Gaby Belardo put up a 3-pointer with just under seven minutes left in the game and his Golden Griffins holding a two-point lead.
Nothing but … rim. Freshman Josiah Heath got the rebound and kicked it back out to Belardo for another wide open 3. Clank. Heath won another rebound before throwing it back to Belardo once again.
Third time’s the charm, right? Not Thursday at the Koessler Athletic Center. The Loyola of Chicago Ramblers took the ball down the court after Belardo’s third consecutive miss and made a layup that was part of a late 10-0 run that sunk the Griffs in a game they found offense hard to come by.
“That was a moment in time where everybody froze,” head coach Tom Parrotta said. “He missed it, it came to him, he shot it again, it came to him again. Think about what would have happened if he made that third one…”
Belardo cut in: “I was wide open. I should have made that.”
“He was wide open, but he knows that,” Parrotta continued. “I didn’t say pull it out and run something else, but you have to find a way, as a Division I athlete, to find a way to do that. That was one microcosm of the game, and when you look back on it, you’re going to be like ‘wow, that kind of speaks volumes of the whole night.’ ”
The unusually low-scoring affair was cute while Canisius was winning. Once Loyola of Chicago started to run away with the game, it stopped being so funny.
Missed shots and turnovers from both teams kept the scoreboard quiet most of the night. Canisius led 10-8 at the 10-minute mark and trailed 20-18 at halftime.
It was anyone’s game for the taking in the second half. Belardo connected for one of his two 3-pointers with 8:15 left in the game to put Canisius up 36-32, the largest lead either team enjoyed up to that point in the second half.
But the Griffs would miss their next six shots while the Ramblers went 5 for 8 over the same stretch. In a game like this, that was enough to put the Griffs in a hole they couldn’t climb out of, eventually losing 59-45. The Griffs shot just 27.8 percent in the second half.
The Ramblers entered the game in the top 50 nationally in scoring defense at 59.5 points allowed per game, but Canisius wouldn’t come close to that. At times, it was questionable whether Canisius would even hit 40 points. A Reggie Groves layup would finally get them there – with 2:35 left in the game.
Loyola of Chicago finished the game shooting 39.2 percent from the field. Leading scorer, 6-foot-8 junior Ben Averkamp, kept them afloat with his 10-for-18 night, which was good for a game-high 22 points. The Ramblers couldn’t have done it without him – guards Denzel Brito, Chim Kadima and Jordan Hicks combined to shoot 2 of 18 from the field as the Ramblers went the entire game without hitting a 3-pointer.
But they didn’t need the long ball – they won the game pounding the ball inside and keeping focus. Loyola of Chicago hit 17 of 18 free throws in the second half (19-20 total) to stay in the game and then put it away. Once a tight, low-scoring game, the Ramblers led by as many as 14 before the final horn.
“It was a frustrating night offensively and shooting the basketball,” Parrotta said. “I thought we got better shots than them for a large part of the game. We’ve been down this road before where we’re getting good looks. When you don’t knock some shots down it becomes a snowball effect, and that was the difference. It zapped our defense a little bit and they were able to exploit us in the paint.
“All those shots [my players] took, I know they can make.”
Heath and Harold Washington led the Griffs with 10 points each while Chris Manhertz had a career-high 13 rebounds. Averkamp’s partner in crime, 6-foot-7 Walt Gibler, had a double-double for Loyola of Chicago with 17 points and 12 boards.
The Griffs (2-9, 0-2 MAAC) have Binghamton at home next Wednesday in their final nonleague tune-up before they reopen conference play New Year’s Day at Fairfield.