Marist upsets Quinnipiac, St. Peter’s blows out Fairfield in MAAC Tournament


By Nick Veronica

Eleventh-seeded Marist pulled an 80-74 upset on No. 6 Quinnipiac Thursday night in the MAAC Tournament’s play-in round, ending the season for the nation’s top rebounding team.

Chavaughn Lewis led Marist with 26 points and became the school’s career scoring leader during the game. He now has 2,071 career points.

Quinnipiac senior Ousmane Drame went out like a warrior with 27 points and 23 rebounds in 37 minutes of action. Zaid Hearst scored 16 points in his final collegiate game but was just 4 of 18 shooting.

Khallid Hart added 18 points for Marist, which shot 52 percent from the field and a blistering 68.4 percent from three-point range (13-19).

Marist will face Manhattan Saturday in the quarterfinals.

Fairfield limps out of tournament

Fairfield managed only seven points in the first half of a conference tournament game and will have all summer to think about it.

Seventh-seeded Saint Peter’s coasted to a 63-33 win over 10th-ranked Fairfield Thursday at the Times Union Center in Albany.

Quadir Welton and Trevis Wyche both came off the bench to lead Saint Peter’s in scoring with 13 and 12 points, respectively, as 10 different Peacocks scored and 14 saw action.

Marcus Gilbert led Fairfield with 12 points.

Saint Peter’s will play second-seeded Rider at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Niagara was eliminated from the tournament earlier Thursday, losing to Siena, 71-54.


Canisius can clinch first-round bye with win vs. Quinnipiac

By Nick Veronica

Canisius’ 1 p.m. meeting with Quinnipiac on Saturday may be the Griffs’ biggest game of the season.

With a win, Canisius can turn a long shot into a reality, clinching a top-five seed in the MAAC and earning a first-round bye at the conference tournament.

Here’s how:

Canisius has won two straight to get 9-8 in the conference with three games to go. Quinnipiac has lost two in a row to drop to 8-9, falling back into sixth place.

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 12.53.07 AM

A win would put Canisius two games up on Quinnipiac with two to play. The MAAC’s first tiebreaker is head-to-head results, so even if Canisius loses out after winning Saturday, the worst it can do is tie with Quinnipiac at 10-10 — but Canisius would have swept the season series.

Should Saint Peter’s or Siena level with Canisius at 10-10, Canisius has already swept both opponents and would win out. If multiple teams finish with the same record, the MAAC’s tiebreaker is to treat the teams as a mini conference and add up the wins and losses between tied teams, but Canisius would be undefeated in any mini conference.

Seeds 6-11 face off in play-in games Thursday, March 5 at the conference tournament while seeds 1-5 have byes into Saturday’s quarterfinals. (Should Canisius finish fifth, a quarterfinal matchup with fourth-seeded Manhattan seems likely, but that of course could change.)

Earning the first-round bye would cap off one heck of a job by Canisius coach Jim Baron, who loves to remind people that his Griffs were picked 10th in the MAAC’s preseason poll.

Canisius lost five of its top six scorers from last season and graduated the conference Player of the Year. Here’s what I wrote on the first day of practice in October, looking for the Griffs’ absolute best-case scenario this season:

… imagine everyone outperforms their projections, fits into their roles perfectly and no one gets injured.

If all of those things go right, the Griffs play lock-down defense, catch some breaks in the schedule, get a handful of lucky bounces, calls go their way and they go on a tear through February, then maybe they sneak into the fifth seed and avoid the play-in round at the MAAC Tournament. That would be more impressive than anything Jim Baron has done at Canisius.

Add in the facts that Canisius has lost not one, but two key forwards to injury, and that the freshman point guard I was imagining playing great so far has not, and this may go down as one of the best coaching jobs in Baron’s 28-year career.

Baron’s “Junkyard Griffs” — a term he created — are getting it done with defense and team play. Canisius’ defense ranks second in the conference in scoring, allowing just 61.5 points per game, fourth in field goal percentage (.407) and second in three-point percentage (.315). KenPom ranks Canisius 91st nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is the best among MAAC teams.

Even on offense, where the Griffs rank 311th nationally in field goal percentage (.400), the team is still second in the conference in assists per game (14.0) and even ranks third in offensive rebounding.

Canisius took a major blow when Phil Valenti was injured in the last meeting with Quinnipiac, but a win Saturday would be a huge lift for the team and a milestone for the program, marking the third straight year Canisius finished fifth or better in the MAAC. That hasn’t happened since the John Beilein era — 1995-97.

Postgame video: Canisius 63, Quinnipiac 57

By Nick Veronica

[Valenti injury update + Immediate reactions]

Canisius coach Jim Baron

Baron spoke on losing Valenti and the players who stepped up in his absence, but made sure to pump the brakes before doling out any compliments.

“We’ll see,” Baron said (2:30). “[Kassius] did a great job. I mean, you know, these guys are young kids. We want them to carry it over. So let’s not make it one-and-done, you know? But he did a great job.”

On Valenti, Baron said: “Our prayers are with him and his family. It was a tough one, that was a tough one. He plays so hard, he gives it everything he has, and he goes down. That was a tough one for us. Our prayers are with him. I thought that the guys really rallied for him. They really rallied for him. They stepped up.”

However, the most important note from Baron’s press conference was that he loves the ‘fear the stache’ shirts the team gave out prior to the game.


Canisius gave out ‘fear the stache’ shirts to students before Friday’s game. Jim Baron loved the shirts. (Giraffe suit sold separately.)

“I’ll tell you what,” Baron said, “they made me look good on that T-shirt. They had me with a stache, and hair. I love stuff like that. I love to promote. I’ll do anything I can to help promote this program. They came up with that idea. At Rhode Island, we had a bobblehead. You know, how many guys have a bobblehead? And the bobblehead had a bank in it so you could put coins in the top of the head, it was really neat. I think it’s terrific. Any time we can promote the program… I’ll stand at the top of the building if they want me to. I think it’s all good. I’m happy they came up with that idea.”

(I think we found Canisius’ next promotion.)

Canisius players Kassius Robertson, Jermaine Crumpton, Jan Grzelinski

Quinnipiac did not meet with the media Friday night.

Immediate reactions: Canisius 63, Quinnipiac 57

[Valenti injury update + Postgame video]

Quinnipiac 25 32 — 57
Canisius 33 30 — 63

By Nick Veronica

How it happened: Canisius led by five points early in the second half when forward Phil Valenti went down with a gruesome ankle injury. The pace of the game slowed significantly after he was wheeled off the court, but overall the team responded well and gritted out a 63-57 victory.

Phil Valenti was in serious pain after injuring his ankle during Friday's game.

Phil Valenti was in serious pain after injuring his ankle during Friday’s game.

Kassius Roberston stepped up with Valenti out and scored a career-high 16 points while Zach Lewis added 12 and Jermaine Crumpton had nine. Canisius had only five turnovers.

The Griffs’ defense was effective, holding Quinnipiac to 33.3 percent shooting — including 13.3 percent on 3-pointers (2-for-15) — blocking three shots at opportune times and coming up with seven steals. QU’s big man Ousmane Drame had an off day but still led all players with 20 points while Zaid Hearst had 19 points (one under his 20.1 average) but took 24 field goals.

Canisius pulled ahead in the first half with a 9-0 run out of the under-12 media timeout that put it up 22-13, giving it the cushion it held the rest of the way.

It was over when: Josiah Heath followed a slam dunk with the most empathic blocked shot of his career, slamming Kasim Chandler’s shot against the backboard with 45 seconds left.

What it means: It was another scrappy conference win for Jim Baron’s “Junkyard Griffs,” who are now 12-8 overall and 7-4 in the MAAC. Valenti will certainly be missed, but the Griffs’ strength this year has been team defense and their ability to play multiple roles. Baron has made good use of his bench so far but the team’s depth will certainly be put to the test now. Baron has already told Cassidy Ryan to be ready for a bigger role.

Canisius has now beat four of the top five teams in the MAAC Preseason Poll: 1) Iona, 2) Siena, 4) Saint Peter’s and 5) Quinnipiac. With the loss, Quinnipiac is now 11-9, 5-6.

Valenti down: Two sources told IAGS that Valenti’s injury was a dislocated ankle. The medical team was able to pop it back in place and was optimistic that nothing was broken. Valenti was at the hospital for X-rays when the game ended. (Update: no broken bones, the team said. More info in that link.)

Glass battle: Quinnipiac leads the country in rebounding average (44.8) and rebounding margin (13.0). Canisius kept it close Friday, grabbing only one fewer rebound in the first half (21-20) and eight fewer overall, 48-40 (Canisius’ season high is 42).

Ousmane Drame, who entered the weekend ninth nationally at 10.9 rebounds per game, pulled in 11 Friday but was not as effective as his numbers showed. Eight of his 20 points came from the free-throw line and he was just 6-of-14 from the field. His presence on the glass was felt, but he certainly was not the defensive monster who terrorized Canisius last season.

Vegas line: Vegas Insider had Canisius -5 and over/under 127 before tip. Canisius covered, total was 120.

Fear the stache: Canisius gave out some mean ‘fear the stache’ T-shirts to students before the game. A+.

Next: Canisius is back on its home court Sunday, Feb. 1, for a 2 p.m. game against Marist.

Canisius’ MAAC seeding options and tiebreak results – FLOWCHART

By Nick Veronica | @NickVeroinca

With only tonight’s contest against Rider (9 p.m., ESPNU) and Sunday’s showdown with Manhattan (4:30, ESPN3) remaining in the regular season, Canisius appears to be in a logjam near the top of the conference standings.

The MAAC’s tiebreaking procedures can be complicated, but after sifting through each scenario, Canisius’ outlook actually winds up being fairly straightforward.

The Griffs can still pass Quinnipiac and finish second in the conference if they wins both games this weekend and get help from Marist, but what really ends up mattering the most is Sunday’s game at Manhattan.

If the Griffs lose Sunday, they will finish fourth. That means opening against the fifth-seeded team in the MAAC Tournament.

A win Sunday gets Canisius no less than third place, a seed that sets them up with a play-in game opponent in the quarterfinals.

Here’s a flowchart to break it down.

(Remaining games: Canisius: at Rider Friday, at Manhattan Sunday. Manhattan: vs. Iona Friday, vs. Canisius Sunday. Quinnipiac: at Marist Sunday.)

Nifty Canisius tiebreak results flowchart

Continue reading