Immediate reactions: Hofstra 96, Canisius 85

Canisius 47 38 – 85
Hofstra 45 51 – 96

By Nick Veronica

How it happened: Malcolm McMillan’s first performance as a Griff was even better than Billy Baron’s, but Canisius couldn’t hold a huge first-half lead as Colonial Athletic Association favorite Hofstra came back to win 96-85 in the season opener for both teams.

McMillan

McMillan

Canisius flew out of the gates, opening up an 18-point lead on Isaiah Gurley’s 3-pointer with 8:08 left in the first half. But Hofstra cut the deficit to just two points at halftime as Canisius struggled against Hofstra’s 1-3-1 zone defense.

Canisius pushed the lead back to 11 with just nine minutes to go, but Hofstra outscored Canisius 18-5 over the next six minutes. Save for an uncontested, last-second layup, Canisius was held scoreless over the final 2:39, missing all four shots it took.

McMillan led all players with a career-high 33 points, but that wasn’t enough to top the Pride, which had six players in double-digits. (I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that in a Canisius opponent before. Didn’t happen in any of Billy Baron’s games against Iona, or even in VMI’s 111-100 thrashing in the 2013 CIT.) Jamal Reynold and Kassius Robertson had 13 points each.

What it means: The Griffs will be frustrated with how they lost, but hanging with a team as well-respected as Hofstra is an encouraging sign for Canisius, which was missing two forwards Friday (more on that below).

We also learned that Malcolm McMillan has some serious game. The fifth-year transfer from Central Connecticut scored a career-high 33 points in his first Canisius game and showed a veteran savvy throughout the contest. The lefty was 13 of 20 from the field and 4 of 9 from deep while handing out six assists and recording two blocks, including one huge block on a shot that would’ve cut Canisius’ lead to one just before halftime. He was credited with three turnovers.

McMillan left with an injury late in the second half (Hofstra TV said he was being checked for a concussion), but he returned shortly after.

By the way, Billy Baron only scored 27 points in his first game as a Griff. Just sayin’ :).

Crumpton suspended, Ryan out: Canisius announced before the game that sophomore forward Jermaine Crumpton (Niagara Falls) was suspended three games for a violation of team rules. He’ll return against St. Bonaventure on Nov. 24. Crumpton was suspended for the preseason in 2014-15.

Sophomore forward Cassidy Ryan didn’t travel with the team due to a death in his immediate family.

The loss of two forwards certainly hurt the Griffs in this one, as the Pride controlled the glass, 41-34.

Hot start: Canisius’ 47 first-half points would’ve been a season-high last year. Most of those came from McMillan, who had 22 at intermission. Both teams shot above 50 percent in the first half. The most points Canisius allowed in the first half a game last year was 46 against UMass.

Remember me?: Former Niagara stud Juan’ya Green struggled early but finished with 16 points and an impressive 11 assists. Ameen Tanksley had 12 points and coach Joe Mihalich improved to 25-9 all-time vs Canisius.

Brian Bernardi led Hofstra with 26 points while Malik Nichols and Rokas Gustys had 10 rebounds each.

T’d up: Valenti was given a technical for a hard foul on Green in the final minute.

Starters: Malcolm McMillan, Kassius Robertson, Jamal Reynolds, Phil Valenti, Kevin Bleeker.

Next game: Canisius hosts Lehigh on Monday, 7 p.m.

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Gameday: Canisius opens 2015-16 season at Hofstra, 7 p.m.

By Nick Veronica

The Griffs open the 2015-16 season tonight in Long Island, where they’ll meet former Niagara coach Joe Mihalich and CAA favorite Hofstra at 7 p.m.

Canisius Golden Griffins: 0-0 (18-15, 11-9 MAAC last year; played in CIT). KenPom ranking: 154.

Hofstra Pride: 0-0 (20-13, 10-8 CAA last year; played in CBI). KenPom ranking: 96.

Vegas line: Hofstra -9.5.

Long time, no see! What’d I miss?: The last time we saw Canisius, its third straight CollegeInsider.com Tournament run was coming to an end following a rowdy game at NJIT. Jim Baron was heated. Zach Lewis was still on the team.

New PG Malcolm McMillan

New PG Malcolm McMillan

Last year was positive for Canisius. Baron called it a rebuilding year in the summer and the league’s coaches picked the Griffs 10th out of 11 in the preseason poll. But come February, Baron’s “junkyard dogs” had clinched a bye in the first-round of the conference tournament, marking their third consecutive finish of fifth or better … which hadn’t happened since the John Beilein era.

“Jim Baron was billed as the Great Rebuilder when he was hired,” I wrote in my season wrap-up column from the MAAC Tournament, “and this season showed why.”

Here’s what’s happened since then:
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Canisius to face former Niagara coach Mihalich

By Nick Veronica

Canisius basketball will open the 2015-16 season against former Niagara coach Joe Mihalich at Hofstra on Nov. 13, the Griffs announced Friday in their nonconference schedule release.

CCLogobigThe Griffs get return games against Lehigh and Cornell at the Koessler Athletic Center in November before going to St. Bonaventure on Nov. 24 on UB on Nov. 28. Boston University comes to the KAC on Dec. 19. The Griffs close the nonconference schedule with a Jan. 12 return game at Dartmouth, which Canisius beat in last year’s CIT, 87-72.

Opponents for the Las Vegas Classic were announced last week.

Full Canisius nonconference schedule

Friday, Nov. 13 at Hofstra, TBA
Monday, Nov. 16 vs. Lehigh, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 21 vs. Cornell, TBA
Tuesday, Nov. 24 vs. St. Bonaventure
Saturday, Nov. 28 at Buffalo, TBA
Thursday, Dec. 10 at Penn State*, TBA
Saturday, Dec. 12 at Kent State*, TBA
Saturday, Dec. 19 vs. Boston University, 2 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 22 vs. Louisiana-Monroe*, 5:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 23 vs. Nicholls State or Hampton, TBA*
Tuesday, Jan 12 at Dartmouth, TBA

*Las Vegas Classic games

More to come.

Canisius set to dance with Niagara in MAAC Tournament

Alshwan Hymes attacks the hoops with vigor here. He leads the team in tournament games played, with three.

Alshwan Hymes still thinks about it every day. He hasn’t been able to shake off Canisius’ 60-57 overtime loss to Niagara two weeks ago, when his open look to send the game to double overtime at the buzzer hit the rim and bounced out.

He gets on the court early before practice and takes a ball behind the three-point circle, offset to the left, and envisions himself taking that same shot again and again.

“Each and every day we just put ourselves in that situation and think next time we get that shot, we’re going to hit it,” Hymes said earlier this week before his team departed for the MAAC Tournament, held in Springfield, Mass. “I kind of replay that a lot of times before practice. I go out and shoot a few shots from that same spot that I shot and missed in that game. It was a few shots in overtime that we had that could have sealed the win.”

Canisius has a chance to redeem itself and get even with Niagara tonight as the rivals meet each other in the opening round of the conference tournament.

Niagara sat in sixth place with one game remaining in the regular season, but lost to Marist in its season finale. The loss, combined with Siena’s win over Canisius, dropped Niagara into seventh place, setting up a date with 10th-seeded Canisius in the play-in round.

That scenario bodes well for the Griffs. They only won one conference game all season, beating Marist 67-57 on Jan. 13, but the overtime loss to Niagara was as close as they’ve come to winning since. Past struggles don’t mean anything once the tournament starts, and that’s a fact the team will do its best to revel in.

“Right now we’re 0-0,” Canisius coach Tom Parrotta said. “We think we have a great opportunity to win this basketball game, especially based on what happened up at the Gallagher Center. … There were so many opportunities from that game that we didn’t take advantage of. We thought that if we can just take those away and capitalize on them, we’ll have a great opportunity to win.”

Canisius has had depth problems all season, a contributing factor to why the team struggled to stay in games and keep them competitive. Canisius went 0-18 this season when trailing at halftime and was outscored 1,158-983 in the second half of games.

The last meeting with Niagara, however, was the most resilient performance of the season. Parrotta and his group have employed a new theme this week to get their mindset around playing a complete game, start to finish.

“Our motto throughout the last few practices is just ’40 minutes a game,’ ” Hymes said. “Play it all-out, play it as hard as we can, and hopefully we can advance in this tournament after beating [Niagara].”

It won’t be an easy task. Purple Eagles coach Joe Mihalich is 22-8 in his career against the Griffs and always seems to have his team peaking at the right time. Freshman sensation Juan’ya Green (17.5 ppg, 4.4 apg) was named MAAC Rookie of the Year and classmate Antoine Mason (15.4 ppg, 2.2 apg) would have been a good candidate in any other year.

Green has good chemistry on the floor with Ameen Tanksley, his boyhood pal from Philadelphia, and sophomore guard Marvin Jordan also scores over 10 points a night.

Mihalich doesn’t hesitate to use four guards, but that extra speed can also leave Niagara exposed in the rebounding department. Chirs Manhertz needs to continue to be a beast on the glass and Josiah Heath needs to come out with the same intensity that led him to a 14-rebound performance in the last Niagara game, which propelled Canisius to a gaping 52-37 advantage on the boards.

Where Canisius failed to succeed last game was turning opportunities into results: 21 offensive rebounds were only converted into 10 second-chance points.

Parrotta’s teams have now finished in the bottom four of the conference in five of his six seasons as coach. The team may want to forget about this year’s stats, but one record Parrotta won’t want to throw out is his mark in play-in round games: undefeated.

“We do have that in our favor, so we know we can win,” Parrotta said. “I think we’ll talk about that as a group. This is not uncharted territory. We’ve been in the play-in round before. We don’t like being here, but here we are and every time we’ve been in it we’ve been able to get a victory. Do we use that as motivation? I don’t know, but the guys will certainly be aware of that.”

Canisius and Niagara have the late game tonight, with tipoff set for 9:30 at the MassMutual Center. The winner will take on second-seeded Loyola at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Other matchups:

No. 1 Iona vs. winner of No. 8 Marist vs. No. 9 Saint Peter’s

No. 4 Fairfield vs. No. 5 Rider

No. 3 Manhattan vs. No. 6 Siena

Predictions:

Anything can happen in the conference tournament – just ask Saint Peter’s, which surprised everyone last year – but this year Iona is the true favorite. The Gaels’ 24-6 overall record could be enough for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, regardless of how they fare this weekend.

Iona finished the regular season No. 1 in the country in scoring at 83.4 ppg while losing only three conference games, falling to Siena and Loyola on the road and Manhattan at home.

All three teams, however, fall on the opposite side of the bracket as Iona, meaning the only place they could meet is in the MAAC Championship. The best team on Iona’s side is fourth-ranked Fairfield, which has the talent to win but hasn’t been able to play well in big games.

The nod has to go to NBA prospect Scott Machado and his Iona Gaels, with only the size of Loyola possibly preventing them from taking the MAAC crown.

Niagara sneaks past Canisius in OT; Griffs drop 10th straight

LEWISTON — For as disappointing as this season has been for the Canisius Golden Griffins, they were in a position Wednesday night to make it all go away.

Junior Alshwan Hymes was the Griff who deserved to take the final shot Wednesday night at the Gallagher Center.

A win over rival Niagara on its home court wouldn’t erase Canisius’ 4-21 record, wouldn’t make the team’s injuries heal any faster and wouldn’t make the blowout losses any less embarrassing, but for one night, everything would have been okay.

Alshwan Hymes stepped to the free-throw line with 6.7 seconds left in regulation and calmly hit both shots to tie the game at 55 and send his Griffs to overtime. Down by three points with the clock running out in the overtime period, Hymes again had the ball, and the game, in his hands.

After Gaby Belardo made a nice pass to find Hymes wide open, he set his feet, jumped, and released a clean look that would have sent the game to a second overtime. This time, Hymes’ shot hit the rim and fell back toward the floor. Belardo collected the rebound and ran behind the arc for a desperation attempt, but it was off the mark and Niagara claimed a 60-57 win.

“The ball was in our hands, on our terms, on the very last possession,” Canisius coach Tom Parrotta said. “We had a couple of shots at it. Gaby missed a layup, which he knows he needs to make the next time he’s in that position, but he turned around and made a great pass to ‘Shwan — who else do you want standing there with his feet set taking a three to send it to double overtime?”

“We needed three points, wide open three-pointer, that’s a shot I got to make,” Hymes said.

Canisius’ hopes had to come down to Hymes, who was the only Griff who could have been remotely happy with his offensive performance. He kept Canisius in the game with five three-pointers and finished with 19 points, more than twice as many as any teammate. Belardo and Harold Washington combined went 3-for-23 and scored 14 points, most of which coming from the free-throw line.

Neither team managed a field goal in overtime, with Niagara going 0-for-4 and Canisius going 0-for-8. The game was decided by five Niagara free throws in the extra session, all hit by Antoine Mason, who finished with a game-high 21 points. MAAC Rookie of the Year candidate Juan’ya Green had 16 points and five assists while knocking down 4 of 9 three-point attempts.

Shooting issues weren’t limited to overtime. Only 15 of the 59 three-point attempts in the game went in, just over 25 percent (Canisius 8 for 30, Niagara 7 for 29).

“It certainly wasn’t a beautiful thing,” Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. “It wasn’t beautiful, it wasn’t pretty, but at the end of the day, we won. Winners find a way to win.”

The key point of the game in regulation came when Josiah Heath converted the old-school three-point play – a basket and a foul shot – to tie the score at 41 with 12:23 to go. Neither team could score over the next three minutes as tension grew with possession of the game in the balance.

Franklin Milian hit a free throw with 9:11 left to give Canisius its first lead of the night and Hymes scored from distance later to make it a 7-0 run that put the visitors ahead 45-41. But Niagara answered with a 10-0 run of its own to retake a lead Canisius wouldn’t match until Hymes’ free throw and the end of regulation.

Heath, a freshman, was dominant on the glass with 14 rebounds and came up with a block and a steal on consecutive critical possessions in overtime.

It’s been over a decade since Canisius last beat Niagara at the Gallagher Center, though the last two games have come down to the final play. In last year’s meeting, Niagara won on a goaltending call at the buzzer, and Wednesday night took overtime before the Purple Eagles walked off victorious. Through 167 all-time meetings between the two schools, 18 games have gone to overtime, with each side winning nine apiece.