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.

Gameday: Canisius at NJIT, CIT quarterfinals

By Nick Veronica

Canisius scored a season-high 87 points in its CIT victory against Darmouth last week and dropped 82 on a 21-win Bowling Green team in the second round. What’s gotten into the Griffs offense?

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.