Those wins over St. Bonaventure and the University at Buffalo opened eyes. The road conquests of conference rivals Fairfield and Marist said a lot. But none of them screamed “We’re Back!” with the gusto of Wednesday night’s 72-62 win at Temple, a victory that has rocketed Canisius College into the Top 30 in the national RPI.
How tough is it to win at Temple? The Owls had won 11 straight at the Liacouras Center and 36 of their last 37. St. Bonaventure plays in the Atlantic 10 with the Owls and never has left for home victorious.
Making the victory all the more impressive, Canisius (8-2) triumphed without the services of starting center Jordan Heath, their second-leading rebounder, who missed his second straight game with an ankle injury. Yet the Griffs controlled the backboards, 41-34, as Chris Manhertz pulled down 13 rebounds (five over his average) and Josiah Heath, Jordan’s brother, snared 11. The edge in rebounding came despite the Griffs going small down the stretch.
“I think when we went with four guards midway through the second half, we screwed them up a bit and that allowed us to take them off the dribble and move the ball to open shooters,” Jim Baron said. “We also did a good job rebounding again and that took away any chances for them to get second-chance points. This is another solid win for this program.”
It’s all pretty heady stuff for a program that won five games last year, lost 13 of its final 14 and finished ranked 332nd in the season-ending Ratings Percentage Index.
That bottoming-out prompted a coaching change, with Baron replacing Tom Parrotta. No less significant was the addition of transfers Jordan Heath, Isaac Sosa, Freddy Asprilla and Baron’s son Billy, who came in from Rhode Island, received NCAA clearance to play immediately and has provided instant stability at point guard. He had game-highs of 19 points and five assists against the Owls.
The Griffs have no time to bask in a victory that could enhance their NCAA Tournament at-large candidacy, if it comes to that. Next up is No. 21 UNLV (10-1) on Saturday night in the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. The Rebels have one of the nation’s premier freshman in Anthony Bennett, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward from Brampton, Ont., who averages 19.5 points and 8.6 rebounds.
He’s joined up front by 6-9 Khem Birch, a Montreal native averaging 7.5 points in two games since becoming eligible following his transfer from Pitt.
Canisius at UNLV is one of four intriguing “step-up” games this weekend involving the Big 4.
Niagara University (5-6) takes its two-game winning streak to South Bend, Ind., tonight for a meeting with No. 22 Notre Dame (7 p.m., ESPNU, Radio 1520). The Irish are led by 6-9 senior forward Jack Cooley, who’s averaging 14.5 points while shooting a robust 62.7 percent from the field.
Also tonight, UB (4-7) faces Washington State (7-4) in Seattle (10:30 p.m., Radio 1230). The Cougars have won five of their last six and feature 6-10, 245-pound senior Brock Motum, an Aussie averaging 20.4 points and 6.9 rebounds.
On Saturday, St. Bonaventure becomes the third Big 4 member to face nationally ranked competition this week with an afternoon game at No. 25 North Carolina State. The Wolfpack (7-2) lead the nation in field goal percentage (53) and are 20th in scoring at 79.4 points a game. The Bonnies are riding consecutive 30-plus point victories for the first time since the 1970 Final Four team.
N.C. State beat Bona 67-65 in Rochester last year on a basket with less than one second remaining.