The defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament champions were in town Thursday, so Canisius didn’t have time for self-pity following its emotional loss to rival Niagara. And with the MAAC title still hanging in the balance, ’tis not the season for giveaways, although the Golden Griffins seemed to be in a benevolent mood against Loyola (Md.).
Up 21 points midway through the second half, Canisius put it on cruise until Loyola cranked up its full-court pressure to cut the lead to five points with just over four minutes left. But Canisius made enough plays and hit key free throws down the stretch to pull into a third-place tie with the Greyhounds after a 91-79 victory in front of 1,303 at the Koessler Center.
Five Golden Griffins (14-8, 7-4) finished in double figures, led by junior Jordan Heath, who flirted with a triple double while finishing with a career-high 21 points, 11 rebounds and a personal-best seven blocks. Heath was also 8 of 11 shooting and had six offensive rebounds.
Three-point shooting carried the Griffs – 13 of 19 from downtown – and Billy Baron (16 points, seven assists) and Harold Washington (13 points) made critical plays in the clutch. Baron hit a three-pointer with 2:25 left that gave Canisius an 85-76 lead and after a Dylon Cormier trey, Washington made the first of six consecutive free throws to ice the victory. For the game, the Golden Griffins were 20 of 24 from the line.
But it was the 16 turnovers, 10 in the second half, that helped Loyola (15-8, 7-4) whittle down a 69-48 lead to 80-75 with 4:16 remaining in the contest.
“It comes down to taking care of the ball,” said senior guard Isaac Sosa, who sank six three-pointers and finished with 19 points. “We had 16 turnovers and a lot of them came toward the end. That’s something we’ve had to work on throughout the whole season.”
Loyola constantly switched defenses to confuse the Griffins before finally settling on a full-court press that produced a large part of their turnovers. Canisius coach Jim Baron said it is a matter of learning how to close out games.
“We just haven’t been in that position before,” he said. “If you’re up 21, you don’t know how to act. ... It’s new territory and we were coming off a tough game against Niagara that was so emotional.”
Indeed, Baron’s biggest task was erasing the memory of last Sunday’s last-second loss in which an off-balance runner by Billy Baron was waved off.
“Niagara was a tough loss and we knew that we had to stay together as a team,” Heath said. The Golden Griffins beat the Greyhounds in transition for easy layups and wide open three-pointers to open up a 23-8 lead. Loyola senior guard Robert Olson had seen enough and put the team on his back.
He converted a conventional three-point play then hit back-to-back three-pointers as the Greyhounds pulled within six at 23-17. Moments later, Erik Etherly hit a reverse layup and Canisius’ lead was down to 27-23. That’s when Loyola went cold while Canisius’ offense revved up.
Chris Manhertz added 11 points for Canisius. Loyola was led by Olson’s career-high 27 points.
Next up for the Griffs is a 7 p.m. game Saturday against Iona.
For more on this game, go to the Campus Watch blog at buffalonews.com.