Everyone else was long-gone from the Koessler Athletic Center after a heartbreaking 77-76 loss to Rider Sunday afternoon, but Gaby Belardo remained.
The redshirt sophomore stood on the free-throw line at the southeast end of the empty gymnasium, where he knocked down shot after shot from the exact spot he missed from with 11.3 seconds left in the game.
For the second year in a row, Coles dropped 20 points on Rider at the KAC. Coles and Rider's Justin Robinson attended Blair Academy together.
The Broncs’ Mike Ringgold brought the ball into the frontcourt as the seconds dwindled down. He tripped, and then regained his balance before putting up a wild layup. Justin Robinson got the rebound, and put up a jumper that didn’t come close to hitting the net.
The air ball landed right in the hands of Novar Gadson with .7 seconds remaining. The Rider junior banked the ball off the backboard and into the hoop with no time left.
The Broncs dog-piled on Gadson while the rest of the gym went silent. The referees went to the monitor to make sure Gadson got the shot off in time—he did—before running to the locker room amid a chorus of boos from the 919 in attendance. They weren’t so much mad about the last call, but how the game ended up and the series of calls that led to the finale.
With the shot clock turned off and Canisius up by one, a loose ball went out of play and was awarded to Rider, much to the dismay of the crowd. Robinson got the ball on the inbound and missed a 3-point shot. The rebound came to Belardo, who raced down the court with a clear path to the hoop.
The Broncs’ Danny Stewart was able to catch Belardo and did whatever he could to foul him. The referees put Belardo on the line for a one-and-one, instead of calling an intentional foul that would have given Canisius two shots.
Belardo’s first shot rimmed out, and the rest is history.
Head coach Tom Parrotta and Belardo both acknowledged that an intentional foul should have been called, and that they thought going for the basket with 12 seconds left instead of going into the corner to try to kill more time was the right play given the situation.
“I was wide open,” Belardo said.
“I think clearly, it was a layup,” Parrotta reiterated. “He was wide open, and I don’t think you could get a better shot than that.”
Canisius started off the game on a 9-0 run and led by as many as 12 in the first half before taking a six-point lead into the locker room at 42-36. Led by senior Greg Logins’ 14 points, 42 marked the highest first-half production for the Griffs all season.
Senior Rob Goldsberry got hit in the face by Gadson early in the second half after a scramble for a loose ball that was not called during the play. After a monitor review, officials assessed Gadson an intentional foul and awarded Goldsberry two foul shots, which he hit.
Under previous rules, the only call that could come from a monitor review was a flagrant foul (and subsequent ejection; much like what happen to Canisius in last year’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament), or no foul at all. However, the NCAA changed that rule this season.
Since the foul was not called when it happened, play was allowed to continue and Gadson’s basket from that possession counted. According to NCAA Rule 2, Section 13, Article 6, “Any previous activity before the monitor review shall not be canceled or nullified.”
The Griffs led by 11 points with 15:27 to play, but five missed shots and six fouls later, Canisius found itself on the wrong end of a 14-0 run that put Rider in front, 59-56, with 12 minutes to play.
The rest of the game was hard-fought as neither team could pull away by more than four points.
Five straight points from senior Julius Coles gave Canisius the lead at 76-75 with 1:40 left, but those would be the last points the Griffs would score on the night.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” a lifeless Coles said after the game. “We worked so hard out there, we gave it our all, and we don’t have anything to show for it.”
Rider, which came into the contest top-10 in the country in 3-point percentage, hit 11 of 22 from behind the arc. Canisius shot 49.2 percent from the field and committed a season-low seven turnovers, but gave up 15 offensive rebounds.
Coles finished with 20 points and Logins finished with 18 points and seven rebounds. Senior Elton Frazier had 12 while Goldsberry had nine assists and no turnovers. For the Broncs, Robinson finished with 19 and Mike Ringgold had 17.
The loss drops Canisius to 7-8 on the year and just 1-4 in the MAAC, while Rider improves to 4-1 in conference play (12-5 overall). Dating back to 2006, Canisius has dropped 24 straight Sunday games.
“We haven’t performed up to our own expectations, and here we are, we’re 1-4 in the league,” Parrotta said. “It’s our intention to keep getting better. We’re clearly not there yet, but I have faith in these guys.”