Billy Baron stood with the ball near midcourt Thursday night at the Koessler Athletic Center as the final eight seconds ticked off Canisius’ 87-74 defeat of Alcorn State when something unusual happened.
For the first time in a long time, fans stood up before the final horn sounded the end of a Canisius basketball game and applauded their team.
They cheered for Isaac Sosa, who couldn’t have been smoother on his way to 21 points. They cheered for Billy Baron, the first true quarterbacking point guard the Griffs have had in recent memory, who controls the tempo of the entire game.
They cheered for a team that could coast to victory on a night when second-leading scorer Harold Washington, bothered by a heel injury, didn’t even have to attempt a shot in his 20 minutes of play. They cheered for a coach who used timeouts to switch his defense not out of desperation but for strategy – and for how magnificently it worked, moving Jim Baron two wins shy of 400 on his career.
Most of all, they cheered for a team has all signs pointing to a complete turnaround: 5-0 this year home, 9-3 overall, No. 28 in the RPI heading into Thursday’s game, and a team with a chance this Sunday to double last season’s win total even before the New Year.
“Our challenge is to get the Koessler Center rockin’ and rollin’,” Jim Baron said. “Our kids are working hard to deserve that atmosphere. We put two halves together with rebounding the basketball and … had a number of guys stepping up. We made plays, made shots, we had 17 assists, we outrebounded them and we did a much better job of defending.”
Down six points to the lowly Braves and struggling with consistency midway through the first half, Baron took timeout and switched his defense from the Griffs’ standard man to a 2-3 zone.
Three minutes later, the Griffs took the lead. By the end of the half, they made it a 31-12 run with the zone since Braves held their largest lead at 20-13.
Sosa was 6-for-8 shooting in the first half and stayed hot in the second, finishing 8 of 12 and 5 for 9 from three-point range. The rest of the team hit four threes.
“If we want to get to where we want to go, he’s got the be shooting the ball the way he’s been shooting it [lately],” Billy Baron said of Sosa, who is averaging 4.8 three-pointers over the last five games. “It’s huge when you got a guy hitting shots like that because then the driving lane is open and a lot of other things open up. It’s important that we keep him going and he keeps his confidence up.”
Canisius pushed its lead to as many as 26 in the second half before a shooting barrage from Marquiz Baker made the score look closer than it was. Baker finished with 30 points for Alcorn State on 10 of 22 shooting while Anthony Nieves had 20 points.
Baron 19 points and five assists for the Griffs, who won the rebounding battle 41-25. Jordan Heath had 14 points and seven rebounds while Chris Manhertz had 11 and eight.
–Harold Washington played only 20 minutes and didn’t take a shot Thursday night. Jim Baron said after the game that he was bothered by a heel injury. Baron said he didn’t know how or when it happened … and then he said he kind of did.
[The question from the Buffalo News’ Rodney McKissic, asking if Washington was sick.]
Baron: “He hurt his foot. I heard about it early on, I don’t know when it happened, and it bothered him.”
[Follow up question, asking about when it happened.]
Baron: “I don’t know if it happened tonight, I don’t know if it happened in practice this afternoon, I don’t know if it happened yesterday, it just kind of bothered him. He woke up this morning and it bothered him. It was his heel.”
Baron said Washington will be reevaluated before Sunday’s game at Detroit.
–The win was the 398th of Jim Baron’s career. Detroit is up next; the Titans were a 15-seed in the NCAA Tournament last year out of the Horizon League. Canisius is 2-2 so far against tournament teams from last season.
–Jordan Heath started for the first time since the Syracuse game following an ankle injury. He was 5-for-6 shooting Thursday in 28 minutes without attempting a three-pointer. He shot 10 threes in his return from injury against UNLV.
–With little-to-no students on hand, the announced attendance was 1,388.
–Billy Baron’s brother Jimmy was on hand Thursday. Jimmy played from Jim at Rhode Island and now plays professionally in Russia.
“It’s the first time he’s seen me play (live for Canisius) and it is important to me,” Billy said. “I know he stays up until 3, 4 in the morning watching me play (presumably on a video feed from Russia). But he’s a big part of my life and he’s a big reason why I’m here and I appreciate him coming to watch me play, and vice-versa, I like watching him play.”
Ben Tsujimoto of Buffalo.com then asked Billy what Jimmy said to him after the game.
“He just said good win – and continue to get Isaac the ball.”
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