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.


Postgame video: Monmouth 60, Canisius 54 — MAAC quarterfinals

By Nick Veronica

Jim Baron had plenty to say after Canisius’ exit from the MAAC Tournament. Listen below as Phil Valenti, Jeremiah Williams, Josiah Heath and Baron meet with the media following the loss.

Winning coach King Rice was loose as could be. He was joined by players Deon Jones, Andrew Nicholas and Justin Robinson.

Canisius press conference

Monmouth press conference

Check back later for an end-of-the-year column.

Immediate reactions: Monmouth eliminates Canisius, 60-54, in MAAC quarterfinals

Canisius 27 27 — 54
Monmouth 27 33 — 60

By Nick Veronica

What it means: Canisius’ overachieving season came to a frustrating end Saturday at the Times Union Center. The Griffs offense struggled to find its rhythm all afternoon before bowing out of the MAAC Tournament.

How it happened: Both Canisius and Monmouth are known more for defense than offense, and that certainly played out Saturday. The Hawks’ defense badgered Canisius from start to finish as the Griffs shot 38 percent from field and 30 percent from three-point range. The better team won.

Jeremiah Williams was Canisius’ lone offensive threat, scoring 18 points in his final collegiate game. Kassius Robertson scored 10 off the bench while Josiah Heath scored seven on 3 of 12 shooting. Monmouth’s First Team All-MAAC guard Justin Robinson scored 16 points but didn’t have an assist. Williams was the story in the first half, as he scored Canisius’ first nine points and 14 of the team’s 27 in the first 20 minutes.

Canisius was in the game until the final seconds and finished the year 16-14 overall. Monmouth advanced to face No. 1 Iona on Sunday.


Turning point: With 13 minutes to go, Monmouth went on a 13-0 run that spanned about five minutes and put the Hawks up 47-39. Canisius never regained the lead.

Valenti returns: Canisius forward Phil Valenti returned to action Saturday after dislocating his right ankle on Jan. 30. Valenti, sporting braces on both ankles, checked in with 15:55 left in the first half and finished with three points in limited action. He was cleared to play on Thursday and was obviously not 100 percent.

End of the line for seniors: 

… or is it?

Stat that was good: Josiah Heath had a career-high five assists.

Stat that was bad: Jamal Reynolds was credited with six turnovers.

Vegas line: The line was a pick last night and moved to Monmouth -1 today. The Hawks covered.

Next game: We’ll see what happens with the CIT. If not, Canisius’ next game will be an exhibition in October.

Check back later for an end-of-the-year column on Canisius’ encouraging season.

MAAC Tournament Gameday: 5-Canisius vs. 4-Monmouth

MAAC Tournament quarterfinals: 4-Monmouth vs. 5-Canisius,
2:30 p.m., Times Union Center, Albany

By Nick Veronica

After earning a surprising fifth-seed in the MAAC, Canisius meets No. 4 Monmouth today in the quarterfinals.

Canisius Golden Griffins: 16-13 overall, 11-9 MAAC, picked 10th in preseason poll. RPI: 171. BPI: 161. KenPom: 176. Streak: W1.

Monmouth Hawks: 17-14 overall, 13-7 MAAC, picked sixth in preseason poll. RPI: 194. BPI: 182. KenPom: 185. Streak: W1.


Sooo… who’s gonna win? At first glance, Monmouth appears to have an edge in this matchup, given that it’s seeded higher and that it swept the season series from Canisius. But it’s certainly worth noting that Canisius fared better than Monmouth in all three national rankings listed at above. Additional, KenPom’s MAAC Tournament preview favored Canisius over Monmouth, projecting the Griffs to advance to the semifinals 51.2 percent of the time. (KenPom also gave Canisius a 19.9 percent shot of advancing to the championship game and a 9.6 percent chance of winning the whole thing. Iona, of course, is the favorite.)

[Niagara eliminated from MAAC Tournament, 71-54]

Monmouth’s King Rice is seen a slick, up-and-coming coach while Jim Baron is the savvy old vet who brings his lunch pail to work and just the job done. Both teams are known more for their defense than their offense, though Canisius has the edge in rebounding. This one could go either way, but after how the last two seasons ended for Canisius, doesn’t a third meeting with Iona feel imminent?

(What’s that? No? Hmm. Well, like I said. Toss-up.)

If it makes you feel any better, Canisius’ game notes are feeling confident:

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 11.56.08 PMVegas says: At the time of this writing, Vegas Insider has the game as a pick. Like I said, toss-up.

Players to watch: Monmouth guard Justin Robinson was named First Team All-MAAC by the league’s coaches after averaging 13.4 points and 3.8 assists per game, which was fourth in the conference. Deon Jones adds 12.7 ppg for the Hawks while Brice Kofane leads the team with 5.8 rebounds a night.

[Marist upsets Quinnipiac at MAAC Tournament]

Canisius is led by MAAC Third Team selection Zach Lewis, who averages 12.9 points a night but hits only 33.3 percent of his field goals (120 for 360). Forward Josiah Heath has stepped up his game since Phil Valenti’s injury, averaging 13.6 points and 10.7 rebounds since becoming the go-to forward. Heath’s improved play can also be attributed the senior’s experience, becoming the Griffs’ all-time leader in games played (127) during the final week of the regular season (breaking a record held by Frank Turner). Additionally, Jeremiah Williams has been hot, averaging 15.6 points per game over the last five games.

Series history: Season: Monmouth 2-0. All-time: Monmouth 3-1. Tournament: 0-0. Jim Baron vs. Monmouth: 7-9.

Bleeker honored: Canisius redshirt junior Kevin Bleeker was named to the MAAC’s all-academic team Friday afternoon. Rider’s Kevin Baggett was named Coach of the Year. As I said here, I would’ve voted for Baron, but expected Baggett to win.

Random player tweets: 

Bold prediction: Jim Baron gets hit with a technical foul Saturday. BONUS BOLD PREDICTION: The Tim Horton’s coffee I get before the ride to Albany will be Roll up the Rim winner. (I don’t know which is more likely.)

Score guess: Canisius has outperformed every projection this season, so I won’t pick against it now. Canisius 71, Monmouth 65.

How to follow the game: I’ll have courtside updates on Twitter and will have reactions, video and more posted here shortly after the final buzzer. The game will be available online via ESPN3. You should also send a Twitter follow to Jon Snyder and Pat Malicaro, whom I’ll be bothering with random sports trivia the entire ride down.

Postgame interviews: Niagara 82, Canisius 71

By Nick Veronica

Interviews from Niagara’s road win over Canisius, which stretched Niagara’s winning streak to three games…

Canisius coach Jim Baron

Jim Baron said he knew his team’s “mindset was gonna be fragile” coming into the game. I asked him what he meant by that since Canisius entered the night on a three-game winning streak.

“We were picked 10th,” he said, referencing the MAAC’s preseason poll.

Well you’re fifth right now, I said.

“We got two guys, two starters out, so we’ve been very fortunate to win those games the way we won,” Baron countered.

Translation: Everything Canisius needed to go right went right in those wins. The Griffs are toast from here on out if they don’t have their A-game.

Canisius’ Jeremiah Williams and Josiah Heath

Tuesday was the final Niagara game for Canisius seniors Josiah Heath and Jeremiah Williams, barring something wild in the conference tournament.

“Really wanted that one,” Williams said. “Really did.”

“Disappointed,” Heath added. “We got outplayed. That’s what happens.”

Niagara’s Chris Casey, Ramone Snowden, Emile Blackman

“You saw the togetherness in that run, and that’s the way they are every day,” NU coach Chris Casey said of his team’s blistering start to the second half.

Blackman was humble about his big alley-oop: “It was a great play call, great screen by Ramone. I told him it was his basket. I got the points but it wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t set it.”