Immediate reactions: Canisius 69, Saint Peter’s 55

Saint Peter’s 18 37 — 55
Canisius 33 36 — 69

By Nick Veronica

How it happened: The temperatures Sunday may have been below zero, but Canisius’ shooting was hot. The Griffs made 56.5 percent of their shots in the first half and 50 percent overall — just shy of their best field-goal percentage of the season, 50.8 — against a Saint Peter’s team that entered the game first in the MAAC in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and three-point percentage defense. The Griffs coasted to a 14-point win.

Jeremiah Williams led Canisius with a career-high 22 points, including 14 in the first half, while Josiah Heath had 15 and Kevin Bleeker had a season-high 10. Zach Lewis had his right wrist and thumb were taped up and took only six shots, matching his season-low.

Marvin Dominique led Saint Peter’s with 15 points, but Desi Washington (14.3 ppg) was held to three.

What it means: Canisius won its first game since losing Phil Valenti at the end of January and got back to .500 in the MAAC at 8-8 (13-12 overall) while Saint Peter’s fell to 13-14, 7-9. Canisius sits in sixth place with four games to go (and could move into a tie for fifth if Quinnipiac loses to Iona Sunday evening) and still has a chance to avoid the play-in game at the conference tournament, which pits seeds 6-11 against each other while seeds 1-5 have a first-round bye.

Heath trending up: Heath, one of Canisius’ two seniors, has stepped up his game as the calendar winds down on his collegiate eligibility. Not only is his physical presence become much more noticeable, Heath is averaging 12.4 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five games since Valenti was injured, up from his season averages of 8.3 ppg and 6.1 rpg.

Grzelinski trending down: Starting point guard Jan Grzelinski was held without a point for the fourth consecutive game and played only 11 minutes Sunday while sitting much of the second half. Grzelinski has shown promising flashes this year but has not been consistently effective. Williams started the second half Sunday and has been much more efficient. Baron just seems to like having Williams come off the bench.

Good first half: The 15-point halftime lead was Canisius’ largest of the season.

T’d up: Saint Peter’s Jamel Fields received a technical foul with 15:04 left in the game after angrily reacting to call on a ball that was deflected out of bounds. Zach Lewis missed both free throws.

Dunne denied 100th: Saint Peter’s coach John Dunne won his 99th career game Friday at Niagara but was denied his 100th win against Canisius. It’s strange to say a ninth-year coach is still looking for his 100th win. Most coaches don’t last that long. Dunne’s career record is 99-174.

Vegas line: Vegas Insider had Canisius -2.5 and over/under 115.5. Canisius covered; total was 124.

Next: Canisius travels to Siena on Thursday and Quinnipiac on Saturday.

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Niagara wins conference opener vs. Saint Peter’s, 61-59

By Nick Veronica

Rayvon Harris scored 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting to lead Niagara past Saint Peter’s Thursday night, 61-59, in the country’s earliest conference game this season.

niagara_logo_bigSaint Peter’s trailed by 12 points, 53-41, with 6:52 to go, but came back to take a 59-58 lead when Tyler Gaskins hit a three-pointer with 1:23 remaining.

Karonn Davis answered with a three for Niagara, and neither team would score the rest of the way as the Peacocks’ Chazz Patterson missed a game-tying jumper with nine seconds remaining.

Niagara, picked last in the MAAC preseason poll, now sits atop the conference standings at 1-0 and 1-1 overall. The next MAAC game isn’t until Dec. 3, when Canisius travels to Saint Peter’s.

Marvin Dominique led the Peacocks (0-3) with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Gaskins had 16 points.

Ramone Snowden added 12 points and 11 rebounds for Niagara. Wesley Myers was 1 for 7 from the field after going 2 for 8 in the opener, though he added seven rebounds and four assists Thursday.

The Purple Eagles were 5 for 14 from three-point range after going 0 for 14 against Pitt last Friday.

Starters: Niagara – Rayvon Harris, Ramone Snowden, Emile Blackman, Karonn Davis, Wesley Myers. Saint Peter’s – Marvin Dominique, Tyler Gaskins, Chazz Patterson, Trevis Wyche, Quadir Welton.

Next: Niagara returns to nonconference action with a 7 p.m. home game on Saturday against Hartford.

Immediate reactions: Canisius 67, Saint Peter’s 63

How it happened: This game appeared to be over in the first half as Canisius blew the game open early and matched its biggest halftime lead of the season at 21 points, 43-22. But the tide turned in the second half and this one quickly turned into a nail-biter for Jim Baron and the Griffs as they struggled to shake off their halftime slumber and Saint Peter’s came out firing on all cylinders.

Saint Peter’s leading scorer Marvin Dominique had a chance to tie the game at 57 with 4:45 to play but only hit one of two free throws. A layup from Desi Washington cut it to 62-60 with 47 seconds to play, but freshman Zach Lewis answered with a three-pointer that sealed the deal for Canisius.

Canisius (9-5, 3-0) was led by 25 points from Billy Baron, who scored 18 in the first half. Chris Manhertz had 12 and Chris Perez had 11. Dominique led all players with 26 and added 10 rebounds while Washington had 14 points and Chris Burke had 12.

What it means: Canisius is 3-0 in the MAAC for the first time since the 1994-95 season — when they opened 5-0 in the conference and later advanced to the NIT — but what a way to do it. Canisius never trailed in the contest but snoozed through most of the second half, where they were outscored 41-24 and outrebounded 21-11.

After a first half that saw Saint Peter’s coach John Dunne take two timeouts before the first media timeout — his team fell behind 12-0 early and later 28-5 — you figured the ebb-and-flow of the game had to swing back at some point, but Canisius’ inability to slow the momentum in the least bit was concerning. A road win in the conference is a road win in the conference, but playing a full 40 minutes or finding that killer instinct to really put a team away — whichever bit of coachspeak you prefer — is still something we’re looking for out of the Griffs on a regular basis.

Secondary scoring? Baron led the way with 25 but had only 7 after halftime and didn’t score in the last eight minutes. That was OK though, because after Baron’s last bucket with 8:09 to play, Manhertz scored six points (including a big dunk-and-one), and Lewis hit a big three-pointer.

Rebounding? Canisius dominated rebounds in the first half, 21-13. That lead evaporated midway through the second half, and Saint Peter’s eventually won the rebounding battle, 34-32. Manhertz and Jordan Heath pulled in seven each. Canisius was also dominated on the glass after halftime against Notre Dame, where the Irish pulled in 24 rebounds to Canisius’ 10 in the second half and overtime.

Stats that were good: Canisius matched its season-best halftime lead of 21 points … Billy Baron has five assists and four steals … Zach Lewis played 26 minutes, which matched his season high, excluding overtime games … the Griffs shot 90 percent from the free-throw line.

Stats that were bad: Billy Baron had a season-high six turnovers … Canisius nearly lost a game in which it led by 24 points.

Noteworthy: Kevin Bleeker missed his eighth straight game as he recovers from an ankle injury … If you’re looking around the MAAC, Iona had a 26-point lead on Niagara at halftime and held it, winning 118-92 (at home, though).

Next game: Canisius travels to Marist (5-9, 1-2) at 7 p.m. Monday.

Canisius at Saint Peter’s gameday 1/4/13

Canisius reopens MAAC play today with a 2 p.m. contest against Saint Peter’s, facing the Peacocks for the second time in the last month. Canisius won the Dec. 6 meeting, 82-67, behind a career-high 28 points from Jordan Heath.

A win today would give the Griffs a 3-0 start in conference play for the first time since the 1994-95 season, when they opened 5-0 in the MAAC and later advanced to the NIT.

The teams: Canisius: 8-5, 2-0 MAAC, 2-4 road. RPI: 99. Streak: Lost one.

Saint Peter’s Peacocks: 4-8, 0-3 MAAC, 2-2 home. RPI: 281. Streak: Lost one.

Previous game: Canisius huffed and puffed but couldn’t blown Notre Dame’s dome down last Saturday, losing 87-81 in overtime.

Saint Peter’s lost to Manhattan at home on Thursday, 74-62. Four Peacocks scored in double digits but the team shot only 29.8 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from three-point range.

About Saint Peter’s: Junior forward Marvin Dominique leads the Peacocks at 18.5 points per game, good for fifth in the MAAC (Billy Baron is fourth). He had one of his best games of the season last time he played the Griffs, going off for 25 points and 10 rebounds. Desi Washington is second on the team in scoring at 13.4 ppg and led the team with 17 against Manhattan. Dominique also leads the Saint Peter’s in rebounding (9.8), which could be a factor today against the MAAC’s worst rebounding team.

Series history: Canisius has a three-game winning streak against Saint Peter’s after sweeping the season series last year, but the Peacocks took nine of 10 before that. Eighth-year coach John Dunne is 76-151 at Saint Peter’s but 9-6 against Canisius, including 5-2 at home.

The takeaway: The first two items on the Griffs’ agenda this weekend are 1) make sure they don’t carry the letdown of the Notre Dame game with them, and 1a) don’t overlook this road trip because it has two fairly winnable games (Canisius plays Marist on Monday). After that, this weekend might be a good time to put some extra focus on getting the rebounding in order, since the opponents aren’t particularly threatening on offense (SPU shoots .412 from the field and Marist is even lower at .382).

Canisius is currently last in the MAAC in rebounding average, pulling in only 32.5 per game. In the last 10 years, no team that was last in the league in rebounding finished higher than sixth place in the final standings, per IAGS research. Over that same time, only one team finished atop the conference while being in the bottom half of the league in rebounding (Manhattan was eighth in 2003-04). There’s still time to fix this problem, but it needs to happen soon.

How to follow the game: It looks like MAAC.TV is the only video today. According to the Canisius media guide, Jay Moran is off and Matt Reitnour of the athletic communications department will handle play-by-play duties for the radio feed. This Twitter list should be active during the game.