By Nick Veronica
You could attribute the surge to the 30-second shot clock the NCAA is testing in this tournament, the recent return of forward Phil Valenti or the team’s enthusiasm for playing in this tournament.
Whatever the reason, the Griffs will need more of it Saturday evening in their CIT quarterfinal matchup against NJIT. The Highlanders are averaging 82 points per game in the postseason and have only been beaten twice this year at home in Newark, N.J.
A win would send Canisius to its first CIT semifinal birth on Tuesday, with the championship to be played Thursday.
And if NJIT wins, that would send thier fans back onto the court. They stormed the court on Monday … after beating Cleveland State … in the second round of the CIT.
NJIT Highlanders: 20-11 overall, 14-2 home (including four non-Division I teams). RPI: 158. BPI: 187. KenPom: 165. Streak: W5.
Canisius Golden Griffins: 18-14 overall, 8-7 road. RPI: 177. BPI: 154. KenPom: 145. Streak: W2.
Vegas line: At the time of this writing, NJIT was a 2.5-point favorite. Over/under was 141.5.
About NJIT: The country’s last remaining independent team received national attention this year for beating Michigan in Ann Arbor back when the Wolverines were still ranked. Sophomore guard Damon Lynn stands at only 5-foot-11, 165 pounds, but slices defenses for 17.4 points a night while handing out 3.8 assists per game.
Canisius’ perimeter defense will have its hands full Saturday. The Highlanders, led by coach Jim Engles, convert 38.6 percent of their three-point attempts, putting them just outside the top 30 nationally. Lynn, a 37.1-percent three-point shooter, leads the team with 121 threes made, but both Winfield Willis and Tim Coleman are more even more accurate, shooting above 43 percent from behind the arc while netting 56 and 33 three-pointers, respectively.
(NJIT to the the MAAC? Probably not. The school is looking to step up — recently unveiling plans for a $100 million facility with a 3,500-seat arena that will open in 2017 — but it isn’t really a fit in the MAAC, which is made up of small, private schools. Just ask the commish.)
Crumpton returns to practice: About the only bit of news from Jim Baron’s media session Thursday was that forward Jermaine Crumpton had returned to practice after missing the last nine games. Crumpton broke his foot in a loss to Monmouth on Feb. 8 and needed a surgery to put a screw in the bone, a team source said. He was cleared for practice earlier this week and is expected to play Saturday.
“Having guys back is refreshing,” Baron said. “Now we can play more players. Those guys deserve to play in the postseason, Valenti and now Crumpton coming back a little bit. It’s a great experience for us and I’m elated to be a part of it and to have our team be part of it. They deserve it.”
CIT semifinal matchups: Evansville will host UT-Martin in a semifinal game Tuesday, with the Canisius-NJIT winner facing Northern Arizona. If Canisius wins Saturday it would like to host the semifinal game if possible, though NAU may want to host as well. That game will feature a brutal trip no matter where it is played.
The CIT championship will be played Thursday.
Heath injury update: Josiah Heath is still recovering from a broken nose suffered in the MAAC Tournament loss to Monmouth but is getting more comfortable playing without his face mask. He took it off midway through the first half against Dartmouth and went the whole game without it at Bowling Green.
“I have it with me,” Heath said. “I keep it on in practice sometimes, but it’s tough for me to play in.”
Maher to study transfer rules: Canisius athletic director Bill Maher this week was named to the NCAA’s new Ad Hoc Transfer Issues Working Group, which will study and recommend transfer rule changes that will be considered in the 2015-16 legislative cycle.
How to follow the game: The CIT live streams every game on its website, so tune in for a 7:30 p.m. tip. I’ll have updates on Twitter.Follow @NickVeronica