LEWISTON — For as disappointing as this season has been for the Canisius Golden Griffins, they were in a position Wednesday night to make it all go away.
A win over rival Niagara on its home court wouldn’t erase Canisius’ 4-21 record, wouldn’t make the team’s injuries heal any faster and wouldn’t make the blowout losses any less embarrassing, but for one night, everything would have been okay.
Alshwan Hymes stepped to the free-throw line with 6.7 seconds left in regulation and calmly hit both shots to tie the game at 55 and send his Griffs to overtime. Down by three points with the clock running out in the overtime period, Hymes again had the ball, and the game, in his hands.
After Gaby Belardo made a nice pass to find Hymes wide open, he set his feet, jumped, and released a clean look that would have sent the game to a second overtime. This time, Hymes’ shot hit the rim and fell back toward the floor. Belardo collected the rebound and ran behind the arc for a desperation attempt, but it was off the mark and Niagara claimed a 60-57 win.
“The ball was in our hands, on our terms, on the very last possession,” Canisius coach Tom Parrotta said. “We had a couple of shots at it. Gaby missed a layup, which he knows he needs to make the next time he’s in that position, but he turned around and made a great pass to ‘Shwan — who else do you want standing there with his feet set taking a three to send it to double overtime?”
“We needed three points, wide open three-pointer, that’s a shot I got to make,” Hymes said.
Canisius’ hopes had to come down to Hymes, who was the only Griff who could have been remotely happy with his offensive performance. He kept Canisius in the game with five three-pointers and finished with 19 points, more than twice as many as any teammate. Belardo and Harold Washington combined went 3-for-23 and scored 14 points, most of which coming from the free-throw line.
Neither team managed a field goal in overtime, with Niagara going 0-for-4 and Canisius going 0-for-8. The game was decided by five Niagara free throws in the extra session, all hit by Antoine Mason, who finished with a game-high 21 points. MAAC Rookie of the Year candidate Juan’ya Green had 16 points and five assists while knocking down 4 of 9 three-point attempts.
Shooting issues weren’t limited to overtime. Only 15 of the 59 three-point attempts in the game went in, just over 25 percent (Canisius 8 for 30, Niagara 7 for 29).
“It certainly wasn’t a beautiful thing,” Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. “It wasn’t beautiful, it wasn’t pretty, but at the end of the day, we won. Winners find a way to win.”
The key point of the game in regulation came when Josiah Heath converted the old-school three-point play – a basket and a foul shot – to tie the score at 41 with 12:23 to go. Neither team could score over the next three minutes as tension grew with possession of the game in the balance.
Franklin Milian hit a free throw with 9:11 left to give Canisius its first lead of the night and Hymes scored from distance later to make it a 7-0 run that put the visitors ahead 45-41. But Niagara answered with a 10-0 run of its own to retake a lead Canisius wouldn’t match until Hymes’ free throw and the end of regulation.
Heath, a freshman, was dominant on the glass with 14 rebounds and came up with a block and a steal on consecutive critical possessions in overtime.
It’s been over a decade since Canisius last beat Niagara at the Gallagher Center, though the last two games have come down to the final play. In last year’s meeting, Niagara won on a goaltending call at the buzzer, and Wednesday night took overtime before the Purple Eagles walked off victorious. Through 167 all-time meetings between the two schools, 18 games have gone to overtime, with each side winning nine apiece.