Canisius coach Jim Baron to retire

By Nick Veronica

Canisius men’s basketball coach Jim Baron will announce his retirement in a press conference Friday afternoon, according to team sources.


Jim Baron.

Baron, 62, has been at the helm at Canisius for the last four years. His retirement was first reported by Shawn Stepner of WKBW-TV (Ch. 7).

Baron just signed a three-year extension in March before the MAAC Tournament. Team sources said his decision to retire was not health-related.

Rather, the sources said, Baron had a change of heart after a recent trip to Europe, where his sons Jimmy and Billy play professionally on the same Belgian team. Baron decided that after nearly 40 years in coaching (28 as a head coach), he wants to spend more time with his family, especially his grandchildren. Jimmy and his wife had twins last summer.

Canisius athletic director Bill Maher called the decision “very surprising” in a phone interview. He said Baron informed him he was going to retire on Thursday, about three months before classes begin for the fall semester.

Associate head coach Pat Clarke will act as the interim head coach, sources said and Maher confirmed. Clarke, an Olean native, has been on Baron’s staff since 1999.

Maher said his department’s next step is determining whether a coaching search is a viable option at this point in the year or whether the program is better off with Clarke and the current assistants remaining in charge for 2016-17, adding he’d want to take time to find “the right coach,” not just any coach.

Maher said Baron is free from contractual and financial obligations to the school. He hopes to hold recruits who have signed national letters of intent to their commitments.

Baron’s 892 games coached rank 40th in NCAA history. Known for turning around rebuilding programs, Baron’s final record stands at 462-430, putting him 80th all-time in wins and fourth all-time in losses, which speaks more to longevity than to bad coaching.

Canisius will hold a press conference this afternoon, tentatively set for 1:30 p.m.

This story will be updated as new information comes in.

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.


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 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.

Immediate reactions: Canisius 102, Niagara 97 (3OT) – MAAC Tournament

Niagara 36 35 15 7 9 – 102
Canisius 40 31 15 7 4 – 97

By Nick Veronica

ALBANY – If you can have an instant classic from the play-in round of a conference tournament, Thursday’s Canisius-Niagara game would be it. The seventh-seeded Griffs outlasted their rivals in triple overtime, 102-97, to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals.

What it means: Canisius lives another day and will face No. 2 Iona at 9:30 p.m. Friday. This will be the third time they’ve met in the MAAC Tournament in the last four years. Iona swept the season series from Canisius this year.

Niagara finishes the year at 7-25 but could bring back its entire roster since it has no seniors. Canisius is now 14-18. It was the first time Canisius and Niagara had gone to overtime in the MAAC Tournament in seven meetings.


How it happened: I gave up trying to make this nice prose. Here’s a period-by-period rundown:

End of regulation: Tied 71-71, Canisius has the ball with a chance to win, 18 seconds left … Kevin Bleeker’s potential game-winning three-pointer won’t fall. Headed for overtime.

OT: Canisius up four with 22 seconds left. Blackman gets a tip-in, McMillan hits one of two free throws when he could’ve made it a two-possession game. … Blackman is fouled on a desperation three-point attempt with 1.1 seconds left and calmly makes all three free throws to force a second overtime. Wow. Cool as can be.

Double OT: Malcolm McMillan hits long two-pointer with 1:28 left to make it Canisius 93, Niagara 91. Karonn Davis ties it with 45 seconds left. Phil Valenti misses two big free throws with 24 seconds left, giving Niagara a chance to win … Emile Blackman’s potential game-winner wouldn’t fall. Triple OT.

Triple OT: Emile Blackman steps in to take a charge with four fouls and gets the call in his favor. Gutty. Malcolm McMillan ties it at 97 from the line with 1:47 left. Phil Valenti puts Canisius up with 1:04 to go, 99-97. Blackman misses on Niagara’s possession. Big offensive rebound by Kassius Robertson after McMillian’s miss; McMillan hits both free throws to make it a four-point game with 20.5 left, 101-97. Niagara can’t get a bucket … Phil Valenti hits one of two free throws to seal the deal. What a game.

Stats & leaders: Valenti led all players with 33 points while Blackman led NU with 26. McMillan and Davis both scored 20. No player recorded double-digit rebounds because both teams shot so well/struggled on defense: Niagara hit 51 percent of field goals while Canisius made 43 percent. The Griffs were 34-44 from the line, while Niagara was only 10-17.

Records & notes: The 199 total points scored is the most ever for any MAAC Tournament game.

— Phil Valenti’s 33 points are the most for a Canisius player in a tournament game.

— 102 points is a tournament record for Canisius.

— It was the 19th time Canisius and Niagara have gone to OT; Canisius is now 10-9 in those games.

NU’s Matt Scott misses game: Niagara sophomore Matt Scott did not play Thursday due to a lingering foot injury. Scott (15.4 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game) was the only member of either team to be named to a MAAC all-star team earlier this week. He was the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer behind Emile Blackman (15.5 pgg).

Unsung hero: Niagara guard Chris Barton stepped up in Scott’s place. Barton, a freshman from Pontiac, Mich. making his fifth career start, entered the game shooting just 18.8% on 3-pointers but made 4 of 5 in the first half to spark Niagara. He easily surpassed his career high of 13 points before finishing with 17.

Three-point watch: An interesting matchup coming into the game was Niagara’s three-point shooting. The Purple Eagles rank 343rd out of 346 D-I teams in three-point percentage (27.6%) while Canisius ranks 315th in three-point defense (37.6%). … Niagara ended up shooting 9 for 21 (43%) in the game.

Canisius press conference:

Niagara press conference: 

Baron’s contract extended: Canisius coach Jim Baron received a three-year contract extension this week, announced Thursday afternoon, which locks him up through the 2019-20 season. Next year would’ve been the final year of his original contract.

Interestingly, there’s a strong possibility Baron becomes the NCAA’s career leader in losses over the life of his new extension. That speaks more to his longevity and the type of teams he’s taken over than being a bad coach, but it’s still an incredible factoid.

Baron ranks 79th on the all-time wins list. The next coach he will pass is legendary Niagara coach Taps Gallagher, whom NU’s basketball arena is named after.

Vegas line: Canisius -6.5, over/under 138.5. Niagara covered, total was well over.

Starters: Canisius Malcolm McMillan, Kassius Robertson, Jamal Reynolds, Phil Valenti, Kevin Bleeker. Niagara: Cameron Fowler, Chris Barton, Emile Blackman, Marvin Prochet, Dominic Robb.

Baron ‘extremely disappointed’ Canisius shut out from all-MAAC teams as Griffs prep for tournament

By Nick Veronica

Jim Baron had to let out a little anger before his seventh-seeded Griffs departed for the MAAC Tournament Wednesday afternoon.

None of his players were named to the conference’s three all-league teams earlier this week, or even the MAAC’s all-rookie team. Sure, Canisius went 8-12 in conference play, but Baron felt a number of his guys put up all-conference-worthy numbers.

“I’m very disappointed. Extremely disappointed,” he said (3:20 on the video). “Because I think our guys are worthy of making the all-conference teams. You look at [Phil] Valenti’s numbers, you look at Malcolm McMillan, you look at Kassius Robertson, come on, are you kidding me? I want to see the guys that have better numbers than them.”

McMillan, Robertson and Valenti all average above 14 points per game and rank 12th, 15th and 17th respectively on the MAAC’s scoring list. McMillan’s 4.1 assists per game rank sixth in the conference while Robertson’s 40.1 three-point percentage ranks eighth and Valenti’s 6.0 rebounds per game are 13th.

“I told our guys I was very displeased with that,” Baron added. “Our guys warranted to be on one of those teams.”

Alas, Baron and the Griffs will have to prove the league’s coaches wrong in Albany this weekend. The team opens against rival Niagara in the play-in round at 7 p.m. Thursday and would face No. 2 Iona Friday in the quarterfinals with a win.


“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Baron said repeatedly Wednesday. “We still have a lot of newcomers to this program and to this team. So we have to worry about this first game before we worry about the whole tournament.”

Robertson said the “one game at a time” line has been Baron’s mantra this week.

“He’s said it more than 20 times already,” Robertson said with a grin.

But just because it’s cliche doesn’t mean players aren’t taking it to heart.

“Taking it one game at a time is the biggest advice I can give any of our guys,” said Robertson, who’s one of only three Griffs to have played in a MAAC Tournament game before. “We can’t think about our next game, we can’t think about anything other than the game at hand. Take it one half at a time, one minute at a time as we play Niagara.”

The key to a successful tournament run, Valenti said, is defense.

“We gotta get stops,” he said. “We know we can score. We know we got shooters … so, defense. That’s where we need it.”

Defending has been Canisius’ Achilles heel all season. The team ranks 102nd nationally in scoring average at 76.4 points per game, but gives up an average of 78.0 points, which is 304th of the 346 Division I teams in the NCAA’s rankings.

The team fares even worse in defensive percentages: Opponents shoot 37.6 percent on three-pointers, which ranks 315th, and 47.5 percent overall from the field, which is 330th nationally.

But if Canisius can figure out how to stop somebody, or even get a little lucky in a one-and-done event, Robertson sees potential for a run.

“I think, coming into the tournament, we’ve built a lot of momentum,” Robertson said. “We played Iona the first time and they beat us by, like, 25. Then we came and played them tough (last weekend). I thought we really had that game, just slipped up at the end, had a little bit of breakdown on defense. But we got a lot better. I think everybody can vouch for us and say we got a lot better toward the end of the season playing tough teams.

“So I think we’re battle tested. I think we’re going to come to this tournament making noise.”

How to follow the game

I’ll be courtside in Albany, with updates on Twitter and a blog after the game. Mark Gaughan from the Buffalo News will be there as well. There’s no TV for the game (not even ESPN3) but Canisius and Niagara should each have a radio call available.

Postgame interviews: Canisius 67, Rider 61 – Baron’s brother ejected

By Nick Veronica

Only 792 people paid to watch Canisius and Rider play basketball on Super Bowl Sunday, making for an intimate atmosphere at the Koessler Athletic Center. Fans who voiced their displeasure could be heard from one end of the gym to the other, which led to referees taking the unusual step of asking security to remove particularly boisterous fans from the game.

One fan who was sent home early happened to be Ed Baron, the brother of Canisius head coach Jim Baron.

In his press conference, Jim Baron essentially said the insults fans yell at him everywhere Canisius plays are much worse than anything his brother said Sunday.

“It’s a game, what do you want? What do you expect?” Baron asked. “Go to a tennis match where you can be quiet. Go to golf, shhh, quiet. They got signs for quiet. This is a basketball game.

“You go to the other places, they’re screaming at me, they’re cursing at me,” Baron added. “They’re appalling to me. Monmouth, I was gonna punch somebody in the face sitting right behind me. I looked at the guy, guy was an idiot. I’m like, what are you talking about? We just beat your team up here. Who the hell are you? This guy sitting right over here, old guy, must’ve been about 75, I think when I stared him down, I think I made his heart, like, quiver.”

[Immediate reactions: Canisius 67, Rider 61]

The referees Sunday were Jeffrey Anderson, Ron Tyburski and Andrew Maira. Anderson came over to a fan before the second half started and reminded him he could be kicked out at any time. Ninety seconds into the half, Maira threw him out. Half an hour later, Ed Baron received the same fate.

Baron attends most, if not all, of Canisius’ games and sits in an aisle seat about ten rows behind the team’s bench. He isn’t shy about voicing his displeasure when calls go against Canisius but usually means well.

Skip to 8:06 on the video above for Jim Baron’s answer about the fans and refs. Here’s the full quote:

“Eh, I don’t wanna … it is what it is. We move forward. I don’t know. People are just, they’re into the game. You come here, this is what … what do you expect? You know? We go, you go to the other places, they’re screaming at me, they’re cursing at me. They’re appalling to me. Monmouth, I was gonna punch somebody in the face sitting right behind me. I looked at the guy, guy was an idiot. I’m like, what are you talking about? We just beat your team up here. Who the hell are you? This guy sitting right over here, old guy, must’ve been about 75, I think when I stared him down I think I made his heart, like, quiver. Because I looked at him like I was gonna … [he said] ‘You asshole!’ Like, come on. … It’s a game, what do you want? What do you expect? Go to a tennis match where you can be quiet. Go to golf, shhh, quiet. They got signs for quiet. This is a basketball game. Alright, thanks guys.”

Canisius players Keifer Douse and Kassius Robertson

The Griffs pressed Rider a lot Sunday, and that’s something Kassius Robertson wants to see a whole lot more of. Robertson and Keifer Douse also discussed his Douse’s new role starting for Jamal Reynolds and how that’s alleviating some of the burden from Reynolds’ shoulders.

Rider coach Kevin Baggett

The MAAC has an interesting schedule with 11 teams. It seems like every team gets rolled at least once when it’s their turn to play a lot of games in a row. Sunday was Rider’s turn. Baggett talked about that and more.