Canisius rebounded from its slide with home victories over Siena and Manhattan last week. Are the Golden Griffins back in Metro Atlantic Conference title contention? We’ll have the answer by Sunday evening.
The Griffs (12-7, 5-3) begin a challenging stretch this week when they visit Rider (11-9, 6-2) on Friday night then return home to renew acquaintances with league-leading Niagara (11-8, 7-1) at 4 p.m. Sunday in the Koessler Center. After that, they’re home to Loyola (13-6, 5-2) and Iona (12-7, 6-2). followed by road games at Manhattan, Niagara and Loyola.
Rider took another leap toward the top of the conference Sunday when it knocked off then-co-leader Iona, 67-62, in Lawrenceville, N.J. The Broncos have won five straight in the MAAC and coach Kevin Baggett says it hasn’t been by accident.
“We’re a contender," Baggett said after the Iona game. “If we continue to defend and take care of the ball I certainly believe in this group. You know what? Having a target on your back is another challenge and it’s a good problem to have. I know this group will respond, but we have to be humble and understand this is just one win and we have to play these guys again up there. We’ll be ready, but it’s a long season. We’ll enjoy this one and then get ready for Canisius."
Here’s what Iona guard Lamont (MoMo) Jones said about the Gaels:
“We have a talented team, we just don’t have any tough guys,” he said. “We don’t have people who are tough, whether it’s a bar fight or a basketball fight, we don’t have guys who are tough and ready to come out and fight.”
Niagara begins the week with a Friday trip to Siena (4-15, 2-6), a team it throttled, 87-64, on Thursday. The Purple Eagles best be on guard. It’s never easy in Albany, and the Saints beat visiting Canisius on Jan. 11.
BN Big 4 Player of the Week: UB junior forward Javon McCrea couldn’t be stopped and seldom even slowed. He averaged 27 points and 12 rebounds, went 16 of 27 from the field, 22 of 24 from the free-throw line and blocked six shots as the Bulls went 1-1 with a loss to Kent State and a comeback win over Bowling Green.
“He’s thinking less and playing more and playing hard,” said UB coach Reggie Witherspoon. “He’s just going on instincts. We’ve been talking about this for a while. He’s not thinking about anything other than doing the best he can for his teammates. When there’s too many other things involved, like most of us, it clouds our concentration and we’re not as good.”
The winning field goal against Bowling Green, when he took a pass in the post and spun across the lane for a left-handed layup, was vintage McCrea and reminiscent of early in his freshman year when he made a huge impression with how instinctively he played on the offensive end.
UB runs into a MAC newcomer with all-conference potential Wednesday night when it goes up against Ball State in Muncie, Ind. Majok Majok, a 6-foot-9, 345-pound junior transfer from Midland (Texas) Junior College, has three straight double-doubles, seven overall and averages 12.1 points and 10.5 rebounds for the Cardinals (7-9, 1-3). He outplayed Akron 7-footer Zeke Marshall in a 71-64 road loss last Wednesday, scoring a career-high 26 points and grabbing 13 boards.
“The big boy beat Zeke up,” said Akron coach Keith Dambrot. “If Zeke neutralizes him in the paint, it’s probably not a close game.”
Majok was born in the Sudan, grew up in Australia and played two years in prep school (Northfield-Mount Hermon) in Massachusetts.
UB finishes the week Saturday night at co-leading Akron (13-4, 4-0). The Zips have won nine straight going into Wednesday’s game at Toledo.
For better or worse
Temple coach Fran Dunphy paid St. Bonaventure a high compliment after the Bonnies went into Philadelphia Saturday and accomplished the heretofore impossible by beating the Owls on their home court.
“Going into the game they were 0-3 in league – the best 0-3 team in anybody’s league in America, I was saying to our guys,” Dunphy said. “It’s pretty much the same group they had last year that won our league tournament without one very good player [Andrew Nicholson] obviously. A solid group of veteran guys.”
It’s been a strange go for Temple. The Owls (12-5, 2-2) beat then-No. 3 Syracuse, lost a seven-point game at then-No. 6 Kansas but have been beaten at home by Canisius and Bona.
“I think maybe you’re overrating us,” Dunphy said after the Bona game. “We’re not as good as people maybe think we are.”
Point of contention
Kent State coach Rob Senderoff had the individual scoring totals taken off the main scoreboard when the Golden Flashes hosted archrival Akron on Saturday.
“We haven’t played well at home pretty much all year, so we are trying to do something to change them up,” he told the Akron Beacon Journal the day before the game. “We want to make sure our guys are focused only on how many points we have as a team and not on how many points they have individually. Some coaches have taken the names off of the back of the jerseys to try to get their players to play for the team and not themselves. We are going to try this.”
The result? Kent State squandered a 10-point halftime lead and fell, 71-67.
Niagara’s Antoine Mason is 39th among the nation’s scorers at 18.4 points per game. He’s one of 18 players in the Top 40 shooting at least 80 percent from the foul line. … McCrea’s up to 24th in the nation in blocks at 2.56 a game. Three of the top 25 in the category play in the MAC. Akron’s Marshall is fifth (3.41) and Bowling Green’s Richaud Holmes is 21st (2.71). … UB’s Will Regan, once the national leader, ranks sixth in three-point shooting percentage (51.2). Griffs guard Isaac Sosa is tied for 11th in three-pointers made with 59. … Canisius forward Chris Manhertz ranks 52nd in rebounding (8.9), quite a feat considering he’s averaging about 27 minutes a game. … RPI Check: Bona 138, Canisius 146, Niagara 149, UB 267.