Droughts leave Griffs looking for answers, wins

It seems like a recurring theme for the Canisius basketball team over the last few years. One second the Griffs are in the game, then you blink and the opponent has busted it open with a lopsided run, usually caused by some combination of cold shooting, turnovers, soft defense and fast breaks going the opposite direction.

Mark down Saturday afternoon’s 77-62 loss at Loyola of Maryland as another one of those.

7-foot-3 senior Marial Dhal is extremely difficult to get around when he stretches out, as he does here during a promotion earlier this season. He could be in line for more game time if he plays solid defense.

A Chris Manhertz layup gave Canisius the lead for 41 seconds in the first half before a 9-0 run put Loyola back ahead. The Griffs came back and made it a one-possession game at 23-20, but then gave up smaller runs of 7-0 and 7-2 and trailed by 13 at the break.

The Griffs are yet to come back and win a game this season when they trail at halftime. Going down 37-24 on the road in a conference game doesn’t make it any easier.

But the Griffs battled back once again, this time using balanced scoring to double-up their first half total just over eight minutes into the second half. Alshwan Hymes hit a 3-pointer to bring Canisius within four points with ten minutes to go.

At 57-53, it was anyone’s game for the taking. And then you blinked.

Harold Washington and Reggie Groves scored the Griffs’ only two baskets over the next eight minutes while Robert Olson and Dylon Cormier powered Loyola to an 18-4 run that put the game well out of reach.

It was the second game in a row that Canisius missed 8 of 10 consecutive shots to get in a deep hole, only this time there was no miraculous comeback to make things interesting.

Canisius’ shifting zone defense, which had held opponents to a MAAC-best 32.3 percent from 3-point range coming into the game, was exposed by the Greyhounds (11-4, 4-1), who hit 9 of 17 (.529) from behind the arc.

Cormier led all scorers with 23 points and Olson was next with 16 as the guards combined to hit 7 of 11 3-pointers.

Marial Dhal is seeing an increased role on this road trip, logging a career-high 18 minutes against Loyola. After being robbed of at least two blocked shots on the official stats Thursday night, Dhal responded with a Tomas Vazquez-Simmons-like five-block performance in Saturday’s game that left quite the impression on the Greyhound broadcasters.

He will see more game time if he can hold his own on the defensive end, which, for the 7-foot-3 senior, will include rebounding. Dhal only collected two boards — both defensive — and was worked over by smaller players several times as the Greyhounds dominated Canisius in the rebounding department. Loyola grabbed 24 of 30 Canisius misses and almost half of their own (13 of 29) while seven Greyhounds had at least four rebounds, compared with only two Griffs who matched that feat.

Washington, the MAAC’s second-leading scorer, was 6 of 14 for a quiet 15 points and two assists in front of a large group of family and friends from his hometown of nearby Brandywine, Md.

Gaby Belardo looked like “the old Gaby Belardo” — the player he promised to return to — for the second game in a row, playing through a herniated disc for his a nice stat line of 14 points, seven assists, five steals and two turnovers in 35 minutes of work. He might even be better than the “old” Belardo since making that decree: he has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5:1 over the last two games.

The Griffs now sit in the basement of the MAAC at 0-5, but have a chance to move up with a three-game homestand that starts next Friday, Jan. 13 when the Marist Red Foxes (7-8, 2-2) come to the Koessler Athletic Center.

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Griffs first-half report card

Canisius' own Fab Five (left to right): Rob Goldsberry, Tomas Vazquez-Simmons, Elton Frazier, Greg Logins, Julius Coles.

Don’t look now, but Canisius’ 2010-2011 men’s basketball season is already halfway over.

Through 15 games, the Griffs have compiled a record of 7-8 and are just 1-4 in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play.

Surely this is not the position the program hoped to be in at this point in the season, especially in a year it has five seniors who all contribute significant minutes.

Canisius currently sits in eighth place in the MAAC, on pace to finish bottom-four in the conference for the 12th straight year.

Canisius has played well at points this season but struggles with consistency. The Griffs have the potential to win on any given night, but even head coach Tom Parrotta admits the team hasn’t played to potential.

With the second (and more important) half of the season ahead, here are the Griffs midterm grades:

Offense: B-

Canisius is third in the league in scoring average at 69.8, which puts the team in the top half of the country. However, the emergence of Alshwan Hymes as a 3-point threat is the only thing that keeps the Griffs out of C-range.

The first half against Rider last Sunday was about as well as the offense has been running all season. A shooting percentage over .500 and 20 points in the paint led to a 42-point outburst against a good team. The Griffs moved the ball well and the defense created offense.

Elton Frazier dunks in the Carrier Dome.

But over the next 20 minutes, Canisius went back to old habits. Settling for bad shots early in the shot clock is a good way to lose a lead. So is missing free throws. And giving up huge runs.

Giving up runs has been a major problem for the team. Even after getting ahead early, Canisius frequently allows huge, momentum-swinging, lead-changing runs. Five or six minutes of bad basketball is more than enough to blow a game. The defense is just as much to blame for giving up runs, but if you keep scoring then it isn’t really a run.

People in sports love talking about the “eye test”—whether or not it simply “looks good”—and that can be a good way to judge the Griffs. The half-court offense always seems lethargic and there isn’t really any killer instinct. Even against Siena’s zone last Friday, Canisius got the ball moving, but it just wasn’t moving fast enough.

The individual play isn’t there either. No players are in the top-10 in the MAAC in scoring. Elton Frazier leads the team at 11.9 points per game (ppg). Julius Coles, a Preseason Second Team All-MAAC selection who averaged 13.6 points last year, is second on the team at 11.1.

Hymes is third 10.6, and Gaby Belardo and Greg Logins are close behind at 9.9 and 9.5, respectively. Canisius could potentially have five players scoring in double-digits, but again, were talking about potential and not the real thing.

Defense: B-

The Griffs have been equally as shoddy on the defensive end as the offensive. Whatever points the unit earned against Siena, it handed right back against Rider.

Tomas Vazquez-Simmons is tied for second in MAAC history with 248 blocks, but it’s going to take more than a few blocks to start winning some basketball games. The Griffs’ 70.5 points allowed per game puts them fifth in the league and 234th in the country.

Though Canisius is thought to have decent size, a lot of the players are tall but not very wide. This difference between “big men” and “tall men” was exposed in the game against Syracuse. You can argue that Syracuse exposes weaknesses in everyone, but take the Rider game for example. Even one of the bigger men, Logins, was no match inside for Mike Ringgold.

Their size does help them rebound, which is one of the few things they do well night in and night out. The Griffs lead the MAAC in rebounding average and are 80th in the country. Not allowing second chances is especially important for stopping runs, and can help in the transition game.

Again, it goes back to the eye test. Far too often, opponents have open looks at the hoop before knocking down shots. Not sort-of open, wide open. If Division-I players have time to set their feet and look right at the rim, they are going to make shots.

Six of Canisius’ seven wins this season came when they held opponents to under 40 percent from the field. That’s not a challenge, that’s something to work on.

Coaching: C+

Marial Dhal has been a waste thus far, averaging just 4.3 minutes per game… in the ones he actually gets in to. There’s a problem when we’re getting excited over a season-high four points.

Parrotta after Canisius beat Niagara in overtime last year (the white shoes were part of a promotion).

The team is still falling into the same issues it had last season and the senior core is not as far along as one might have hoped.

Two things Tom Parrotta teams are known for are rebounding and free-throw shooting. They have rebounding. Converting from the charity stripe is another story. The team works hard at this in practice, often hitting around 80 percent, but it hasn’t translated to the games. Not only does the team struggle to get to the line (last in the conference in FTs attempted per game), once they get there, the Griffs only convert 65.7 percent of the time.

Parrotta was given an extension in the offseason to keep him with Canisius through the 2012-13 season, but the classroom aspect and potential recruiting issues played just as large a role in the decision as actual performance on the court. Graduating all seniors with master’s degrees is certainly honorable and looks great for the institution, but it doesn’t do much for the win-loss column.

The fifth-year head coach has also had trouble getting change out of his team following halftime. The second half almost always plays out like the first, for better or for worse. Parrotta’s teams have held the halftime lead 57 times in his tenure, and they went on to win 40 of those games, good for a .702 percentage.

However, when trailing at halftime, Parrotta-led teams rarely come back. When behind at halftime since 2006, Canisius’ record is 8-69. Looking at only MAAC games, the record falls to 4-42, or .087.

Over the last two seasons, Canisius has never come back to win a game after trailing by more than 10 points, but as recently as last Sunday the Griffs blew a 14-point lead.

The players certainly seem to like playing for Coach P, but alumni and fans need more.

Bench: B

The matchup between Canisius freshman Chris Manhertz and UB freshman Javon McCrea will be a good one for years to come, but first Manhertz has to get himself on the court. While McCrea is atop the country in shooting percentage, Manhertz has been limited to only six games all season with an ankle injury.

Reggie Groves.

Canisius is getting fairly good production from its bench, which scores 24.1 ppg, or 35 percent of the offense.

A few players have battled the injury bug this season, but depth is somewhat of a concern. Hymes usually comes off the bench, as does either Logins or Vazquez-Simmons. Redshirt freshman Reggie Groves has provided a spark and looks more and more confident with the ball in his hands. After those players, there are some question marks.

Dhal has played 47 minutes all season and often looks lost. Ashton Khan looks like he can finish at the hoop, but hasn’t gotten into Parrotta’s rotation. Rokas Gricius hasn’t played since Nov. 23 against UB, sometimes due to injury, but usually due to coach’s decision. Eric Kindler played in every game but one in December, but still has work to do before he can think about being a regular contributor.

Overall: C+

A team searching for an identity after Frank Turner is yet to find it, unless inconsistency is what they are going with.

Turner (left) and Belardo.

A lot of excitement surrounded Belardo before the season as many slated him the next big thing for Canisius. The main knock on Belardo’s predecessor, Turner, was his turnover issues, but thus far Belardo has followed suit.

Through 15 games, Belardo has 56 turnovers, more per game than Turner, which puts him 40th in the country. Belardo has 56 assists for an even assist/turnover ratio of 1.0., not comparable with the better guards in the league like Derek Needham (1.31), Justin Robinson (1.65) or Scott Machado (2.27).

To be fair, Belardo is seventh in the MAAC in assists per game and has done a lot of good things too. Almost every opposing coach comments about him, and twice he has scored 19 points in a game.

However, after UB showed how to eliminate Belardo from the game, opponents have watched that tape and adjusted their defense accordingly, at times stymieing the Canisius offense.

Belardo’s 19 helped power the Griffs past St. Bonaventure in the opening game of the year, but we haven’t seen any fire from the Griffs since. A few alley-oops and heated moments here and there, but no defining, coming together moment.

The MAAC is wide open this season and is there for the taking for a team with five seniors. But it’s going to take more than one win against a team above .500, which is how many Canisius has right now (Bonaventure).

The MAAC Tournament is less than 50 days away. There’s light at the end of the tunnel if the Griffs can turn this thing around, but Parrotta’s group is going to have to put the pedal to the metal for that to happen.

Stats as of 1/11/11

Hymes sets shooting record as Griffs roll Northwestern State

Alshawn Hymes is now shooting .427 from 3-point range, which puts him in the top-40 nationally.

What a difference ten days can make.

Just over a week removed from a sloppy 12-point loss to Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La., a completely different Canisius team took the court Wednesday night in Buffalo as the Griffs manhandled the Demons, 85-52, at the Koessler Athletic Center.

It was a career day for sophomore Alshawn Hymes, who set the Canisius College record for most 3-pointers in a single game, with nine.

“I came in this morning and I just felt like something hit me, like the team was ready to play,” Hymes said. “It’s something I felt it a couple games throughout the season so far, but it was just so much stronger tonight.

“I dream about [nights like this] all the time. I know how good of a team we can be, and tonight we proved we’re taking steps in the right direction.”

Hymes finished the night with 28 points, the highest single-game output from a Griff since Frank Turner put up 30 against Southern Miss on Dec. 22, 2009.

Senior Julius Coles also had a night to remember, as his 15 points put him over the 1,000-point mark for his career. He is the 31st player in school history to accomplish the feat.

The teams traded baskets early on the contest, with Canisius leading 12-11 just over five minutes into the game.

The next five-minute block was an uneasy one for Canisius supporters. The Griffs went on another one of their infamous first-half cold streaks, missing 12 consecutive shots while being outscored 10-0 over the drought.

Sophomore Gaby Belardo knocked down a jumper with exactly ten minutes to play in the half, and it was the start of the comeback. Instead of turning the ball over and committing fouls like they did in Louisiana, Canisius controlled the boards and started making shots.

Twelve points from Hymes over the next seven minutes helped back a commanding 26-2 run that put Canisius back in the driver’s seat as they went up 38-23 and never looked back.

The Griffs finished the game with 43 rebounds—21 defensive, 22 offensive. The team also had 16 steals while forcing the Demons into 29 turnovers.

Like Emilio Lopez in Mr. Deeds, Tom Parrotta is very very sneaky.

“Had we played like this down in Louisiana… it would have been a different story,” Canisius head coach Tom Parrotta said. “I think some of the guys said that tonight on the bench, ‘How did we let that happen down in Louisiana?’ ”

Even with a big lead, Parrotta stuck with his main rotation of eight players. Freshman Ashton Khan and junior Marial Dhal checked in with 2:06 left in the game and freshman Eric Kindler did the same with 1:03 to play.

Dhal didn’t collect a rebound but blocked two consecutive shots in a three-second span. Junior Rokas Gricius missed his third straight game with back spasms and freshman Chris Manhertz continued to be bothered by a bad ankle.

Canisius (6-6) shot 41.4 percent from the field while holding NSU (8-5, 1-5 road) to 33.3 percent.

Up next for Canisius is a road game at Saint Peter’s on Monday, Jan. 3. The Peacocks had won five straight games before losing star players Wesley Jenkins and Ryan Bacon to injury during Dec. 21’s game at Binghamton.

Jenkins is reported to have re-injured the same right knee he partially tore his ACL in over the summer, and Bacon is reported to have a sprained ankle. There is no official word yet on whether either player will be ready for the Canisius game, although neither played Wednesday night against Lehigh.

Jeron Belin and Nick Leon now lead the charge for Saint Peter’s. Both are good players, but this would be a great way for Canisius to make up ground in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings.

They said it

“I wish I could come up with something real positive to say about my bunch, but, you know, it’s going to be hard to find a silver lining in that. My daddy says, ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.’ Y’all prolly ain’t heard that one.”
-Northwestern State head coach Mike McConathy

Star sighting

Buffalo Bills tackle Demetrius Bell was on hand at the KAC for the game. Bell is a graduate of Northwestern State. He originally went to the school to play basketball.

Two can play that game

Bell (right, obviously) with a member of the Canisius High School pep band. Nice smile.

Coming into the contest, the Demons’ William Mosley led the nation in blocks per game (4.3). That was only extra motivation for senior Tomas Vazquez-Simmons, the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots, who joked that since both players wear the same number, he was glad to show people who the best number 42 is. Mosley finished the game with four blocks. Vazquez-Simmons had five.

Unsung Hero

Rob Goldsberry. Five assists, no turnovers, three rebounds. Sold a lot of foul calls early when the Griffs needed it. It’s the little things.