By Nick Veronica
The teams: Canisius: 12-7, 6-2 MAAC, 6-0 home. RPI: 81. Streak: Lost one, won three of four.
Niagara Purple Eagles: 5-14, 2-6 MAAC, 1-8 road. RPI: 308. Streak: Lost one, five of six.
Previous game: Canisius blew a big lead and Billy Baron missed the front end of a one-and-one with six seconds left that opened the door for Monmouth’s Andrew Nicholas to hit a game-winning three-pointer Sunday in an 83-82 Hawks win.
Niagara got behind early and never caught up in an 85-71 loss to Quinnipiac Sunday. Antoine Mason scored 28 while all five Bobcat starters were in double figures.
About Niagara: When Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley left Niagara for Hofstra to follow coach Joe Mihalich, Antoine Mason stayed in Lewiston. The team is expectedly struggling under first-year coach Chris Casey, but Mason is making the most of it, leading the NCAA is scoring at 27.6 points per game.
Mason, a junior, leads in the country in field goal attempts and is second in field goals made, hitting shots at a .449 rate. He also does a significant amount of work from the free-throw line: Mason is far-and-away the nation’s leader in free throws attempted and made, scoring more than 9 points per game in free throws.
No one else on the team averages more than 10 points per game, with 6-foot-5 freshman Ramone Snowden second at 9.1 ppg. Senior Marvin Jordan adds 9.0 ppg but is a bit of a Canisius killer, averaging more than 20 ppg at the Koessler Athletic Center (and he hit the game-winning shot last year).
Baron vs. Mason: In the MAAC’s equivalent of Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, this game pits the nation’s leading scorer, Mason, against the third-leader scorer in Baron (23.1 ppg). Watch for these two to trade blows if Niagara can keep it close.
Hey, how did that get there? This is what happened the last time these two teams played at the KAC. Canisius lost a 10-point lead in the second half and Jordan put Niagara ahead late, but everyone thought Baron had won the game for Canisius before refs went to the replay monitor and realized time expired before Baron released the shot. Both teams celebrated wildly in a matter of minutes. You had to be there. Canisius won the rematch at the Taps two weeks later, 77-70.
This is the 173rd all-time meeting between the schools, if you believe Canisius’ stats, with Niagara leading the all-time series 96-76 — or the 175th meeting, with the Purple Eagles ahead 100-74, if you believe Niagara. (I’m really interested in which one is actually right, and I’ll update you when I hear back from the schools. Both Niagara’s and Canisius’ record books list the series beginning in the 1905-06 season.)
UPDATE: Both schools said the discrepancy comes from old games, with Niagara pointing to “the early years in the series from 1905-1930” and Canisius saying the error is from “somewhere back in the 20s, 30s or 40s.” Niagara and Canisius have some games and results different in their history books and are looking into the issue. So we’ve ruled out any ancient disputed games but still don’t have an exact answer. I’ll update again when I have one.
Wild card: Baron tweeted “Ball don’t lie” after the Monmouth loss (I wrote about that a little here) but seems to have deleted that tweet. I tried to think about what that means and couldn’t come up with anything substantial, but it’s interesting at least.
The takeaway: People seem to be expecting Baron and the Griffs to use Sunday’s failure for motivation in this game. Baron scored 33 points in the rematch against Niagara last year after losing in the picture above. Baron scored 29 points last week against Iona in the first meeting since the Gaels knocked the Griffs out of last year’s MAAC tournament. Will he do it again? He’ll need help from Chris Perez, who will guard Mason, and help from Zach Lewis, who’s averaging 16 ppg since being inserted into the starting lineup. Baron will need to cut down on the career-high eight turnovers he had Sunday and it will help if three bigs don’t foul out again (ever seen anything like this?). The Griffs have the team to handle Niagara when they’re on their game, but anything can (and will) happen when these teams meet.
Tickets are sold out, you’ll have to follow along on Twitter.Follow @nickveronica