Arizona. If Canisius wins Saturday it would like to host the semifinal game if possible, though NAU may want to host as well. That game will feature a brutal trip no matter where it is played.

The CIT championship will be played Thursday.

Heath injury update: Josiah Heath is still recovering from a broken nose suffered in the MAAC Tournament loss to Monmouth but is getting more comfortable playing without his face mask. He took it off midway through the first half against Dartmouth and went the whole game without it at Bowling Green.

“I have it with me,” Heath said. “I keep it on in practice sometimes, but it’s tough for me to play in.”


Maher to study transfer rules: Canisius athletic director Bill Maher this week was named to the NCAA’s new Ad Hoc Transfer Issues Working Group, which will study and recommend transfer rule changes that will be considered in the 2015-16 legislative cycle.

How to follow the game: The CIT live streams every game on its website, so tune in for a 7:30 p.m. tip. I’ll have updates on Twitter.


Canisius draws NJIT in CIT quarterfinals

By Nick Veronica

Canisius’s CIT quarterfinal game will be Saturday at New Jersey Institute of Technology, the tournament revealed late Monday night. Tip is set for 7:30 p.m.

NJIT, the NCAA’s only Independent team, is 20-11 overall and 14-2 at home. The Highlanders rank 66th nationally in field goal percentage (.459) and 31st in assists per game (15.2). Sophomore guard Damon Lynn leads the team with 17.5 points per game.

Canisius has the upper hand in common games with wins against Holy Cross and Dartmouth. NJIT lost to both teams.

The Griffs advanced to the CIT quarterfinals by rolling Bowling Green, 82-59, in Tuesday’s second-round game and beating Dartmouth in the tournament opener, 87-72. NJIT has tournament wins over Cleveland State (80-77) and New Hampshire (84-77).

Other CIT quarterfinals are as follows:

UT-Martin (20-12) at Eastern Kentucky (21-11), 7 p.m.

Evansville (21-12) at UL-Lafayette (22-13), 7:30 p.m.

Kent State (23-11) at Northern Arizona (21-14), 9 p.m.


Postgame video: Canisius 87, Dartmouth 72 (CIT)

By Nick Veronica

People said some words after Wednesday’s basketball game and I filmed them for you.

Canisius coach Jim Baron

If we had Jim Baron Press Conference Bingo, “we were picked 10th” would be given a prominent square. (“We knew it was gonna be a battle” would probably serve as the free space.)

Sorry about the guy next to me clacking his keyboard.

Canisius guards Zach Lewis and Jamal Reynolds

Wednesday was the first time this season that two Griffs scored 20 or more points. Reynolds had a career-best 22 and Lewis had 20.

The players went out of their way to thank Canisius athletic director Bill Maher for letting them play in the tournament. Interesting.

Dartmouth’s Paul Cormier and Alex Mitola

Wednesday’s game was Dartmouth’s first post-season appearance since the 1959 NCAA Tournament.


Immediate reactions: Canisius 87, Dartmouth 72 (CIT first round)

Dartmouth 26 46 — 72
Canisius 38 49 — 87

By Nick Veronica

What it means: With the victory, Canisius advanced to the second round of the Tournament. The Griffs will go on the road for the next round, facing Bowling Green at 1 p.m. Saturday. Canisius could possibly host another game if it advances further; bracket play begins in the third round.

Canisius is now 3-2 in postseason play in the last three years under Jim Baron (all in the CIT).

How it happened: Jamal Reynolds scored a career-high 22 points and Zach Lewis had 20, marking the first time all year two Griffs scored 20 points or more (it last happened in the 111-100 CIT loss to VMI a year ago). Wednesday was also the first time this year five Griffs scored in double figures, with Josiah Heath scoring 14, Kassius Robertson scoring 13 and Jeremiah Williams adding 10.

Lewis played one of his best games of the season Wednesday, scoring his 20 points on 7 of 13 field goals (53.8%) and 4 of 7 three-pointers (57.1%), both of which were his highest percentages of the season.

The game was tied 23-23 at the final media timeout of the first half before Canisius closed the half on a 15-3 run to lead 38-26 at the break. Canisius opened a 54-33 lead early in the second half before an 11-0 Dartmouth run helped cut the lead to 10 points with about 12 minutes to go. The Big Green hung around and got the deficit to single digits in the final minute but were never within striking distance.

[Tournament loss shouldn’t overshadow Griffs’ progress]

30-second shot clock: The NIT, CIT and CBI are all testing 30-second shot clocks, down from the usual 35 seconds. The Griffs are in favor of the change, though Dartmouth had a much easier time with the shorter timespan Wednesday. By my count, Canisius committed three shot clock violations and forced up four desperation shots while Dartmouth was only called for a shot clock violation once. The faster pace of the game did help Canisius score a season-high 83 points.

Heath, Bleeker banged up: Josiah Heath started the game wearing a face mask to protect a broken nose. I’m told he sustained the injury in the MAAC Tournament loss to Monmouth when Kevin Bleeker took a charge and fell back into him, and then he re-injured the nose in practice this week when Reynolds bumped into him. Heath wore the mask for about 10 minutes before deciding to play without it.

Bleeker hurt his left ankle Wednesday, landing funny in the first half but having to limp off in the second half. He would return to action but was obviously in pain and sat out once the lead was safe.

Long time no see: Wednesday’s game ended Dartmouth’s 56-year postseason drought. The Big Green’s last postseason appearance was the 1959 NCAA Tournament. Dartmouth ended the year 14-15.

Gurley out: Isaiah Gurley was not on the bench Wednesday because he returned home due to a death in the family. Gurley will be a redshirt freshman next season.

[RELATED: Obama picks UB to upset WVU]

Random fact: In 857 games as a head coach, Wednesday was Jim Baron’s first game against Dartmouth.

Vegas line: At tip, Vegas Insder has Canisius -3, over/under 131.5. Canisius covered, total was 159.

Next: Canisius goes to Bowling Green for a 1 p.m. Saturday game.

Obama likes Bobby Hurley, picks UB to upset West Virginia

Obama picked UB to upset West Virginia before losing to Maryland.

Obama picked UB to upset West Virginia before losing to Maryland.

By Nick Veronica

President Barack Obama picked UB to upset West Virginia in his annual NCAA Tournament bracket with ESPN.

Obama thinks highly of second-year coach Bobby Hurley, who starred at Duke in the early ’90s when the president was in law school at Harvard.

“I liked Bobby Hurley,” Obama said. “Seeing Hurley, how tough he was … he was not a big guy. But he was tough and scrappy, and that’s reflected in his team.”

(Seems like ESPN took down the video in the tweet. Obama’s full bracket video is here. Some of his quotes appear to be spliced together differently in the full version; the quote above was from the teaser video.)

Obama’s full bracket with ESPN’s Andy Katz will be revealed at 9 a.m. Wednesday on SportsCenter.

UB takes on fifth-seeded West Virginia Friday at 2:10 p.m.