Canisius’ season ends in 78-73 loss to NJIT

By Nick Veronica

Canisius’ CIT run was stomped out by NJIT Saturday night as the Griffs fell in the quarterfinals, 78-73.

Kevin Bleeker led Canisius with a season-high 16 points, including three three-pointers, but the rest of the team struggled from behind the arc, shooting just over 17 percent on the night.

The Griffs ended the year at 18-15 overall, which was a successful season for Jim Baron’s young team any way you cut it.

How NJIT won: Canisius pushed its lead to seven points at 55-48 with 11:18 to play but went scoreless over the next four minutes as NJIT climbed back into the game. Two free throws from Bleeker put Canisius up 62-59 with 4:57 left, but that would be the Griffs’ final lead of the year. They couldn’t find a shot when they needed it and were outscored 19-9 the rest of the way.

Damon Lynn and Tim Coleman each scored 22 points for NJIT, which improved to 21-12 overall and 15-2 at home. Lynn, the Highlanders’ leading scorer, was not what you would call efficient, going just 4 of 18 from the field (and 3 of 15 on threes), though he made up for it with 11 free throws. Coleman was the opposite, knocking down 8 of 11 shots and pulling in 11 rebounds. [Full box]

Fans get into it with Griffs: NJIT was assessed a technical foul at halftime for the conduct of its fans. Heading into the locker room at the break, NJIT’s student section apparently shoved Phil Valenti, who cut his head open as a result. Zach Lewis hit both free throws before the second half started. Police officers backed up the student section and remained under the basket for the remained of the game.

Baron’s radio comments: Jim Baron did not hold back on the fans or the refs on the Canisius radio post-game interview:

“They got the home-court advantage,” Baron said. “This is their third [home game] in a row. The people are fired up. They got a band. I don’t know where the hell they got this band from. But it’s about a 50-piece band banging the drum the whole game. We didn’t get calls down the stretch. Some cheap calls. And I told the officials, they didn’t need you guys. They could have beat us by themselves. But we turned it over … they made some shots, got the crowd into it and it became a fiasco.

“That first half was as dangerous of a situation as I’ve ever been in,” Baron continued. “That crowd came on the court, Valenti got his head split, they were very unorganized. I was very, very disappointed with the crowd. Wildness. And I’ll tell you, it was extremely dangerous. They let everybody in here, kids were drunk, they were behind the basket.

“But anyway, they’re a good team. They deserved the game. It’s a home game for them. They won two in a row, this is their third one, they’ll probably get another home game. But that’s what happens.”

(For the record, NJIT will go to Northern Arizona next round.)

Baron on the officiating: “The called cheap fouls. That charge he took was unbelievable (I think he’s referencing Heath’s fifth foul, which was a questionable blocking call underneath Canisius’ hoop). It’s just, I don’t know. I thought these guys were gonna be neutral and I was very disappointed. Very disappointed. Because they got to the foul line and they were just taking free throws. (Free throw stats: NJIT 23-33, Canisius 19-24.)

” … We ran into a buzzsaw the second half and we couldn’t do anything about it. They got what they wanted, they got another home game, they got the crowd into it, they got a 50-, 60-piece band from, I don’t know where they came from, St. Patrick’s Parade or something — they’re not part of the school’s — but I’m very proud of our kids. They deserved this tournament. I think we showed people how good this team is. I told our kids we’re very proud of them.”

Struggling from behind the arc: While Bleeker had the hot hand from three-point range, the rest of the team was ice cold. Consider the following:

Hard to win when your guards are that cold. Broken down, their three-point numbers were: Jeremiah Williams 0-8, Zach Lewis 0-5, Kassius Robertson 0-3, Adam Weir 0-1; Bleeker 3-4, Jermaine Crumpton 1-1, Phil Valenti 0-1.

Lewis was 4 for 13 from the field, finishing right near his final season field goal percentage of 33.4. That number will need to improve next season.

Crumpton’s return: Jermaine Crumpton scored five points in 12 minutes Saturday in his first game back from a broken foot.

Final games for Heath, Williams: Josiah Heath fouled out late in the second half after a handful of calls he was rightfully upset with and had to watch his career wrap up from the sidelines. He finished as Canisius all-time leader in games played (131) and showed vast improvement during his senior season (Heath’s season-by-season stats).

Jeremiah Williams worked hard to become a valuable contributor this season after being ruled academically ineligible for the second semester last year. He scored 8.1 points per game and became the starting point guard late in the season.

Baron’s three-year totals: Jim Baron compiled a record of 59-41 in his first three years at Canisius. Fifty-nine wins in a three-year span is tied for the third-most in program history.

1. John Beilein, 1994-96, 62-33
2. Nick Macarchuk, 1985-87, 60-29
T3. Joseph Curran, 1955-57, 59-20
T3. Jim Baron, 2012-15, 59-41

Obviously, no other coach had the opportunity to play in the CIT before Baron arrived, but that’s not his problem.

Looking ahead at next season: I’ll take a more in-depth look at 2015-16 at a later date, but there is plenty to build on for next year. When Heath sat with foul trouble Saturday you got a look at next year’s frontcourt, which will feature a Valenti-Bleeker-Crumpton rotation with Jamal Reynolds playing as a swingman.

I was impressed with Kassius Robertson’s development this season, and with Williams graduating, I think you’d have to pencil Robertson in as next year’s starting point guard. Jan Grzelinski’s role has been so diminished that he didn’t even play Saturday. I’m told it was strictly a coach’s decision.

Way-too-early 2016 Griffs prediction: 18-11 overall in the regular season, 13-7 in the MAAC, third seed in the conference tournament.

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