Thursday night was an opportunity for Canisius. Having already beat MAAC power Fairfield once this season, the Griffs had a chance to go for the series sweep in just the third conference game of the year.
Anybody can get lucky once. The sign of winners in every sport is that they can duplicate their success.
Canisius didn’t come close to winning Thursday night. The 66-45 loss was the first truly disappointing performance of the Jim Baron era.
It took the Griffs more than five minutes to score a point, opening the game on wrong side of an 11-0 run. They played one minute of inspired basketball, cutting the deficit to 11-7 with 14 minutes left in the first half, but that was as close as it got. Fairfield followed with a 9-0 run and led by double-digits the rest of the way.
“We dug ourselves a hole we couldn’t get out of,” Jim Baron said, car keys in hand. “I told our guys we’re going to have to match the intensity and we fell short of that.”
No matter what combination of players Baron used, it was the Griffs, not the Stags, who looked lost in the headlights. They looked miserably out of sync on offense and couldn’t get a shot to fall when they finally got open.
The Griffs came into the game 10th in the country in three-point shooting but went 3 of 15 Thursday, including a 0-for-6 night from Isaac Sosa. They turned it over 21 times and hardly shot better than 50 percent from the free-throw line. Only seven points in the final minute of the game saved the Griffs from achieving their lowest-ever point total in the Koessler Athletic Center, surpassing the 41 points they put up against Niagara in 2009.
“Coach told us to limit their threes, run them off the line, make them make tough [two-point shots],” Fairfield’s Maurice Barrow said of his team’s gameplan.
“They doubled me getting the ball, kind of took us out of our rhythm,” Billy Baron said. “They switched on all ball screens, that worked for them. They ran some traps here and there to kind of confuse the defense; all three of those things were things we hadn’t seen all year.”
Here’s what it looked like from the sideline: No team is going to walk into the KAC with its B game this year, coast through two halves and leave with an easy win. If Canisius wants to play with the big boys, it needs to get used to having a target on its back. Conference teams especially are taking notes on every game and preparing to shut down everything the Griffs do well.
Canisius wasn’t ready for that Thursday. The offense kept trying the same plays, and Sydney Johnson’s Fairfield team was ready for them. The Griffs didn’t have any answers.
“We give them credit,” Harold Washington said. “They had a hell of a gameplan and they took us out of everything we wanted to do.
“Teams are starting to do that to us the last few games,” Washington added. “They’re not allowing us to use ball screens, making us turn it down and just trying to break our rhythm on offense. So we have to get in the gym and work on our counters now. We have to work on what to do after they stop us from doing what our initial play is.”
That’s a good place to start after a game like this one. Chris Manhertz said it was a wake-up call. Washington called it a learning lesson. And then he added something else:
“I think we needed to get smacked like that,” Washington said. “We needed to be humbled. We need to get our fire back. We need to come back with a new passion. That’s what I think.”
Learning from your mistakes is one thing, but needing to get smacked?
“I don’t think we ‘needed to,’ ” Washington clarified later, “but it didn’t hurt, you know what I mean? … I think we needed a team to actually come out and say they’re coming after us. So were awake now. I think we were kind of complacent. We were kind of coasting, coasting through the season like guys are going to come in and back down from us. I think now we have that and now we’re going to play with fire.”
It’s a little worrisome that the team starting “coasting” after beating the Longwoods and Alcorn States of the world, but that’s a problem that needs to be fixed right away. So maybe Washington’s right — this was exactly what they needed.
We’ll see how Canisius responds to the first losing streak under Baron’s watch on Saturday. Marist is up next, and then Siena and Iona after that. Here’s a hint: They’re all gunning for Canisius too.
After a 6-1 start, the team is just 3-4 in its last seven games. Let’s hope the Griffs aren’t in need of any more beatdowns any time soon.
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