Canisius has lived up to the nickname Runnin’ Griffs, but on most days defense is something they do in their spare time. But sometimes it’s good to get away from your normal routine.
The Golden Griffins (12-7, 5-2 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) did a lot of things right defensively Saturday afternoon in front of 2,001 at the Koessler Center. They had their hands in the passing lanes, fronted the low post to force turnovers and redirected shots. Canisius didn’t forget its bread and butter – the Griffs ran splendid offensive sets while committing only four turnovers – and blew out Siena, 76-44.
Canisius put forth one of its best defensive efforts ever at home. The Saints’ 44 points tied for the fewest by an opponent in the Koessler Center. The Griffins held Liberty to 44 points on Nov. 17, 1990 and Colgate to the same amount on Jan. 10, 1984.
The 32-point margin of victory was the program’s largest in a conference regular season game since a 91-45 laugher over Fairfield on Feb. 8, 1997.
“It was one of our best defensive efforts with guys understanding what we needed to do with post position help defense and keeping guys in front,” Canisius coach Jim Baron said. “We have to carry it over because we have two games this week that are going to be very, very challenging.”
After dropping four of five, Canisius has won back-to-back games for the first time since mid-December. Opponents are shooting 45.2 percent against Canisius but it held Siena to 16 for 49, or less than 33 percent. The Griffs ranked ninth in the MAAC in blocked shots but rejected six – four by Jordan Heath and the other two by Chris Manhertz, who is looking more like an All-MAAC player by the day. The Griffs forced 20 turnovers and had 13 steals.
Canisius dropped a 57-54 decision to the Saints (4-15, 2-6) on Jan. 11 because it couldn’t stop 5-foot-8 point guard Evan Hymes, who scored 20 points while nailing 4 of 6 three-pointers. On Saturday, the Griffs’ perimeter defenders didn’t give Hymes room to shoot (0-for-2 from three-point range, four points overall).
With Heath and Manhertz fronting leading scorer O.D. Anosike in the post, Hymes couldn’t dump the ball inside and he committed nine turnovers.
“We did a really good job today, especially defensively against this team and understanding the scouting report, especially on No. 5,” said Canisius guard Isaac Sosa about Hymes. “He came really aggressive the last meeting and he really killed us in the second half. I think we understood that and took pride in our defense.”
Said Manhertz: “Compared to the last game, I think we cranked up the defensive intensity a little bit more. We kept Hymes out of the game. Keeping him contained throughout the game was one of the main things we had to do in order to win this game. We buckled down on defense and limited our turnovers.”
Indeed, Canisius committed just four turnovers against 18 assists. None of the starters recorded a turnover; three were committed by senior guard Alshwan Hymes, who returned to the lineup after serving a suspension for a violation of team rules.
Canisius rolled from the start. It didn’t trail after Billy Baron hit a three-pointer nearly four minues in to give Canisius a 7-4 lead. A layup by Sosa with 12:34 left gave the Griffs an 18-8 advantage that grew to 23 points by halftime. They led by as many as 34 in the second half.
“You can’t go on the road and have 20 turnovers, you can’t go on the road and not execute offensively,” Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro said. “Everything that I said going into the game we didn’t do and this is what happens.”
Sosa led Canisius with 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting, including 4 of 9 from beyond the arc. Manhertz had 12 points and 11 rebounds, including eight offensive boards. Heath and Hymes added 11 each.
Canisius’ next game is at 7 p.m. Friday at Rider. It then returns home to take on conference-leading Niagara on Sunday.