Griffs’ would-be astonishing comeback falls just short

The way the game had been going, it was hard to believe the Griffs were in a position to send it to overtime at the buzzer. It was harder to believe they were going to let Harold Washington take the decisive shot.

As highlighted Thursday night in the Yanitelli Center, the Griffs will go as Harold Washington goes.

The 3-pointer would have given Washington 17 points on the night and tied the game at 64. That’s something for a Canisius team that trailed by 15 points on the road with five minutes to play, and that’s really something for a player who didn’t make a shot until there was 3:14 left in the game.

Washington had hit a 3-pointer, a jumper, four free throws and two layups all in the last minute and a half. Ninety percent of the game, you would have been crazy to think the JUCO transfer would hit the biggest shot of the night. Now you’d be crazy to think the MAAC’s second-leading scorer would miss.

But Washington’s heroics would fall shot — in the case of his final shot, about four feet short — and Saint Peter’s would hit a free throw with six-tenths of a second left to seal a 65-61 win that dropped Canisius to 0-4 in conference play.

When Griffs brought their 3-10 record to Jersey City, N.J. to square off with the 2-12 Saint Peter’s Peacocks, both teams had to be thinking it was a game they could win.

When Saint Peter’s coach John Dunne started the game with four guards, he was ready to fight Canisius’ fire — sharpshooters Washington and Alshwan Hymes — with fire of his own.

With the Peacocks’ big man Darius Conley matched up on Chris Manhertz, it left Josiah Heath and Kevin Bleeker with advantages on the inside. Looking to further exploit Saint Peter’s lack of height on the floor, Canisius coach Tom Parrotta even sent his scarcely used senior, 7-foot-3 Marial Dhal, in for the most minutes he’s seen since Thanksgiving.

But it wasn’t enough. The Griffs, who jumped out to a 5-0 lead and led nearly all of the first half, went cold over the final two minutes of the first frame as Saint Peter’s closed out the half on a 7-0 run to take a 27-25 edge into the locker room.

Washington and Hymes went scoreless in the first half, shooting 0-for-5 from the field and committing five turnovers. Gaby Belardo, who promised his Facebook following earlier this week that he would push through the back pain and “go back to the old Gaby Belardo,” stayed true to his word, leading the Griffs with 10 points at the break.

It looked like things would start going Canisius’ way when Conley took a seat with his third foul just three minutes into the second half. Hymes hit a 3-pointer a minute later, and then two more to tie the score at 34 with 13:13 to play.

But just like that, the magic was gone. Saint Peter’s started hitting shots while the Griffs missed eight over an eight-minute stretch that produced a 22-6 run for the Peacocks.

The game was getting out of hand. Canisius trailed 56-40 and Washington still hadn’t made a shot. This was the only game all season he hadn’t started (he missed practice time this week due to a death in the family) and it was starting to look as if the 18.6 ppg player might be shut out completely.

Finally, 36 minutes and 46 seconds into the game, Washington got a shot to fall. And then another. And another.

First he cut the deficit to 10. Then it was a two possession game, and then a one possession game. With 25 seconds to play, Washington cut through the lane and scored to bring the Griffs within one, 62-61 — giving Canisius a 21-6 run of its own.

Brandon Hall hit two free throws to make it a three-point game as the Griffs came up the court with the shot clocks turned off. Hymes couldn’t get free and gave the ball to Washington, who let go of a deep 3-pointer.

He had hit eight shots in a row, including free throws, but came up one short as his air ball spelled the end of a near-miraculous comeback for the Griffs.

Hymes led all players with 15 points while Lamin Fulton had 14 for Saint Peter’s. Belardo finished with 13 points in 33 minutes of action, his most game time since the opener against James Madison. Manhertz finished with four points and 11 boards while Heath grabbed five rebounds in just 12 minutes of action. It is unclear if he suffered an injury or if Parrotta just did not want to his him most of the second half, but Heath was not in foul trouble.

The Griffs will look for their first MAAC win of the season Saturday afternoon when they take on Loyola of Maryland (10-4, 3-1). The Greyhounds are led by sophomore Dylon Cormier (16.1 ppg) and defeated Manhattan 61-60 Thursday night. Tip-off is set for noon in  Reitz Arena.