All Gaby Belardo could do was sit and watch as his team let an upset of the Rider Broncs slip through its fingers last night at the Koessler Athletic Center.
The junior guard has battled through a back injury all season to try to give some quality minutes to a team struggling to remain competitive. But after receiving an injection Wednesday that hadn’t taken full effect, coaches decided Thursday morning to hold him out and get him ready for Saturday’s matchup with Siena.
Belardo watched his team control the first half and walked to the locker room with them at halftime leading 34-29. He watched his team continue to outscore Rider deep into the second half, going up as many as 10 points with 7:19 to play.
But when the Broncs went to a full-court press, Belardo wished he could have been out there, giving his team a veteran presence it desperately needed. Instead, he could only watch as the Griffs turned the ball over on five straight possessions while Rider ripped off a 13-0 run, taking its first lead of the night with 1:38 left and securing 71-66 the win, sinking the Griffs to 4-20 overall and 1-13 in MAAC play.
“It was hard at the end because we needed a ball handler and I wasn’t there,” Belardo said. “Those last two minutes I think the team needed me and I feel bad I wasn’t with my teammates.
“I hate sitting down, even when my back is feeling bad I still want to play. Coach [Tom Parrotta] told me to take the day off and be ready for Siena but it hurts a lot just watching my teammates giving 110 percent and not winning. I feel bad. I kind of feel like I let my team down but we’re definitely going to get this win on Saturday.”
On a night when it looked like the Griffs would pick up their second win of the calendar year, the end result was instead a collapse that extended the team’s losing streak to eight games. The Broncs’ Novar Gadson led all players with 19 points.
“We kind of went into a lull,” said junior Harold Washington, who had a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds but also was charged with the first two turnovers during the Griffs’ collapse. “Nobody could find their scoring touch. We were kind of desperate for a basket so sometimes we find ourselves forcing the issue a little bit. Once they began to full-court press us, I think we kind of broke down a little mentally and started playing to their hands and started to panic, and that’s what led to the back-to-back turnovers.”
The Griffs were two guards down last night without Belardo and Reggie Groves, who had his suspension lifted by Parrotta earlier this week but did not get into the game. Lack of depth has been an issue for Canisius all season, bust last night, the opponent was shorthanded as well.
The mysterious gastrointestinal virus afflicting students at Princeton and Rider universities hit the Rider basketball team, Broncs coach Tommy Dempsey said, as bench players Eddie Mitchell and Junior Fortunat were “struck ill” on the bus ride to Buffalo. The players combine to score over eight points per game but will remain secluded from the team until cleared to play by doctors. Dempsey hopes they will able to play in the second game of the trip against Niagara.
The low point of the game came with 18 seconds left after Rider’s Novar Gadson hit a free throw to put his team up two possessions, 67-63. Parrotta took his last timeout to draw up a play and sent freshman Tyler Funk to inbound the ball. When Funk couldn’t find a man, he tried to call a timeout, but was assessed a technical foul because Canisius didn’t have any left to take.
Parrotta took responsibility for the play after the game, saying he shouldn’t have put a player in that situation who wasn’t ready for it, but when Jeff Jones hit both ensuing free throws the game was essentially out of reach.
Belardo gets back to action Saturday afternoon when the Siena Saints come to the KAC. He may be hoping for a repeat of the last time Siena visited Canisius – Belardo hit the game-winning shot with 11 seconds left to knock off the three-time defending champs.