Canisius taken to school by Niagara underclassmen

Gaby Belardo had the hot hand early on.

Out-played. Out-hustled. Out-teamworked. Out-coached.

Tom Parrotta and the Canisius basketball team were out-everythinged Thursday night in an embarrassing 75-56 loss on their home court to none other than rival Niagara, dropping Parrotta to 3-8 all-time versus the Purple Eagles.

Antoine Mason scored 22 points and Juan’ya Green captained the floor with 11 assists as Niagara’s young guns showed a sellout crowd of 2,196 Blue and Gold basketball fans what a promising group of recruits looks like.

Canisius led early but limped to the finish line.

“Gaby [Belardo] came out and started on fire, then we kind of leveled off and then we just labored,” Parrotta said. “We labored to score. We’re trying to have our defense keep us in games but until we figure out ways to score points from the guys who need to score points, we’re going to find ourselves in this type of position.

“We have some holes to fill, obviously.”

Canisius junior guard Gaby Belardo started the game emotionally charged, dedicating his performance to his late grandfather, who passed away earlier this week. Belardo opened the scoring with a layup and followed it with a 3-pointer that was deep from NBA standards.

He assisted Chris Manhertz’s jumper on the next possession and then came back with another bucket from 3-point range. After a Niagara timeout, he cut through the lane and put up an acrobatic reverse layup, which circled the rim and fell in.

It looked like this could be the start of one of those Canisius-Niagara rivalry performances where one player takes his game to another level and steals the show. Three minutes and 13 seconds into the game, Belardo already 10 points and the Griffs led 12-4.

Then they forgot to play the rest of the half.

Marvin Jordan came off the bench for Niagara and turned the tide with 12 straight points – four consecutive 3-pointers – during a 12-minute stretch of basketball when Niagara tripled Canisius, 33-11.

A small burst at the end of the half brought the Griffs back within 10 at the break, 37-27, but catch-up is not a good game for a team to play when it came into the contest 0-10 this year when trailing at the break or for a coach who came in 6-52 in his career when losing at halftime of conference games.

Canisius made things interesting in the second half, as it tends to, cutting it to a two-possession game at 58-53 with 5:45 to go. But after spending themselves to close the gap, the Griffs – whose bench played only 18 minutes and was outscored by Niagara’s, 25-0 – ran out of gas.

Junior guard Alshwan Hymes led Canisius on offense with 20 points and could be found instructing younger players during breaks in the action. He usually remains stoic at press conferences, but Thursday night he spoke out at length about one of his team’s overarching problems.

“I think that’s something that shows up in a lot of our games: We get down early by a lot of points and we end up coming back, getting it to single digits, and then it comes down to a string of plays [where] we just can’t convert on the offensive end and can’t get stops on the defensive end and it goes right back,” he said. “By that time it’s too late. Those strings where we get the score down to single digits and we start coming back, people can see how good of a team we can be. Once we can put 40 minutes of that together, we’ll be at the top of this league.”

The Griffs don’t even have the inexperience excuse to use after this game. They got beat by a group of underclassmen. Niagara started one junior, one sophomore and three freshmen. Jordan, a sophomore, came off the bench for his big night. Seniors played only three minutes in the entire game, with Canisius’ Marial Dhal logging all 180 seconds. The Griffs’ first-year players, including transfers, were 3-for-19 from the field for 10 points. Niagara’s freshmen went 18-of-38 for 48.

Parrotta is now 3-8 in his career vs. Niagara.

Junior transfer Harold Washington, the Griffs’ leading scorer who was recruited by Mihalich long before he heard of Canisius College, had another night to forget. He was shut out for the first three-quarters of the game and finished with six points on 2-of-10 shooting. Outside of Hymes, Manhertz had the only other respectable night for Canisius, finishing with a double-double of 13 points and 15 rebounds, including nine of the offensive end.

Belardo started the game red hot, going 4-for-4 for 10 points in the first 200 seconds of the game, but went 0-for-12 with three free throws in the 2,220 seconds that followed.

“This game was probably one of the most important games of my life,” Belardo said. “It was really emotional and it was really important to me. I really wanted to get this win but unfortunately it didn’t go that way.”

Belardo closed by saying that his Griffs will return the favor on Niagara’s home court later in the year. They’ll have their work cut out for them – the teams meet again in the Gallagher Center in 26 days, a building Canisius hasn’t won in since 2002.

Bench production has been a struggle for Canisius all season, but the climb got even steeper Thursday when redshirt sophomore Reggie Groves was unable to play. He has been limited all season long by an arthritic knee that has been through three surgeries, but Parrotta said after the game Groves tweaked it further in the week leading up to the game.

Groves switched between a hard brace and a soft brace earlier in the season but settled on the soft brace for comfort. He participated in warm-ups Thursday but Parrotta used freshman Franklin Milian in his place.