Canisius coach Terry Zeh had seen glimpses of his team’s depth in practice and knew the scoring options were plentiful. But he didn’t know how it would come together when the lights went on for game time.
As foul trouble plagued the starting lineup, the Golden Griffins’ depth fell into place and Canisius opened the season with a 73-57 win over the University at Buffalo in front of 974 at the Koessler Center Friday night.
The Griffs bench scored 42 points - the most since 2007 when the bench dropped 42 against Rider. Jen Morabito (11), Crystal Porter (10) and Jen Lennox (10) all hit double figures and not one was in the starting lineup.
“I’m really proud of the way people stepped up and made plays,” Zeh said. “I do think we have a team that has multiple scoring options ... we don’t have to rely on one person.”
“Multiple people can score when we feed the ball and run the extra pass,” said senior forward Ashley Wilkes, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds. “Knowing when people get in foul trouble, someone else can go in and play minutes and score is very comforting.”
It was a necessity for the Griffs as key offensive players and starters Allison Braun and Jamie Ruttle were limited to 10 minutes because of foul trouble.
Some of that was an overaggressive defense by the Griffs, who took a few too many gambles at times. And some of it was because the Bulls (0-1) showed themselves to be a young team that’s feisty but not polished.
After the Bulls scored the first five points of the game, Canisius went on an 11-0 run to take the lead and control.
Buffalo kept itself in the game with solid play in the low post, including 10 points in the paint and 10 second-chance points. But the Griffs were solid from the perimeter, hitting 6 of 14 from three-point range, and converted 10 Buffalo turnovers into nine points.
The Bulls kept themselves in the game early in the second half by driving to the basket and getting to the free throw line.
A three-pointer from Valerie Majewski cut the Canisius lead to two, 44-42, with 10:22 left to play, but then came the pivotal sequence that gave the Griffs control of the game.
Kayla Hoohuli drove the lane on the break, got fouled and went to the free throw line. She hit the first and missed the second, but the Bulls were casual on their box out, Wilkes got the rebound and Braun nailed a short jumper.
The Bulls turned the ball over on their next possession and Wilkes hit a three-pointer in transition.
That amounted to a six-point swing for the Griffs, who took a 50-42 lead. A bucket by Ruttle extended the lead to double digits and Canisius was full of energy and confidence and cruised to the final whistle.
“We need to put a whole game together,” said UB coach Felicia Legette-Jack. “We played a good 20-22 minutes but we needed a 35-37 minute effort tonight. Hats off to Canisius. They did a tremendous job pushing the ball, getting us on our heels and making us think. With a young team, you can’t think too much.”
Kristen Sharkey led the Bulls with 14 points and 10 rebounds off the bench while Rachel Gregory scored 11 points.
Both teams are off until Tuesday. The Griffs travel to Detroit while the Bulls host Youngstown State at noon in their home opener in the annual Kids’ Day game.