Some of the errors were unforced. Others were the result of hawking defense. Fatigue surely figured in as well. But no matter the origin, Canisius was only too happy to feast on what the University at Buffalo was giving away at the Koessler Athletic Center Tuesday night.
The Griffs are 3-0 for the first time since 2000 after a 71-64 conquest of the Bulls in front of the season’s second sellout. Point guard Billy Baron scored 18 points to lead all five Canisius starters into double figures as the Griffs preyed on 24 UB turnovers while committing just seven of their own.
UB (1-5) had won seven of the last eight games in the series but Bulls graduated four of their top five scorers from the team that decimated the Griffs, 94-59, last year while Canisius welcomed four transfers into the fold, including Baron and 6-10 junior Jordan Heath (14 points). The Bulls were also down two injured players in shooting guard Tony Watson and forward Xavier Ford. As a result, coach Reggie Witherspoon worked his starting five more than 30 minutes even though the Bulls were playing their sixth game in 11 days.
After struggling from the field much of this early season UB (1-5) found its way to a 52 percent shooting night and also won the the backboards, 39-25. But that minus-17 turnover margin kept them at a distance.
“We’ve been here three years if you’re talking about my class and the upperclassmen,” said junior point guard Jarod Oldham. “We know the reads and stuff like that. I think it’s just getting yourself comfortable in games and that’ll eliminate some of the turnovers and get our chemistry better.”
Javon McCrea led all scorers with 22 points while Will Regan added 15 for the Bulls. Harold Washington (12), Chris Manhertz (11) and Isaac Sosa (10) also hit double figures for the Griffs, who shot just 40 percent but produced assists on 19 of their 26 baskets.
“I told our guys in the second half whoever wins the battle of the boards is going to have a chance to win this game,” said Canisius coach Jim Baron. “And we outrebounded them by one in the second half and that was huge.”
The feeling-out process was over when the teams returned to the floor after intermission with Canisius leading, 40-38. For the next four minutes both offenses sizzled. A three by Sosa gave the Griffs a 47-42 advantage and, at that time, the teams had combined for 11 points in the first 1:24.
Less than two minutes later UB called time trailing, 55-47, after Baron turned a steal into a three-point play and Washington turned another into a layup by Jordan Heath off a pretty three-quarter court pass-and-catch. UB answered with a power move by McCrea and a Corey Raley-Ross three and, just like that, was back within 55-52 with 11:36 to go.
Canisius had a response of its own as UB’s turnovers continued to push unsightly extremes. Washington converted off a drive and fed Heath for a layup that made it 61-54 with 7:37 remaining.
At that point the Bulls already had turned it over 21 times. Their 25 turnovers against Florida State in the season’s second game was UB’s highest total since 2008.
“It’s pretty obvious we turned the ball over a lot,” UB coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “But I thought we did some really good things given we were shorthanded. ”
The Bulls went zone in the first half, man-to-man much of the second, but no matter what the defense Canisius has scoring options.
“One through five, we can get a bucket when we need to,” Baron said.
One through five. Said Washington, “It’s a luxury we have.”