Valenti’s hot hand sparks comeback win for Griffs

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Billy Baron kept Canisius in the game. Chris Perez helped them claw back to even. And Phil Valenti made sure they came out on top.

It was another day at the office for senior guards Baron and Perez. But for Valenti, the redshirt freshman, his 11-point, five-rebound performance in Canisius’ 69-55 win against UB at the First Niagara Center Wednesday was the best of his young career.

“Phil was the X Factor,” Baron said. “He’s always active in practice every single day, he’s running around like his head’s cut off but that’s what we need him to do. He’s not the strongest guy in the world but he’s going to work for it, he’s going to make up for that. And he was one of the huge reasons why we won this game tonight.”

Valenti’s best stretch came when the score was tied, 53-53, with just over 6 minutes to play. It began when he snatched a rebound on defense to start a trip up the court that produced two free throws for Baron, which he made to give Canisius its first lead of the game.

Valenti hauled in another rebound on UB’s next possession and got the ball back on offense, eventually drawing a foul on Will Regan and converting both free throws.

Those points opened a two-minute span where Valenti scored six consecutive points for the Griffs. The dagger came when Zach Lewis missed a three-point attempt with 3:22 to play, but Valenti grabbed the rebound and quickly put it in to make it 61-55. UB didn’t score the rest of the game.

“I’ll tell you what, beside Perez, I thought Valenti … I mean, his offensive rebounding …” coach Jim Baron trailed off, driving home the point with his expression. “He’s just a high-energy guy. I love the way he plays, I love his intensity. He’s a live body and he just keeps fighting.”

That included when Valenti took an elbow to the head in the final minute of the game that opened a gash above his eye.

“When he had blood coming out of his face, he said ‘Stitch me up, I want to finish this game. I want to get the W.’ That’s the kind of kid that he is,” Coach Baron said.

Valenti would watch the rest of the game from the bench, but he had done enough. His performance on the big stage is something to build off for the future and should give Baron more confidence using him when the bigs need a breather.

“He’ll be alright,” Billy Baron said. “I think he’ll need a few stitches but he’ll be back on Saturday.”

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