By Nick Veronica
How it happened: If you missed this one on ESPNU, you missed quite a game. Iona stormed back from a 20-point deficit in the second half and took the lead on Canisius before Billy Baron and the Griffs stole a road win.
With the game tied at 83 and Iona looking to go ahead with less than 20 seconds to play, Baron intercepted a pass from A.J. English and took it the length of the floor, hitting both free-throws after he was fouled on a layup attempt. Iona’s best player, Sean Armand, had a good look at a three-pointer — albeit a deep one — at the buzzer but couldn’t make the shot.
Canisius (12-6, 6-1) scored 50 in the first half and led 61-41 with 16:39 remaining. Iona answered with an 11-0 run, but Canisius pushed it back to a 16-point lead at 70-54 with 11:59 left. From there, Iona went on an 18-0 run in just 4 1/2 minutes to go up 74-71. It was a back-and-forth the rest of the way. Baron led all players with 29 points and eight assists, Chris Perez had a nice game with 17 points and Zach Lewis stayed hot with 14. Armand led Iona with 19, English had 18 and Tre Bowman had 15.
What it means: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Canisius is pretty clutch late in the game. (No, really, stop me if you’ve heard that. I don’t know how long it’s been since this was true.) Yes, the Griffs almost blew a gigantic lead, but when it was crunch time late, they came through. More tellingly, even despite giving up the lead, it still felt like Canisius was going to win. The Griffs are now 5-1 this season in games decided by five points or less (wins against South Dakota, Elon, Saint Peter’s, Rider, Iona; loss against Marist … Notre Dame won by six in OT) and they stayed even with Manhattan on top of the MAAC standings at 6-1. It was another great game for Baron on national television. A three-game win streak matches Canisius’ longest of the season.
Billy being Billy: Big players make the big plays in the big games (or at least Ray Lewis says so). This one was personal for Baron after losing to Iona in last year’s MAAC tournament. He got back at the Gaels in a big way, finishing with 29 points (10 of 17 shooting, 5 of 8 from three), eight assists, four rebounds and two steals in 39 minutes. He also made a gigantic play to get a steal in the last 20 seconds of the game, picking off a pass from English, a sophomore, and going to the hoop. Canisius probably would’ve gotten the ball back either way because the shot clock would’ve run out long before the game clock, but not allowing Iona a shot was huge. Only one question: going in on that break, can Billy Baron dunk?
Red flags? How much can we glean from Canisius losing a 20-point lead? On the meta level, games have ebbs and flows and Canisius beating Iona by 20 isn’t sustainable. In layman’s terms, the Griffs may have been up by 20 but we know they’re not really 20 points better than the Gaels. Iona was shooting a miserable percentage from the field and it was rational to expect things to start swinging their way. But in people terms, that was a 20-point lead! Canisius gave up runs of 11-0 and 18-0 in the second half. Plus, this was the second time in the last two weeks something like this happened. On Jan. 4, Canisius led Saint Peter’s by 24 points in the first half and had to hold on in the second half as the Peacocks cut the deficit to one. If this happens again I’m moving the Griffs to orange.
T Party: Coach Jim Baron picked up a technical foul during Iona’s big run that captured the lead. Canisius’ Chris Manhertz and Iona’s Isaiah Williams got tangled up under the Canisius basket — they were both assessed technicals as well — but Baron ran halfway across the court, presumably to argue with an official. The timing to give Iona free throws was exceptionally poor — they had just gone up 72-71 — and English hit both shots. However …
1. Manhattan 6-1 (13-3)
1. Canisius 6-1 (12-6)
3. Quinnipiac 5-2 (10-6)
3. Iona 5-2 (8-8)
5. Rider 4-3
6. Saint Peter’s 3-4
7. Siena 3-4
8. Marist 2-4
9. Monmouth 2-5 (8-10)
9. Niagara 2-5 (5-13)
11. Fairfield 0-7
Saturday: Manhattan @ Fairfield, Niagara @ Quinnipiac, Rider @ Marist
Sunday: Canisius @ Monmouth, Siena @ Iona
Monday: Saint Peter’s @ Marist
Noteworthy: Baron scored his 1,000th point as a Griff Friday. He has played 52 games for Canisius …. The Griffs improved to 6-0 when outrebounding the opponent, 4-0 when shooting 50 percent or better from the field and 8-1 when scoring at least 80 points.