This was billed as an intriguing Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference pairing between teams with lofty postseason aspirations. Fairfield followed the script perfectly. Canisius did not.
The Stags’ menacing defense forced the Golden Griffins into 21 turnovers while limiting the scoring opportunities for guards Billy Baron, Harold Washington and Isaac Sosa. Canisius failed to find an offensive flow and was blown out by the Stags, 66-45, Thursday night in front of 1,106 at the Koessler Center.
The 45 points scored was Canisius’ lowest output of the season.
The Golden Griffins, who dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season, ran into a blowtorch of a Fairfield team that remembered what happened back on Dec. 7, when Canisius (9-5, 2-1) defeated the Stags, 67-55. Fairfield (10-5, 2-1) hasn’t lost since, a stretch that extended to six games.
Thursday’s game might serve as a wake-up call. Victories over teams like St. Bonaventure and Temple means no one will overlook Canisius, especially now that it is in MAAC play.
“We needed to get smacked like that, we needed to be humbled,” Washington said. “We need to get our fire back. We need to come back with a new passion.”
Canisius’ offensive load comes from its backcourt and Fairfield did an excellent job on Baron, Washington and Sosa. The Stags doubled Baron, who initiates the offense, switched on ball screens and confused the Griffs by occasionally trapping.
“It was something we haven’t seen all year,” Baron said.
Washington said it’s a “growing trend,” a scheme Detroit used in the second half of Canisius’ 83-78 loss on Sunday.
“They’re not allowing us to use the ball screens and making us turn them down,” Washington said. “They’re trying to break our rhythm on offense.”
Baron scored 14 points but was 3 of 8 from the field, which was still better than Washington, who was 1 of 6 for five points with seven turnovers. Sosa was a dreadful 0 for 8, including 0 for 6 from three-point range as the team shot just 3 of 15 from beyond the arc.
Chris Manhertz, who scored 11 points with 13 rebounds, said, “We have to take things more seriously and we can’t be at a stage of complacency, especially at this point of the season.”
Canisius started the game poorly as Fairfield’s full-court pressure complicated matters. In a blink, Canisius trailed 11-0.
“They came out and pressured us and forced us to turn the ball over,” Canisius coach Jim Baron said. “They made a couple of shots early and that gave them confidence right off the bat. We dug ourselves a hole that we couldn’t get out of.”
Then Baron was fouled while connecting on a three-pointer. He missed the free throw but after Manhertz grabbed the rebound, Baron later scored the Griffs’ first field goal to make it 11-5. The play ceased Fairfield’s momentum only momentarily as the Stags’ defense frustrated the Griffs, especially in the backcourt.
Stripped of its rhythm, Canisius reverted to one-on-one isolation drives and usually came up empty. Baron, Washington and Sosa were a combined 1 for 10 in the first half and Baron and Washington had six turnovers each. They went 5 of 22 and 1 for 7 from three-point range in the first half and Fairfield was able to build a lead as high as 18 points.
Stags forward Maurice Barrow had 10 points in wins over Saint Joseph’s and Old Dominion but was much more aggressive offensively against Canisius as he connected on half of his team’s first-half field goals while scoring 14 points. Barrow finished with a career-high 21 points while senior point guard Derek Needham had 10.
“Our offense just sputtered,” Jim Baron said. “You have to have guys to step up and make plays and make shots.”
Canisius hosts Marist at 7 p.m. Saturday.