Last-minute heroics push Griffs past defending champs

Video courtesy of Canisius College Athletics

Tom Parrotta trusted his team when it mattered most Friday night at the Koessler Athletic Center, and it paid large dividends for the Canisius College basketball program as the Griffs knocked off three-time defending league champion Siena, 62-61, for the first time in Parrotta’s career.

The fifth-year head coach opted not to call a timeout with 19 seconds to play and his team down by one. After a Ryan Rossiter layup, sophomore Gaby Belardo took the inbounds pass coast-to-coast and got a floater to fall with 11 seconds left in the game.

After Siena brought the ball up the court and called a timeout, Parrotta was faced with a decision in the huddle. He thought about playing zone. He thought about bringing his 7-foot-3 junior, Marial Dhal in to screen the pass. But when his team told him they wanted to play man defense to win the game, he went with it.

"El Bijus" is a nickname made up for Belardo by teammates in his native Puerto Rico. It means, "The Killer."

“We went back and forth, and it was these guys’ decision to go man,” Parrotta said, motioning to the players next to him at the press conference. “We were going back and forth whether to go zone or not, and they stepped up in the huddle… I was overridden. They said, ‘No, we’re going to win this game playing man,’ and I said ‘Have at it,’ and that’s exactly what they did.”

The Saints found their man Rossiter on the inbound, but when the Preseason Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year when in for the game-winning layup, senior Tomas Vazquez-Simmons was there to swat the ball out of his hands for the win.

“I knew it was coming to him,” Vazquez-Simmons said. “[Rossiter] is their play-maker, he’s their go-to guy… it only made sense that they would go to him.”

Sophomore Alshawn Hymes continued to have the touch from 3-point range, going 6 of 11 from behind the arc and leading all players with 19 points. Rossiter (19 points, 14 rebounds) and OD Anosike (12 points, 11 boards) both had double-doubles for the Saints. Siena’s Clarence Jackson (16.9 ppg) missed his fifth-straight game due to injury.

Canisius trailed by 10 midway through the first half but closed the deficit to 33-32 at the break, thanks in part to senior Julius Coles’ 13 points, which led all players.

Siena led for the majority of the second half, but could never pull away from Canisius despite having a commanding lead in the rebounding department, 44-30.

The largest lead Canisius had in the entire game was three points, but they had it when it mattered most.

The win is Canisius’ first MAAC win of the year (7-7 overall, 1-3 MAAC), and the team’s third victory in its last four games. The Saints (2-2 MAAC) still have the edge in the league standings, but fall to 5-9 on the season.

Tom Parrotta has now beaten every MAAC team as coach of the Golden Griffins. Perhaps more impressive is that the win came in a game Canisius trailed at halftime, something that has only happened eight times since Parrotta took over in 2006.

Up next for the Griffs is a league game against Rider (11-5, 3-1 MAAC), who disposed of Niagara, 82-65, Friday night. The 2 p.m. tipoff gives Parrotta a shot to rid the program of another blemish on its record—23 straight Sunday losses.


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