Canisius taken to school by Niagara underclassmen

Gaby Belardo had the hot hand early on.

Out-played. Out-hustled. Out-teamworked. Out-coached.

Tom Parrotta and the Canisius basketball team were out-everythinged Thursday night in an embarrassing 75-56 loss on their home court to none other than rival Niagara, dropping Parrotta to 3-8 all-time versus the Purple Eagles.

Antoine Mason scored 22 points and Juan’ya Green captained the floor with 11 assists as Niagara’s young guns showed a sellout crowd of 2,196 Blue and Gold basketball fans what a promising group of recruits looks like.

Canisius led early but limped to the finish line.

“Gaby [Belardo] came out and started on fire, then we kind of leveled off and then we just labored,” Parrotta said. “We labored to score. We’re trying to have our defense keep us in games but until we figure out ways to score points from the guys who need to score points, we’re going to find ourselves in this type of position.

“We have some holes to fill, obviously.”

Canisius junior guard Gaby Belardo started the game emotionally charged, dedicating his performance to his late grandfather, who passed away earlier this week. Belardo opened the scoring with a layup and followed it with a 3-pointer that was deep from NBA standards.

He assisted Chris Manhertz’s jumper on the next possession and then came back with another bucket from 3-point range. After a Niagara timeout, he cut through the lane and put up an acrobatic reverse layup, which circled the rim and fell in.

It looked like this could be the start of one of those Canisius-Niagara rivalry performances where one player takes his game to another level and steals the show. Three minutes and 13 seconds into the game, Belardo already 10 points and the Griffs led 12-4.

Then they forgot to play the rest of the half.

Marvin Jordan came off the bench for Niagara and turned the tide with 12 straight points – four consecutive 3-pointers – during a 12-minute stretch of basketball when Niagara tripled Canisius, 33-11.

A small burst at the end of the half brought the Griffs back within 10 at the break, 37-27, but catch-up is not a good game for a team to play when it came into the contest 0-10 this year when trailing at the break or for a coach who came in 6-52 in his career when losing at halftime of conference games.

Canisius made things interesting in the second half, as it tends to, cutting it to a two-possession game at 58-53 with 5:45 to go. But after spending themselves to close the gap, the Griffs – whose bench played only 18 minutes and was outscored by Niagara’s, 25-0 – ran out of gas.

Junior guard Alshwan Hymes led Canisius on offense with 20 points and could be found instructing younger players during breaks in the action. He usually remains stoic at press conferences, but Thursday night he spoke out at length about one of his team’s overarching problems.

“I think that’s something that shows up in a lot of our games: We get down early by a lot of points and we end up coming back, getting it to single digits, and then it comes down to a string of plays [where] we just can’t convert on the offensive end and can’t get stops on the defensive end and it goes right back,” he said. “By that time it’s too late. Those strings where we get the score down to single digits and we start coming back, people can see how good of a team we can be. Once we can put 40 minutes of that together, we’ll be at the top of this league.”

The Griffs don’t even have the inexperience excuse to use after this game. They got beat by a group of underclassmen. Niagara started one junior, one sophomore and three freshmen. Jordan, a sophomore, came off the bench for his big night. Seniors played only three minutes in the entire game, with Canisius’ Marial Dhal logging all 180 seconds. The Griffs’ first-year players, including transfers, were 3-for-19 from the field for 10 points. Niagara’s freshmen went 18-of-38 for 48.

Parrotta is now 3-8 in his career vs. Niagara.

Junior transfer Harold Washington, the Griffs’ leading scorer who was recruited by Mihalich long before he heard of Canisius College, had another night to forget. He was shut out for the first three-quarters of the game and finished with six points on 2-of-10 shooting. Outside of Hymes, Manhertz had the only other respectable night for Canisius, finishing with a double-double of 13 points and 15 rebounds, including nine of the offensive end.

Belardo started the game red hot, going 4-for-4 for 10 points in the first 200 seconds of the game, but went 0-for-12 with three free throws in the 2,220 seconds that followed.

“This game was probably one of the most important games of my life,” Belardo said. “It was really emotional and it was really important to me. I really wanted to get this win but unfortunately it didn’t go that way.”

Belardo closed by saying that his Griffs will return the favor on Niagara’s home court later in the year. They’ll have their work cut out for them – the teams meet again in the Gallagher Center in 26 days, a building Canisius hasn’t won in since 2002.

Bench production has been a struggle for Canisius all season, but the climb got even steeper Thursday when redshirt sophomore Reggie Groves was unable to play. He has been limited all season long by an arthritic knee that has been through three surgeries, but Parrotta said after the game Groves tweaked it further in the week leading up to the game.

Groves switched between a hard brace and a soft brace earlier in the season but settled on the soft brace for comfort. He participated in warm-ups Thursday but Parrotta used freshman Franklin Milian in his place.


Canisius only Big 4 basketball program meeting NCAA regulation

The NCAA released its Academic Progress Rate public report earlier this week, which listed the men’s basketball teams at Niagara, Buffalo and St. Bonaventure all to have APR levels below what it considers acceptable, as well as UB football.

Tom Parrotta and his group of seniors received national recognition for graduating with their Master's degrees in four years.

Instituted in 2005, the APR is a coarse measure of how many student-athletes are on track to graduate. As an attempt to hold institutions accountable as well as individuals, the NCAA punishes schools it grades below an acceptable score of 925. Repeat offenders can lose scholarships, practice time, playoff eligibility or, in a worst-case scenario, recognition as a Division I program.

Each player on a team can score two possible points, one for staying academically eligible and another for returning to school the following year (not transferring) — two key stats the NCAA sees as crucial to graduation rates. The scores for every member on the team are added up, and then divided by the number of possible points the team could have earned, yielding a percentage. The percentage is multiplied by 1,000 (lose the decimal point) to give the score. The 925 level means a team has earned 92.5 percent of the points it could possibly earn.

Joe Mihalich’s Purple Eagles, which scored a perfect 1,000 in 2008-09, dropped below the cutoff to 917 last year. NU will not be punished because the perfect score inflates its multi-year average to 929, just above the limit.

Reggie Witherspoon’s UB basketball team scored a deplorable 885 in 2009-10, the academic year this report was released for. The Bulls will not face penalty because their multi-year average is 943, still above the 925 level.

Down in Olean, the Bonnies came up short at 902, but will not be punished. They are still feeling the effects of the coaching change that brought in Mark Schmidt, when several players transferred out and brought Bona’s APR down to 826 in 2006-07. The school’s multi-year average is still below the limit at 894, but they have already been penalized for the 826 year and, according to a report, St. Bonaventure is within the parameters of a waiver it filed with the NCAA two years ago.

On Main Street, Tom Parrotta’s bunch made the grade with a 936 score, bringing the multi-year APR to 953. The Griffs have never missed the cut and, in fact, no Canisius team in any sport has ever fallen below the 925 limit.

UB football is in a similar situation to St. Bonaventure. Several players left following the departure of Turner Gill in 2010, but the large roster size in football allows the Bulls to absorb several losses. The 2009-10 APR was 918 but Jeff Quinn’s team will not be punished because its multi-year score is 930.

The ice hockey programs at Canisius and Niagara were both well above the limit (1,000 and 977, respectively), and all four women’s basketball programs scored very highly (UB, Canisius, Niagara: 1,000; St. Bonaventure: 981).

It should be noted that these scores say nothing about how well student-athletes are doing in the classroom, just that they remained eligible.

For more, check out the NCAA’s APR page yourself, here for the penalty breakdown, or here for more details on how the APR is calculated.