Griffs add point guard Atkinson to compete roster

By Nick Veronica

Canisius got a verbal commitment from point guard Chris Atkinson Tuesday night, filling the Griffs’ final scholarship opening that was created by Jan Grzelinski’s departure.



Atkinson played point guard for Long Island Lutheran, which was the New York State Sportswriters Associations’ top-ranked team on Long Island and 14th-ranked team statewide in Class AA.

Atkinson (5-foot-9, 160 pounds) was not rated by Rivals but is listed as having offers from Iona and Northeasten.

Atkinson gave a verbal commit to MAAC foe Monmouth in October, but apparently became decommitted at some point between then and now. A verbal commitment is non-binding and is not “official” until the athlete signs a Letter of Intent.

(Atkinson’s Twitter name is Michael Scofield, a character from the show Prison Break)

I expected Jim Baron to target a forward with his final opening, but Atkinson’s commit gives Canisius the same numbers it had last season: five forwards, eight guards.

Canisius roster (*new for 2015-16):

Guards (8)

Malcolm McMillan*, redshirt senior
Jamal Reynolds, senior
Kiefer Douse*, junior
Kassius Robertson, sophomore
Adam Weir, sophomore
Raven Owen, redshirt freshman
Isaiah Gurley, redshirt freshman
Chris Atkinson*, freshman

Forwards (5)

Kevin Bleeker, senior
Phil Valenti, junior
Jermaine Crumpton, sophomore
Cassidy Ryan, sophomore
Ronald Gombe*, freshman


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.

How Canisius lost to Monmouth

By Nick Veronica

Billy Baron has a knack for hitting the big shot. Sunday, he missed.

Canisius blew a 14-point lead, gave up two three-pointers in the final 10 seconds and missed a key free throw in an 83-82 loss to Monmouth, falling into a four-way tie for first place in the MAAC at 6-2. The loss came seven days after Canisius beat Monmouth by 20 points in Buffalo.

Here’s how the end of the game played out:

16 seconds left: Monmouth’s Josh James hits his first free throw but misses the second, making it 80-77 Canisius. Kevin Bleeker grabs the rebound.

0:14: Billy Baron gets fouled. He hits both free throws. 82-77. Canisius takes timeout.

0:09: Monmouth’s Andrew Nicholas hits a three-pointer from the right corner. 82-80.

0:06: Baron get fouled. He goes to the line 6-for-6 on the night and better than 90 percent on the season, making him one of the country’s 10 best free-throw shooters. He misses the front end of a one-and-one.

0:01: Deon Jones grabs the rebounds and finds Nicholas up the court. Nicholas puts up a three with Chris Perez in his face and gets nothing but net. 83-82.

0:00: Baron can’t get a quality attempt. Hawks win.

Here’s Monmouth’s video feed (disregard their clock, it’s off). Bleeker definitely wanted a foul called on Baron’s heave but didn’t get it.

Where did the lead go? This one looked like it was going to be a repeat of last Sunday’s game, when Canisius won 87-67. The Griffs led by 14 points with 14 minutes to go but ending up losing. How did that happen? Here’s a look at both teams’ stats since Canisius held its largest lead (x = missed shot):


Canisius’ offense didn’t slow down that much after pushing the lead to 14. Defense was another story.

After taking their largest lead of the game, the Griffs allowed Monmouth to shoot very high percentages from the field and three-point range and put them on the line twice as frequently as they got there themselves. Canisius turned the ball over more, committed more fouls and grabbed fewer rebounds.

Monmouth scored 42 points in the final 14 minutes after scoring 41 in the first 26.

Canisius’ three-point defense was especially ineffective, as Monmouth hit five of its last six three-point attempts during a time when the Hawks could have been expected to try more threes.

Foul trouble was likely a key factor of the diminished defense, as Chris Manhertz, Jordan Heath and Josiah Heath all fouled out in the second half. That’s why the Griffs closed the game with Baron, Perez, Bleeker, Zach Lewis and Phil Valenti on the court. (Plus, if the game had gone to overtime, Dominique Raney would’ve been the only player left on the bench. The rest plan to redshirt or are ineligible. Meanwhile, 13 Monmouth players saw game time.)

Threat level orange: Baron hit buzzer-beaters to sink Elon and Rider earlier this season, but came up empty-handed Sunday. However, more concerning than a missed free throw is that Canisius let a big lead slip away for the third time in the last two weeks.


On Jan. 4, Canisius led by 24 at one point but had to hold on as Saint Peter’s cut the deficit to one. On Friday, Canisius led Iona by 20 with 16:39 to go, blew the lead and had to come back to win. Sunday, Chris Perez hit a three to put Canisius up 14 points, 55-41, with 14:11 remaining.

In recapping the the Iona game, I wrote “If this happens again I’m moving the Griffs to orange” on the security alert scale. Consider it done.

Ball don’t lie: Baron had a career-high eight turnovers while Canisius had a season-high 24. Baron usually puts up single-sentence tweet after most games, and simply wrote “Ball don’t lie” after the loss. Players usually say that when a free throw doesn’t go in after a bogus foul call, but after being intentionally fouled at the end of the game, this was probably meant on a wider level meaning Canisius didn’t deserve to win.

Season firsts: Canisius lost for the first time this season when outrebounding the opponent and for the first time when shooting better than 50 percent from the field. They’re now 8-2 when scoring 80 or more.

History lesson: This game was reminiscent of Canisius’ buzzer-beater loss against Rider three years ago. Gaby Belardo missed the front end of a one-and-one with 11.3 seconds left and Rider came down the court and won.

Scoring leaders: Baron is now third in the country in scoring at 23.1 points per game. Niagara’s Antoine Mason is first at 27.6 while Creighton’s Doug McDermott is second at 24.9.

And since you were wondering… The Bluejays play tonight but McDermott would have to somehow score negative-11 points for Mason and Baron to enter Wednesday’s Canisius-Niagara game first and second in the country. (And, because I know you’re curious, Baron could overtake Mason for the scoring title following Wednesday’s game if Baron just scores 104 points more than Mason.)