Immediate reactions: Iona 73, Canisius 55 (MAAC quarterfinals)

7-Canisius 28 27 – 55
2-Iona 43 30 – 73

By Nick Veronica

What it means: Iona eliminated Canisius from the MAAC Tournament for the third time in the last four years behind a barrage of three-pointers and its classic high-speed offense. The Gaels will face the Siena-Manhattan winner Sunday in the semifinals.

Canisius finishes the year 14-19 while Iona (20-10) clinched its seventh straight 20-win season.


How it happened: Canisius kept the game close for about eight minutes before Iona ran away with it.

The Griffs had kept up early coming off Thursday night’s triple-overtime game against Niagara, but Iona’s press and three-point shooting caught up with them quickly.

A late 10-1 run pushed Iona’s lead to 18 late in the first half (43-25), and Canisius didn’t fare much better after intermission. Iona pushed its lead to as many as 24 points while MAAC Player of the Year runner-up A.J. English dished out 10 assists and added a game-high 20 points. The Griffs led for only 29 seconds all night.

Phil Valenti paced Canisius with 13 points, Kassius Robertson scored 11 and Kevin Bleeker had 10. Leading scorer Malcolm McMillan, who didn’t seem 100 percent this weekend, finished with eight points.

Iona hit 13 of 30 three-pointers (43%) and shot 47 percent for the game.

End of the road: Canisius can’t play in the Tournament this year because it didn’t have a winning record, so the loss marked the final game for seniors Kevin Bleeker, Malcolm McMillan and Jamal Reynolds. Bleeker was the last player remaining from the Tom Parrotta years.

Tired legs? The scoreboard did a pretty good job of proving Canisius was feeling the effects from Thursday’s marathon game. But if you were looking for areas where tired legs might show up on the stat sheet, three places I guessed before the game were inability to close out on opponent’s three-point attempts, not being able to step into your own threes, and lack of turnovers created.

Iona was on fire from deep hitting 13 three-pointers, including nine in the first half. Canisius made only 6 of 21 threes for 29 percent. Iona was credited with seven turnovers while Canisius committed 11 after giving it away only eight times in 55 minutes Thursday.

Looking at the final stats, maybe the best indicator was fast-break points: Iona 17, Canisius 0. Rebounds were 39-31 Iona.

Better late than never:

In the house: Attendance at the Times Union Center was not strong, which is typical for the early rounds. The Buffalo News last week called for a move to campus sites, which I tend to agree with, at least for the opening round. Here’s what the crowd looked like at Canisius’ games:

Baron’s numbers: Coach Jim Baron signed a three-year extension this week. Through his first four years at Canisius, he has made one MAAC semifinal and owns a 73-61 record (54.5%), better than his career winning percentage of 51.8 percent. In the two years since Billy Baron graduated, Canisius is 32-34.

Baron can hit some notable milestones next year. With four wins, he’ll pass Niagara coaching legend Taps Gallagher for 78th on the NCAA’s all-time wins list (465). He also needs eight games to reach 900 for his career, which only 39 coaches have done. Becoming the NCAA’s all-time leader in losses is probably two years away; Friday’s loss moved him into a tie for fourth on the list with 430.

Vegas line: Iona -12.5, over/under 158.5. Iona covered, total was 128.

Next: That’s all, folks. See you for exhibitions in November. Enjoy the NCAA Tournament.


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.



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.

Immediate reactions: Canisius 84, Boston University 68

Boston U 24 44 – 68
Canisius 43 41 – 84

By Nick Veronica

What it means: Exam week must’ve been rough at Boston University. The Terriers were flatter than week-old pop in the first half – committing 16 turnovers – and woke up only briefly after halftime before losing by 16.

Canisius snapped its three-game losing streak, which was only one off Jim Baron’s longest such streak at Canisius, and looked to get its defense back in order with two nonconference games remaining. Canisius improved to 4-6 while BU fell to 5-6.

How it happened: Canisius made BU pay for its miserable first half. Phil Valenti pushed the Griffs’ lead to double-digits midway through the first half with eight points in a span on 1 minute and 14 seconds while the Terriers averaged a turnover per minute for much of the opening 20 minutes. Canisius led by 19 at the break, which was its largest halftime lead in the last two seasons.

BU cut Canisius’ lead to eight points a few times in the final 10 minutes but never looked truly dangerous. BU finished with 24 turnovers.

Valenti led all players with 21 points while Malcolm McMillan had 20 and Kassius Robertson had 13. BU was led by Eric Fanning’s 18 points andJohn Papale’s 16. Canisius never trailed.

Glass men: Canisius’ offensive rebounding was on display Saturday as the Griffs finished with 21 offensive boards – one more rebounds than they corralled on the defensive end. Jamal Reynolds led the way with four offensive boards (and 12 total) while McMillan and Kevin Bleeker had three each.


Play of the day: Jermaine Crumpton fooled a defender with a slick fake pass and then calmly hit a wide-open three-pointer with 13 minutes left in the game. It was a nifty move from the big man, who has scored double-digit points in six of his seven games since returning from suspension.

Honorable mention: Kevin Bleeker swatted Kyle Foreman’s shot into the third row with 9 minutes to play.

T’d up, ejected: Crumpton and BU’s Nick Havener were given matching technical fouls with 6:24 to play. BU converted both free throws while McMillan hit 1 of 2 for Canisius. The replays didn’t show any egregious physical contact.

BU coach Joe Jones was ejected with 1:55 to play.

Valenti down, but OK: Valenti was down in pain after drawing a charge late in the first half. He appeared to be holding his chest or rib area. He was able to walk off the court. … He sat the last 1:46 of the first half but started the second half.

First time’s the charm: Jim Baron’s first game with Canisius was a home game against Boston University. The Griffs won, 83-75, behind 22 points from Harold Washington and 21 from Billy Baron.

Pedal to the floor?: Jones, the BU coach, was excited to be in Western New York, near his alma mater of SUNY Oswego. Jones, however, may have a significant case of lead foot. Cruise control is your friend, Joe.

Starters: Canisius – McMillan, Robertson, Reynolds, Valenti, Bleeker. BU – Papale, Mosley, Dieudonne, Foreman, Haines.

Refs: Brandon Cruz, Justin Simon, John Floyd.

Next: Tuesday vs. Louisiana-Monroe in Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic, 5:30 p.m. ET. The Griffs have yet to win a game this year outside of the Koessler Athletic Center.

Gameday: Canisius opens 2015-16 season at Hofstra, 7 p.m.

By Nick Veronica

The Griffs open the 2015-16 season tonight in Long Island, where they’ll meet former Niagara coach Joe Mihalich and CAA favorite Hofstra at 7 p.m.

Canisius Golden Griffins: 0-0 (18-15, 11-9 MAAC last year; played in CIT). KenPom ranking: 154.

Hofstra Pride: 0-0 (20-13, 10-8 CAA last year; played in CBI). KenPom ranking: 96.

Vegas line: Hofstra -9.5.

Long time, no see! What’d I miss?: The last time we saw Canisius, its third straight Tournament run was coming to an end following a rowdy game at NJIT. Jim Baron was heated. Zach Lewis was still on the team.

New PG Malcolm McMillan

New PG Malcolm McMillan

Last year was positive for Canisius. Baron called it a rebuilding year in the summer and the league’s coaches picked the Griffs 10th out of 11 in the preseason poll. But come February, Baron’s “junkyard dogs” had clinched a bye in the first-round of the conference tournament, marking their third consecutive finish of fifth or better … which hadn’t happened since the John Beilein era.

“Jim Baron was billed as the Great Rebuilder when he was hired,” I wrote in my season wrap-up column from the MAAC Tournament, “and this season showed why.”

Here’s what’s happened since then:
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Canisius picked 6th in MAAC preseason poll, Niagara 11th; Valenti and Blackman to 3rd team


By Nick Veronica

Canisius was picked sixth in MAAC preseason poll, which was announced Wednesday night. Niagara was picked by the conference’s 11 coaches to finish last for the second consecutive season.

Canisius looks to build on last season’s 11-9 conference record, which earned the Griffs the fifth seed in the conference tournament. Niagara’s low ranking was expected with such a large roster turnover.

Canisius forward Phil Valenti and Niagara forward Emile Blackman were both named to the MAAC’s preseason Third Team. Blackman finished 11th in the conference in scoring last season at 13.5 ppg. Valenti averaged 9.4 points per game in 24 games, missing all of February with an ankle injury.

Iona was picked to win conference while its star guard A.J. English was named the league’s preseason player of the year.

Preseason rankings:


Rank Team (1st-place votes) Points
1. Iona (10) 119
2. Monmouth 105
T3. Manhattan (1) 91
T3. Rider 91
5. Siena 84
6. Canisius 67
7. Quinnipiac 49
8. Fairfield 42
9. Saint Peter’s 37
10. Marist 23
11. Niagara 18

Preseason teams:

First Team
G Marcus Gilbert, Fairfield, Sr.
G Schadrac Casimir, Iona, So.
G A.J. English, Iona, Sr. (unanimous)
G Justin Robinson, Monmouth, Jr.
G Teddy Okereafor, Rider, Sr.

Second Team
G Isaiah Williams, Iona, Sr.
G Shane Richards, Manhattan, Sr.
G Khallid Hart, Marist, Jr.
G Deon Jones, Monmouth, Sr.
G Marquis Wright, Siena, Jr.

Third Team
F Phil Valenti, Canisius, Jr.
G RaShawn Stores, Manhattan, Sr.
G Emile Blackman, Niagara, R-Jr.
G Jimmie Taylor, Rider, Jr.
F Brett Bisping, Siena, R-Jr.

Preseason Player of the Year
G A.J. English, Iona