Immediate reactions: Rider 60, Canisius 59

Rider 28 32 –60
Canisius 36 23 — 59

By Nick Veronica

How it happened: Everything looked great for Canisius at halftime. The Griffs shot 68 percent in the first 20 minutes and outrebounded Rider 12-6. Josiah Heath had 14 points and Canisius looked poised to steal a win in its first game down Jermaine Crumpton and Phil Valenti.

But Canisius’ offense regressed to its short-handed expectancy in the second half and second-place Rider came back for a tight win. VCU transfer Teddy Okereafor led the Broncs with 15 points — including 13 in the second half — and had eight assists while Jimmy Taylor scored 13 points.

Josiah Heath finished with a career-high 20 points, beating his old high of 15 set earlier this year, and added six rebounds. Kevin Bleeker played 30 minutes in his first start of the year and scored nine points. Jan Grzelinski was held scoreless for the third straight game.

What it means: Canisius was competitive with a team near the top of the conference but has now lost four games in a row since losing Valenti. Rider goes to 17-9, 11-4 MAAC and Canisius sinks under .500 in MAAC play for the first time this year (12-12, 7-8).

It was over when: Zach Lewis finished Heath’s miss to cut Rider’s lead to 58-56 with 9.3 seconds left, but Okereafor hit two free throws with 6.7 seconds left to put it away. Kassius Robertson hit a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining, but it was too late for Canisius.

Lineup shifts again: Crumpton had been filling in for Valenti in the starting lineup, but with his foot injury, Bleeker picked up his seventh career start and his first since 2012. Bleeker had nine points on 3-of-6 shooting (2-2 on 2-pointers, 1-4 on 3-pointers) with four rebounds, three assists and four turnovers. Heath played a season-high 36 minutes, but Cassidy Ryan still only played three minutes off the bench.

Stats that were good: Josiah Heath’s shooting — 8 of 11 from the field, 4 for 5 at the line — and his defense, which helped hold Rider’s 7-footer Matt Lopez to just seven points, well below his 12.8 average.

Stats that were bad: Zach Lewis’ shooting — 3 of 12 from the field and 1 from 5 from three-point range. When I asked Jim Baron after the game if Lewis still has free range to shoot given how hard defenses shade toward him, Baron basically said Lewis has to keep trying to score because the team doesn’t have many other options.

Happy Valentine’s Day: Rider’s Shawn Valentine wears No. 14 and has pink shoes. This is his weekend! (At least in theory.) He finished with three points in 17 minutes off the bench.

Vegas line: Vegas Insider had Canisius as a 2.5-point favorite over Rider, which was curious given Rider’s place in the standings and Canisius’ injuries. Over/under was 121.5. Rider covered, total was 119.

Next: Canisius hosts Saint Peter’s at 2 p.m. Sunday.

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