Immediate reactions: Iona 73, Canisius 55 (MAAC quarterfinals)

7-Canisius 28 27 – 55
2-Iona 43 30 – 73

By Nick Veronica

What it means: Iona eliminated Canisius from the MAAC Tournament for the third time in the last four years behind a barrage of three-pointers and its classic high-speed offense. The Gaels will face the Siena-Manhattan winner Sunday in the semifinals.

Canisius finishes the year 14-19 while Iona (20-10) clinched its seventh straight 20-win season.

2016maactrnbracketcanisiusloses

How it happened: Canisius kept the game close for about eight minutes before Iona ran away with it.

The Griffs had kept up early coming off Thursday night’s triple-overtime game against Niagara, but Iona’s press and three-point shooting caught up with them quickly.

A late 10-1 run pushed Iona’s lead to 18 late in the first half (43-25), and Canisius didn’t fare much better after intermission. Iona pushed its lead to as many as 24 points while MAAC Player of the Year runner-up A.J. English dished out 10 assists and added a game-high 20 points. The Griffs led for only 29 seconds all night.

Phil Valenti paced Canisius with 13 points, Kassius Robertson scored 11 and Kevin Bleeker had 10. Leading scorer Malcolm McMillan, who didn’t seem 100 percent this weekend, finished with eight points.

Iona hit 13 of 30 three-pointers (43%) and shot 47 percent for the game.

End of the road: Canisius can’t play in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament this year because it didn’t have a winning record, so the loss marked the final game for seniors Kevin Bleeker, Malcolm McMillan and Jamal Reynolds. Bleeker was the last player remaining from the Tom Parrotta years.

Tired legs? The scoreboard did a pretty good job of proving Canisius was feeling the effects from Thursday’s marathon game. But if you were looking for areas where tired legs might show up on the stat sheet, three places I guessed before the game were inability to close out on opponent’s three-point attempts, not being able to step into your own threes, and lack of turnovers created.

Iona was on fire from deep hitting 13 three-pointers, including nine in the first half. Canisius made only 6 of 21 threes for 29 percent. Iona was credited with seven turnovers while Canisius committed 11 after giving it away only eight times in 55 minutes Thursday.

Looking at the final stats, maybe the best indicator was fast-break points: Iona 17, Canisius 0. Rebounds were 39-31 Iona.

Better late than never:

In the house: Attendance at the Times Union Center was not strong, which is typical for the early rounds. The Buffalo News last week called for a move to campus sites, which I tend to agree with, at least for the opening round. Here’s what the crowd looked like at Canisius’ games:

Baron’s numbers: Coach Jim Baron signed a three-year extension this week. Through his first four years at Canisius, he has made one MAAC semifinal and owns a 73-61 record (54.5%), better than his career winning percentage of 51.8 percent. In the two years since Billy Baron graduated, Canisius is 32-34.

Baron can hit some notable milestones next year. With four wins, he’ll pass Niagara coaching legend Taps Gallagher for 78th on the NCAA’s all-time wins list (465). He also needs eight games to reach 900 for his career, which only 39 coaches have done. Becoming the NCAA’s all-time leader in losses is probably two years away; Friday’s loss moved him into a tie for fourth on the list with 430.

Vegas line: Iona -12.5, over/under 158.5. Iona covered, total was 128.

Next: That’s all, folks. See you for exhibitions in November. Enjoy the NCAA Tournament.

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2015 All-MAAC team announced; Canisius’ Lewis Third Team All-MAAC

By Nick Veronica

maaclogoIona’s A.J. English and David Laury were unanimous First Team All-MAAC selections, the league announced during Monday’s conference call.

English averaged 19.5 points and 5.2 assists per game while Laury scored 20.1 ppg and pulled in 9.5 rebonds per game.

Canisius’ Zach Lewis was named to the MAAC’s Third Team while Canisius’ Kassius Robertson and Niagara’s Dominique Reid were named to the All-Rookie Team.

All-star teams are selected by the MAAC’s head coaches. The conference Player of the Year will be announced at 5 p.m. Friday.

Here’s the rest of the All-MAAC teams:

[RELATED: 2015 MAAC Tournament bracket set]

All-MAAC First Team

G A.J. English, Iona (repeat selection, unanimous)
F David Laury, Iona (unanimous)
F Emmy Andujar, Manhattan – 16.5 ppg 7.5 rpg
G Justin Robinson, Monmouth – 13.4 ppg, 3.8 apg
G Zaid Hearst, Quinnipiac – 18.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg
C Matt Lopez, Rider – 12.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg

Second Team

G Schadrac Casimir, Iona – 15.2 ppg, 48.3 3pt%
G/F Chavaughn Lewis, Marist – 20.3 ppg, 2.2 spg
F Ousmane Drame, Quinnipiac – 14.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg
G Teddy Okereafor, Rider – 11.3 ppg, 4.0 apg
F Marvin Dominque, Saint Peter’s – 14.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg

Third Team

G Zach Lewis, Canisius – 12.9 ppg, 1.7 spg
F Marcus Gilbert, Fairfield – 16.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg
F Ashton Pankey, Manhattan – 13.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg
G Deon Jones, Monmouth – 127 ppg, 46.5 FG%
G Rob Poole, Siena – 14.2 ppg, 83.3 FT%

All-Rookie Team

Kassius Robertson, Canisius
Tyler Nelson, Fairfield
Schadrac Casimir, Iona
Dominique Reid, Niagara
Ayron Hutton, Quinnipiac

Canisius’ shots, dreams fall short again

By Nick Veronica

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Billy Baron’s Canisius career began with tears in his father’s car in a University of Rhode Island parking lot and was bound to end with them too.

“If we made the NCAA tournament, I would cry like a baby right on the court,” Baron told CBS Sports in February. I asked him this week if he meant that or it was just a figure of speech, and he promised it was real.

But Sunday at the MassMutual Center, the tears weren’t so sweet. Baron’s long, desperate three-point attempt fell short at the buzzer and so did his dream.

Canisius was the second-best team on the court Sunday evening in a 75-72 loss to Iona and the end result felt all-too-familiar. The Griffs are not going to the NCAA Tournament. They are not champions.

Billy and Jim Baron tried to hold back their emotions in the press conference and talked about missed opportunities while their minds were clearly elsewhere.

“My teammates trusted me to make decisions the entire year, and they put that trust in me and right now I just feel like I let them down,” Billy Baron said.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Baron raced up the court, dribbled right toward his favorite spot and let one fly from far, far away. He knew it was short when it left his hand and the loss set in before the ball hit the floor. The shot was a prayer that could have sent the game to overtime but was not the reason Canisius lost.

There were too many reasons to pin it down to one. Iona shot the lights out for the first 30 minutes of the game and Canisius’ defense was not very good. Canisius led the rebounding battle, 37-31, but posed little threat outside of Chris Manhertz. Baron was very good but not great for the second day in a row and Canisius played from behind nearly the entire game.

Losing by one shot is the worst type of loss because it makes you question everything. One possession, one rebound, one turnover could have been the difference. What if, what if, what if.

The what-ifs are what keep you up at night, replaying in your head over and over and over until you exhaust yourself thinking of ways it could have been different. You feel like you have earned this suffering when you lose the way the Griffs did Sunday, and in truth, rehashing this pain time and time again is part of how winners become winners, thinking through every aspect of their mistakes so they’ll be ready next time.

Only here, there is no next time. This year was the year, and Billy Baron has no years left. This sick, depressed feeling will dominate the minds of Canisius players and coaches for some time, the seniors especially.

Any person who’s ever tried to console an athlete tells them not to beat themselves up over the what-if scenarios because they left everything they had on the court, but athletes never want to hear that. An athlete defines himself by winning and the opposite of winning is the opposite of successful.

Someday, the fact that the team went from 5-25 to consecutive 20-win seasons and reinvigorated the culture surrounding the program will mean something to them.

Billy Baron has bigger days ahead of him as he preps to convince NBA teams he can play at their level. If this is as high as Chris Manhertz gets in basketball, he’ll eventually be consoled knowing he went out like a warrior, dominating on both ends for 15 points and 13 rebounds – both season highs – as he went without his protective face mask so nothing could hold him back. He had consecutive double-doubles in the tournament this weekend and had a double-double in last year’s loss to Iona as well.

Chris Perez gave Baron the complimentary scoring threat he needed this year and was rock solid on defense. His story was often overlooked in the shadow of Baron, but Perez came to Buffalo to win a championship and play in the NCAA Tournament, too. Even Jordan Heath, the streakiest of the seniors who played poorly Sunday, will come around and put this transition in perspective.

But all of that is down the road. Sunday’s main course was pain with a side of suffering.

Canisius hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1996 and won’t realistically set its sights on the dance for at least another few years. Next season’s projected lineup will have you scouring JUCO rosters and message boards for transfer options.

After last season’s quarterfinal defeat, this year was all or nothing for the Canisius, and they didn’t get it all.

Baron and the Griffs will watch the NCAA Tournament from home while competing in the CIT or CBI, third-tier postseason tournaments that have expressed interest. It’s nice to be recognized in those tournaments but it’s an empty feeling when you missed what you really wanted.

One of the few guarantees in life is that it goes on. “I’m not leaving here without hearing Canisius’ name on selection sunday,” were the exact words in Baron’s proclamatory tweet, but soon enough he will have to anyway. As deep and as real as the pain is now, he and the Griffs will eventually move on.

Canisius vs. Iona live blog (MAAC semifinals) 3/9/14

By Nick Veronica

SECOND HALF

FINAL: Iona 75-72. Baron’s long three no good.

5.2: Bowman hits the first, Baron takes timeout. Iona’s up 2 right now with one more shot coming. … gets it.

5.2: Iona gets it in, foul not called for almost four seconds. 1 and 1 coming from Bowman.

9.0: Baron throws in to Manhertz, who dunks to make it 73-72 Iona. Griffs must foul. Baron timeout.

28.2: Baron’s three misses. Iona gets the board, Perez fouls.

59.0: Laury gets a bucket and 1, foul on Manhertz, his third. He misses from the line. Iona 72-70.

1:29: Billy Baron fouled on the way to the hoop, goes down in some pain. Can’t even tell what he hurt. He hits both, tied at 70.

1:39: Iona misses a three.

2:01: Baron misses a three.

2:44: Perez fouled on a fast break, hits 1 of 2 to make it 70-68.

3:09: Manhertz with another big rebound, Baron goes end to end. 70-67.

3:45: Baron hits the front end of the 1 and 1, then finishes it. 70-65, he’s up to 19.

3:45: Baron gets a steal and is fouled by AJ English before he can get to the hoop. English’s third foul, Canisius into the bonus.

4:06: Baron hits a 3, he’s up to 17. 70-63.

4:21: David Laury at the line, hits both. Iona 70-60.

5:15: AJ English with a 3 after Iona got an offensive rebound and reset. 68-60.

6:01: Manhertz blocked by Laury, ball eventually gets to Jordan Heath who finishes. 65-60.

7:02: Iona beats the 1-3-1, up 65-58.

8:00: Canisius gets a stop it needs and Manhertz calls timeout before a jump ball called. Griffs went 1-3-1 zone there it looked like, out of the timeout.

8:38: Jordan Heath’s first points of the night come on a big dunk. Griffs back within 5, 63-58. Manhertz is having a day, 13 pts and 9 rebs.

10:31: Baron hits 1 of 2 from the line but gets his own rebound and scores. 61-54.

10:31: Gaels still shooting 58.1%. Griffs need some magic soon, down 61-51.

11:05: Baron with two Canisius baskets in a row, he’s up to 11. Griffs trail by 10.

11:46: Time winding down here for the Griffs. Iona up 61-49.

13:29: Baron’s three hits front rim. He has 7 points. Doesn’t look right.

14:26: Iona’s Sean Armand and David Laury both have 3 fouls. (Check this one — Laury had 2 at this point and picked up his third shortly after)

15:27: Manhertz hits from the line to cut it to 54-47.

16:16: English gets a layup to put Iona up 9, 54-45, its biggest lead so far.

16:55: Manhertz has his shot blocked but gets fouled going for the rebound. Ion up 52-45.

18:13: Jordan Heath grabs two rebounds early on. First half stats had him at 0.

20:00: Iona inbounds the ball and we’re underway in the second half. David Laury has two fouls.

0.0: Armand hits a turnaround shot just before the horn, Iona leads 48-41 at half.

32.4: Manhertz finds Raney for a 3 but it rims out, Manhertz with a tough rebound. He gets 1 of 2 from the line. 46-41.

1:45: Armand hits back and Williams adds another. 44-39 Iona.

2:56: #Raneytime answers with a three.

3:18: Armand hits a 3 at the end of the shot clock. Iona 38-36.

3:41: Jordan Heath hops over the first row of media seats chasing a loose ball. Luckily … not a capacity crowd.

4:02: Baron attacks for 2 and Raney steals the inbound pass. Canisius has its first lead at 36-35; Iona led by as many as 8.

5:01: Manhertz with the layup and 1. Iona up 35-34.

5:06: Iona up 35-31 before a foul call on Laury. Not a great appearance here for Dominique Raney.

6:41: Josiah Heath in some pain after trying to take a charge. He went down funny. Nothing too serious though. Iona leads 31-29 with FTs coming.

7:35: Iona strikes quick, 31-26.

8:31: Phil Valenti with two nice offensive boards and he’ll shoot two … we’re tied at 26.

9:24: Perez gets a shooter’s roll. 26-24 Iona.

9:59: Lot of action here so a late U12 media timeout, but Canisius has withstood Iona’s early onslaught and has it back to 24-22. Zach Lewis leading the way with 11 points.

11:14: Nice putback slam from Tre Bowman, who came out of nowhere.

11:37: Baron hits his first shot of the day, a three. Griffs down 22-20.

12:17: Chris Manhertz with a man’s rebound plus the foul. He misses though, Griffs down 20-17. No mask.

12:51: Hey, Iona missed a shot.

14:03: Zach Lewis steals a steal and a layup. Iona 18-13. Lewis has 11.

14:36: Griffs get a shot clock violation. Iona playing a zone.

15:12: U16 timeout, Iona is on fire early, hitting 6 of its first 8 shots, including 4 three-pointers. Griffs 4 of 10 (3/6 from three). Gaels up 18-11.

16:36: Putback dunk from Manhertz but Iona can’t miss. 13-8.

17:59: Iona hits its first three shots, 8-3.

18:47: Iona and Canisius trade threes, Williams and Lewis.

19:43: Baron picks up a foul 17 seconds into the game, a charge on Poole.

20:00: The tip is won by Jordan Heath and we’re underway. Winner goes to the MAAC Championship.

Pregame: Canisius starts the usual: Baron, Perez, Manherz, Lewis, Heath. Iona goes with Sean Armand, A.J. English, Tre Bowman, Mike Poole and Isaiah Williams.

Pregame: Welcome to the Canisius-Iona live blog. Tip is at 4:30 p.m. at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass. Here’s some pregame reading:

Canisius advanced to the MAAC semifinals for the first time since 2002, but milestones aren’t enough. They need two more wins.

Postgame interviews from Canisius’ win over Siena.

Milestone not enough, Griffs need two more wins

[Live blog + Postgame video + MAAC bracket]

By Nick Veronica

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Billy Baron did not have exceptional game Saturday under the tournament lights he’s waited for all year. He was only very good, which is to say Siena executed its gameplan against the best player in the conference, badgering him relentlessly in the hope of forcing him to play differently than he would like, because playing in that way would surely mean their defeat.

Baron couldn’t seem to get comfortable on the floor of the MassMutual Center, but in the end, the MAAC’s Player of the Year still did enough, still found ways to lead the Griffs to victory. He led Canisius with 17 points, six assists and five steals en route to a 71-65 win over fifth-seeded Siena in the MAAC quarterfinals, lifting Canisius to the semifinal round for the first time since 2002.

That feat in and of itself would have been reason for celebration in previous years. But not this time. This year is all or nothing, just like Baron has said and tweeted all year, and the road gets exponentially harder from here.

Canisius faces reigning champion and No. 1 overall seed Iona in the semifinals Sunday, the same team that eliminated the Griffs last year.

Iona, led by MAAC Coach of the Year Tim Cluess and first-teamers Sean Armand and A.J. English, made quick work of Rider in its quarterfinal game, winning 94-71 while shooting nearly 60 percent.

English needed to score only six points in the win as Armand scored 20, big man David Laury had 18 and Tre Bowman, often forgotten about in this deep lineup, went off for 28.

Iona scores the fourth-most points in the country and plays so fast most teams can’t keep up. They’ve been beaten by conference opponents three times this year: Once when Quinnipiac outrebounded them 50-27, once when Manhattan squeaked past in overtime and once when Baron was the best player on the court.

The star will need to be the star again Sunday, and he’ll need everyone around him to play their best too. Chris Manhertz got that memo Saturday and was dominant in the second half, finishing with 10 points and 11 rebounds for his 13th career double-double.

“Just being relentless,” Manhertz said of the difference in the Griffs’ rebounding Saturday compared with the rest of the season. “Coach Baron preached that to us throughout the whole season. I know we had ups and downs with it the whole season, but it finally sets in when it’s either you win or go home, and I think the guys responded pretty well today.”

Just look at rebounds in Siena’s end for proof: Siena collected 14 defensive rebounds, Canisius had 13 offensive boards.

As for secondary scoring, Zach Lewis hit a three-pointer early but made freshmen mistakes as the game progressed. It was another veteran, Chris Perez, who stepped up, leading the team in field goals with six and finishing as the second-leading scorer behind Baron with 13 points.

“I told the guys, this is my senior year, they better not mess it up for me,” Perez said in the press conference. The room broke into laughter, but of course, Perez wasn’t entirely kidding.

This is it. It’s one win down for Canisius, two more to go.