Immediate reactions: Siena 99, Canisius 78

Siena 48 51 – 99
Canisius 38 40 – 78

By Nick Veronica

What it means: Canisius honored its John Beilein-era teams Sunday afternoon, inviting players from the 1996 NCAA Tournament team and 1994 and ’95 NIT teams back for a ceremony at the Koessler Athletic Center. Even Beilein, the current Michigan coach, made it back to the KAC.

So the Griffs picked a pretty bad day to get embarrassed on their home court, suffering a thorough beatdown by Siena, 99-78. Only a late missed free throw by walk-on Nick Cunningham prevented Siena from hitting triple-digits, which would’ve been the first time Canisius gave up 100 points since its 110-100 loss to high-scoring Virginia Military in the 2014 Tournament.

Canisius is now back under .500 at 10-11 overall and 5-5 in the MAAC. Siena improved to 13-7, 6-3.

“They ran us out of our own gym today,” senior Malcolm McMillan said.

How it happened: Canisius’ defense has been suspect all season. That’s been written about. It seemed like the Griffs might have turned the corner on defending over the last week or so, holding teams under 59 points a game during a three-game winning streak.

But whatever progress Jim Baron’s group made went out the window Sunday. Siena shot 62.5 percent in the first half … and got hotter in the second half, making 72.2 percent of its field goals for a total shooting percentage of 66.0 percent. The Saints were also 10 for 19 (52.6%) on 3-point attempts.

Siena’s Brett Bisping led all players with 27 points, Lavon Long scored 25 and Nico Clareth added 19. Canisius trailed 90-60 before making the final score more respectable. Phil Valenti led Canisius with 17 points.

“Guys gotta man up,” McMillan said of Canisius’ defense. “In every way possible. Physically on defense, we all have to play defense. One play it might be me messing up, next play might be another guy. We gotta be solid every time down. Make them make tough shots.”

Did anything go right for Canisius? At least the backboard didn’t shatter before the game. (But Siena’s Jimmy Patsos said the check-engine light on their bus popped on right before they left for Buffalo, delaying the trip half an hour.)

Game ball: Siena’s Lavon Long. Dude was feeling it Sunday, connecting on all seven field goals he attempted and all 11 free throws. That’s 18 shots taken, 18 shots made. Eight assists didn’t hurt either.

’90s Griffs honored: Michigan coach John Beilein was in the house Sunday as Canisius honored the 20th anniversary of its 1996 NCAA Tournament team coached by Beilein, as well as the 1994 and 1995 NIT teams.

Beilein said he still follows the Griffs and joked that hiring Jim Baron, who coached at St. Bonaventure while Beilein was at Canisius, was like bringing in Darth Vader. Full video of Beilein’s press conference and halftime speech are here. 

Vegas line: Line was Canisius -2.5, over/under 150. Siena covered, total was well over.

Ouch #1:

Ouch #2:

Starters: Canisius – Malcolm McMillan, Kassius Robertson, Jamal Reynolds, Phil Valenti, Kevin Bleeker. Siena – Javion Ogunyemi, Ryan Oliver, Kenny Wormley, Lavon Long, Brett Bisping.

Refs: DJ Carstensen, Jeff Anderson, Kevin Ferguson.

Next: Canisius travels to Fairfield on Friday, where former coach Tom Parrotta is now an assistant.


John Beilein celebrates 20th anniversary of Canisius’ 1996 NCAA team (video)

By Nick Veronica

Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein was back at Canisius College on Sunday as the school honored the 20th anniversary of its 1996 NCAA Tournament team, which Beilein led to the only MAAC Tournament championship in program history.

Beilein, joined by former Griffs Binky Johnson and Damone James, sat down for a press conference before the game to remember the 1996 team as well as the 1995 and 1994 teams, which earned NIT berths.

“I’ve been back I think one time since I left,” Beilein said. “It’s emotional for me right now.”

Beilein, local Western New Yorker from Newfane, recalled thinking coaching at Canisius was the “destination” job (4:30). But after five years, he realized if he ever wanted to advance up the coaching ranks, this was his chance to leave. So he left for Richmond, and then West Viriginia and finally Michigan.

Worked out for the best, huh?

“You never know,” Beilein said. “Any good Jesuit-educated guy knows you better follow God’s will.”

Beilein also offered some strong insights into coaching and shooting percentages, and how players can earn the “green light” in games through practice (9:55).

Beilein said his players need to shoot “like 37, 38 [percent]” on 3-pointers or reconsider shooting.

“It’s an individual thing about which guys get that shot,” he said. “Some guys have green lights. … So I would say it depends on the shooter. [Michigan sophomore] Duncan Robinson has an absolute green light. I’d love to see Derrick Walton shoot even more. But I can’t tell that to everybody on the team.

“They have shooting drills they have to do to be able to have a green light. You just have to do that. If they could make these numbers in practice, they’d have a green light. Now if they have problems in a game where they can’t make them when the lights are on, then you have to back off and rethink it. But you can’t be doubting their shots in the game.”

[RELATED: Remembering the Griffs ’96 NCAA team as postseason drought ends]

Beilein said he still follows the Griffs and joked that hiring Jim Baron – who coached at rival St. Bonaventure while Beilein was at Canisius – was like bringing in Darth Vader.

Beilein planned to apologize to his former players this weekend for being so tough on them, but when they saw him, they all thanked him for challenging them to get better. Skip to 5:20 for James’ tale of how Beilein making the team practice on Christmas Eve changed how they thought about hard work.

“Coach was ahead of his time,” James said.

UPDATE: Beilein addressed the crowd at halftime after his players were introduced. Here’s what he said:


Postgame interviews: Saint Peter’s 70, Canisius 53

By Nick Veronica

Canisius plays an offensive, up-tempo style of basketball under coach Jim Baron. But guard Kassius Robertson lamented after Saturday’s 70-53 loss that the team isn’t committing to defense as hard as it is to scoring.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on defense,” Robertson said. “We’ve been a great offensive team this year but I think it’s kind of almost taking away from our defense. We’re not taking pride on defense. We’re not being tough. We gotta get that sense of toughness and grit instead of [being] offensive-minded.

“We just have to be focused the whole time [on defense] and don’t conserve ourselves,” he added. “Sometimes it feels like we’re conserving ourselves for offense. And we just gotta give all out on the defensive end.”

kassiusrobertson copy


Canisius’ offense entered Saturday’s game scoring 84.9 points per game, good for 16th nationally. But the Griffs also ranked 338th in scoring defense and 335th in shooting percentage defense.

Not exactly a winning formula.

“From now on we have to really focus on defense. That’s our only real problem,” Robertson said. “We’re a great offensive team. But when it comes to getting stops, that’s our weakness right now.”

Canisius now resides near the bottom MAAC standings after falling to 2-4. The team’s next game is Tuesday at Dartmouth before resuming MAAC play Friday at Manhattan.

Canisius coach Jim Baron

“It’s a process,” Jim Baron assured, “and we just didn’t do it today. I gotta take responsibility for that.”

Saint Peter’s coach John Dunne and guard Trevis Wyche


Immediate reactions: Saint Peter’s 70, Canisius 53

Saint Peter’s 29 41 – 70
Canisius 20 33 – 53

By Nick Veronica

Canisius had its worst offensive game of the season Saturday in a 70-53 loss to Saint Peter’s that dropped the Griffs to 2-4 in MAAC play and 7-9 overall. Saint Peter’s improved to 6-8 overall and 4-1 in the conference.

What it means: Canisius dropped its third straight conference game in a matinee that was not easy on the eyes.

The Griffs flirted with season lows in most offensive categories and set new low marks with 53 points and 30-percent shooting, while tying the season low with 19 field goals made.

Canisius coach Jim Baron lost to Saint Peter’s for the first time in his career, now owning a 6-1 record against the New Jersey school.

How it happened: For having a season-low 20 points in the first half, Canisius was actually in decent shape at intermission, trailing only 29-20. But once Canisius finally found a spark on offense midway through the second half (mostly from behind the arc), it still couldn’t come up with enough stops to get back in the game.

Trevis Wyche led Saint Peter’s with 16 points and eight assists while going 7-of-11 from the field. Antwon Portely scored 11 points.

Canisius’ largest lead in the entire game was only one point. Kassius Robertson led Canisius with 15 points while Jermaine Crumpton and Jamal Reynolds had 10. Malcolm McMillan, the team’s leading scorer, was 0-7 from the field and 4-7 at the free-throw line.

Unsung hero: Saint Peter’s Quadir Welton. I thought the Peacocks big man had an effective day on offense, even if he didn’t blow up the stat sheet.

Welton finished with 10 points of 4-of-6 shooting and had a team-high six rebounds and two blocked shots. He isn’t silky smooth in the low post but made a great no-look pass on a fast break that gave Rodney Hawkins as uncontested slam dunk with just over five minutes to play.

Defensive woes summed up: Jim Baron’s teams like to run the floor and put up as many points as possible. That’s fun to watch and great when it works, but makes winning extra difficult if you can’t stop anybody. That was the case again Saturday, when Canisius allowed Saint Peter’s to shoot 51 percent.

Canisius entered Saturday 338th in scoring defense, allowing opponents 83.1 points per game. Some of that can be attributed to the Griffs’ up-tempo pace (they rank 62nd in possessions per 40 minutes – and dropped more than 30 places after the Manhattan game Thursday), but a lot of the time the Griffs just aren’t stopping teams.

Canisius’ field-goal percentage defense is also poor, ranking 335th. It’s not like a few bad games have killed them, either. The median team shooting percentage in college basketball so far this year is 44.1 percent, but Canisius has only held opponents below that level twice all year, and not since Dec. 4.

If the Griffs are going to make a run in the MAAC, they can start by tightening up the defense.

Quotable: Guard Kassius Robertson on how the defensive can improve: “Just sticking with it for 30 seconds. Sometimes we’ll have great outs for 10 seconds, we’ll keep guys in front, keep guys in front, and then there’s some defensive lapse within, like, the last five seconds of the other team’s play and then it’s a bucket.

“We just have to be focused the whole time and don’t conserve ourselves. Sometimes it feels like we’re conserving ourselves for offense. And we just gotta give all out on the defensive end.”

Vegas line: Canisius -8, over/under 151 … Saint Peter’s covered, total was was under.

Starters: Canisius – Malcolm McMillan, Kassius Robertson, Jamal Reynolds, Phil Valenti, Kevin Bleeker. Saint Peter’s – Elisha Boone, Antwon Portley, Chazz Patterson, Rodney Hawkins, Quadir Welton.

Refs: Gary Pucino, Ken Clark, Harold Drumgoole.

Next: Canisius travels to Dartmouth for a nonleague game on Tuesday, playing a return game for last year’s CIT opening-round matchup, which Canisius won 87-72. Canisius resumes MAAC play next Friday and Sunday with games against Manhattan and Quinnipiac.