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.

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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.

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Canisius ties NCAA comeback record, beats UL-Monroe in triple OT

By Nick Veronica

Canisius erased an 11-point deficit in the final 40 seconds of regulation and went on to beat Louisiana-Monroe in triple overtime Tuesday night, 108-96, tying the NCAA record for largest deficit overcome in the final minute of a game.

Canisius joined UNLV as the only Division I basketball team on record to ever win a game when trailing by 11 points with less than one minute to go. No team had ever trailed by as many points as Canisius with less time remaining while still managing to win the game.

Here’s the list of largest last-minute comebacks from the NCAA record book:

The victory pairs Canisius with Nicholls State for the final round of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic on Wednesday. Tipoff at Orleans Arena is set for 5 p.m. Eastern.

The comeback

Poor free-throw shooting doomed UL-Monroe, which missed six of its last seven free throws in the final 1:10 of regulation. Canisius made all four 3-pointers it took in the final minute.

11 – Canisius trailed by 13 points before freshman Chris Atkinson started the comeback, hitting two free throws with 1:02 to play.

8 – Justin Roberson missed the front end of a 1-and-1 on UL-Monroe’s next possession before Atkinson hit a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left to cut the deficit to eight points at 77-69.

5 – Nick Coppola was the next Warhawk to miss the front end of a 1-and-1, and Isaiah Gurley hit a 3-pointer to make it 77-62 with 32 seconds left.

3 – After UL-Monroe entered the double bonus, Majok Deng hit 1-of-2 free throws with 25 seconds left, but Canisius’ Jermaine Crumpton hit a 3-pointer just three seconds later to make it a one-possession game at 78-75.

0 – Travis Munnings missed both of his free throws with 19 seconds left, which set up Atkinson’s game-tying triple with 12 seconds remaining.

Canisius erased an 11-point hole in just 28 seconds of game time. ULM coach Keith Richard took a timeout with four seconds left to draw up a play for a game-winning shot, but Deng’s late 3-pointer missed.

Overtime: 78-78

ULM’s Marcus Washington fouled Malcolm McMillan on a 3-point attempt with six seconds left while Canisius trailed by two.

McMillan hit all three shots to put the Griffs up by one. ESPN then sent out an alert that the game had gone final, but jumped the gun – ULM had two free throws to shoot in the final second. Coppola made the first but missed the second, sending the game to a second overtime.

2OT: 89-89

Deng tied the game with 37 seconds left, but Canisius looked like it would win when Kassius Robertson was fouled with one second remaining. Nope. He missed both shots to force triple overtime.

3OT: 96-96

Canisius outscored ULM 12-0 in the final overtime period to clinch a share of an NCAA record. McMillan had eight of the 12 points while Robertson found a bit of redemption, hitting both of his free throws. Four ULM players fouled out in the game, including three starters. Only Atkinson fouled out for Canisius.

Robertson finished with a career-high 28 points, which led all players. McMillan had 21 for the Griffs, while Phil Valenti had 16 and Atkinson and Crumpton each scored 13. ULM had six players in double-figures, led by Deng’s 21.

“When we were down eight, I told the guys: we can win this thing,” Canisius coach Jim Baron said. “We had to withstand the wave and we just kept battling.”

Junkyard dogs

The win also gave Baron an opportunity to use his favorite phrase.

“That right there was an example of how we play,” Baron said. “We’re junkyard dogs. We don’t give up.”

The win brought the Griffs to 5-6 and marked their first win this season away from the Koessler Athletic Center. ULM also moved to 5-6.

atkinson

Atkinson

Coppola played a school-record 54 minutes for ULM. Robertson led Canisius with 48 minuted but didn’t come close to the school record Billy Baron set by playing all 55 minutes of a triple-overtime win against Siena in 2014.

Canisius improved to 5-1 all-time in games going three overtimes or longer. That includes Canisius’ 4OT win over N.C. State in the 1956 NCAA Tournament, which Sports Illustrated in 2014 ranked as the No. 1 tournament upset of all-time.

Postgame interviews: Canisius 84, Boston University 68

By Nick Veronica

Malcolm McMillan doesn’t care if he gets “posterized” – being dunked over so hard that the image is worthy of hanging on a bedroom wall.

He’s been on the wrong end of an ESPN highlight before. So what? Getting scored on is getting scored on. For him, the risk is worth the reward. He might only be 6 feet tall but he’s going for the block every time.

Late in the first half of Saturday’s win over Boston University, the Canisius senior raced back on defense for chance to stop an uncontested basket. Sure, there was a chance McMillan could look silly. BU’s Eric Fanning was going in all alone. But McMillan caught Fanning from behind at the last second and rejected a breakaway dunk.

The crowd loved it. The Griffs fed off the energy and blew the game open shortly after, pushing their lead from 13 to 20 points just before halftime.

mcmillan

McMillan

The official scorekeeper didn’t credit McMillan with a block on the play, instead calling it a missed dunk, but McMillan knows what happened.

“That definitely was a block,” he said.

“Great play,” Phil Valenti added. “He does that kind of stuff all the time.”

All the time? Oh yeah, all the time.

“When things like that happen, I take it as a chance to make a great play,” McMillan said. “I jump up for everything. Trust me: everything.

“I’ve been dunked on, too. I’ve been on ESPN Top 10 before. That stuff like that doesn’t bother me at all. I jump for any and everything, and these guys will tell you, even in practice dudes have dunked on me before. But I don’t really look at it [like that]; it’s just a guy scored on me.”

So sure, the Griffs can light up the scoreboard on offense. They entered Saturday’ game 33rd nationally in scoring average at 83.9 points per game. But that doesn’t mean much unless it’s paired with good defense. And a commitment keeping the ball out of the basket is exactly with McMillan showed on that play.

“I have to step up and make plays like that to send a message to everybody else on the team,” he said. “That’s just stepping up and being a leader.”

Jim Baron interview

“Both teams went through exam week, so I was very, very concerned with this game coming in,” Baron said.

“But I thought we did a real good job – especially in the fist half – of defending and rebounding. That’s the thing I’ve been harping on with this basketball team: I mean, we can score, but we need to defend and rebound.”

Boston University coach Joe Jones was ejected from the game in the final two minutes. BU players and coaches did not meet with Buffalo media after the game.

Gameday: Canisius at UB, 2 p.m.

By Nick Veronica

Canisius will make the 6 1/2-mile trip to UB Saturday afternoon for a 2 p.m. tipoff at Alumni Arena.

Canisius Golden Griffins: 2-2 overall, 0-1 road. Streak: L1. KenPom rank: 158. RPI: 241.

University at Buffalo, the State University of New York Bulls: 3-2 overall, 2-2 vs. Division I teams, 0-0 home. Streak: W2. KenPom rank: 150. RPI: 166.

Vegas line: UB -1.5, over/under 153.5.

What’s at stake: Local bragging rights are always on the line when Big 4 teams meet, and this game is especially important for Canisius in that regard. The Griffs are coming off a four-point home loss to St. Bonaventure, so a loss Saturday would mean they’d have to sweep Niagara just to go .500 against local opponents. UB hosts St. Bonaventure on Wednesday and doesn’t play Niagara, so this appears to be the more winnable of its Big 4 games this season.

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Series history: Canisius leads the all-time series, 31-16, but UB won seven of the last 10.

Canisius players to watch: Start with Malcolm McMillan, the point guard who’s fifth nationally in scoring at 25.5 points per game (it would take a 37-point game would spring him to first). Jamal Reynolds is averaging 9.8 rebounds per game, good for 49th in the country, and his 23 offensive rebounds rank 10th. Junior Phil Valenti scored 11 points in both of his first two games against UB.

UB players to watch: The Bulls have received very balanced scoring through five games, with Lamonte Bearden, Rodell Wigginton, Blake Hamilton and Willie Conner all averaging double-figures. Bearden leads the team at 13.0 ppg, and he’ll look to put up another strong game against the Griffs – he had his coming out party last year at First Niagara Center against Canisius, scoring a game-high 23 points.

Home opener, of sorts: UB hosted Division III Pitt-Bradford two weeks ago, but Saturday is Nate Oats’ first true home game against real competition. It’ll be nice for the Bulls to return home following four games in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic, and a good crowd should be on hand to welcome Oats, the first-year coach who’s been dealing with his wife’s cancer diagnosis.

Saturday’s game is also UB’s first basketball game since Allen Greene was named athletic director, following Danny White’s departure. Just don’t lobby Greene to remove UB’s “New York Bulls Initiative” – that’s not up to him.

Potpourri: I missed the Canisius-Bona game, but it looks like Jim Baron had some interesting things to say in his press conference:

How to follow the game: Tickets are available at the UB box office; streaming is available via ESPN3; tweets are available via my feed and probably most of the Big 4 basketball Twitter list (are you a writer who needs to be added? DM me); and immediate reactions will be posted here shortly after the final buzzer.

Gameday: Canisius home opener vs. Lehigh, 7 p.m.

By Nick Veronica

Canisius looks to bounce back from a season-opening loss to Hofstra when Lehigh visits the Koessler Athletic Center tonight at 7 p.m.

Canisius Golden Griffins: 0-1 overall, 0-0 home. Streak: L1. KenPom rank: 160.

Lehigh Mountain Hawks: 0-1 overall, 0-1 road. Streak: L1. KenPom rank: 122.

What’s at stake: Both teams are looking for their first win of the season after losing Friday night. It’s the home opener for Canisius, while Lehigh continues a tough opening stretch that features six of its first seven games on the road. Canisius has never been more than one game below .500 under fourth-year coach Jim Baron (and it was never more than two games above .500 under Tom Parrotta).

Canisius has never been two games below .500 under Jim Baron.

Canisius has never been two games below .500 under Jim Baron.

Top dogs: For the second game in a row, Canisius faces both a team that was picked first in its preseason poll and the player who was named the league’s preseason Player of the Year. Tonight Canisius will have to deal with Lehigh center Tim Kempton, who averaged 15.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last year before being named Patriot League Player of the Year.

Hawks hang with Orange: Lehigh actually made a run on Syracuse in Friday’s opener, cutting the Orange’s lead to just six points midway through the second half. The Orange went on to win 57-47, but not before Kempton posted a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.

Encore performance: How does Malcolm McMillan follow up his stellar first game? The Central Connecticut transfer dropped a career-high 33 points and recorded six assists Friday in his first game. According to Canisius SID Matt Reitnour, that was the most points for a player in his Griff debut since Larry Fogle opened with 35 points in 1973.

Fogle went on to lead the nation in scoring that year at 33.4 points per game. McMillan obviously can’t be expected to continue scoring at that pace, but if he can consistently produce even half of what he put up Friday, he’s going to make the Griffs a very dangerous team in the MAAC.

Short up front: Canisius will again be without forward Jermaine Crumpton, who serves the second game of his three-game suspension Monday. The status of forward Cassidy Ryan, who didn’t travel to the last game due to a death in his immediate family, is unknown. Six-foot-8 sophomore transfer Ron Gombe played two minutes in the opener but didn’t record a stat.

Return game: Canisius played Lehigh in its second game of last season as well, winning 63-51 on the road. Zach Lewis had 24 points and Jamal Reynolds had 12. Kempton led Lehigh with 19. It was Baron’s first career game against the Mountain Hawks.

Good home-opening numbers: Canisius is 53-21 all-time in home openers and 14-9 in home openers at the KAC. Canisius hasn’t lost a home opener under Baron.

Random player tweet: Goals, Timothy. Goals.

As an interesting aside, Kemtpon is actually Tim Kempton Jr., and his dad, Tim Sr., played college basketball at Notre Dame in the 1980s while Jim Baron was an assistant there.

How to follow the game: You could go to the game, or watch online via WatchESPN. Jay Moran’s radio call goes out on 102.9 FM and 1230 AM. I’ll tweet updates @NickVeronica, and I probably should update the Twitter list of Big 4 basketball writers. I’ll have a recap posted shortly after the final buzzer.