Harold Washington was already seated in the postgame media area when Billy Baron asked politely, “Mind if I sit next to you?” Washington smiled and answered, “Do you mind if I sit next to you? You’re the hero.”
Indeed, it was Baron who delivered the punishing body blows to Saint Peter’s after the struggling Peacocks experienced a Lazarus moment against Canisius College. Golden Griffins coach Jim Baron joked about the game being another night in the office and for his cold-blooded son it was, as Billy scored a game-high 23 points, including eight in overtime, to give the Griffs a 77-65 win on Thursday in front of 1,483 at the Koessler Center.
“This league is a dog fight and to get the 'W’ is tremendous,” Jim Baron said. “Our guys really deserved it. They worked hard, they played hard and we made the plays that we needed to make in overtime.”
The Golden Griffins (18-11, 11-6 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) need some assistance to capture the regular season title but the possibility remains heading into Saturday’s regular season finale against Rider. Niagara’s home loss to Rider on Thursday is a start.
Loyola, Md. (11-5) can pull into a first-place tie with the Purple Eagles (12-5) with a win at Iona (9-7) tonight. Canisius and Rider (11-6) remain in a tie for third place but the Golden Griffins seek a worst-to-first advancement in the standings.
“This is what we came here for, this is why we came together and this is what we’ve been talking about every single day,” Billy Baron said. “Obviously we want to win the MAAC championship but along the way we want to win that regular season title. A lot of things have to go our way on Saturday. Niagara is a great team, they have great coaches and a couple of great guards so they’re going to be ready for Saint Peter’s.”
The 11 conference victories are the most for the Golden Griffins since the 1998-99 season, a far cry from last season’s 5-23 disaster.
“Honestly, it’s just a relief to be on the winning side of things,” said Washington, who hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 4:12 left in overtime and finished with 22 points. “I’ve seen both sides. I’ve felt how it was to exactly lose, win one game in the conference, and the feeling around the locker room is a lot different.’
Baron is the main difference. The junior guard, as he often has in this memorable season, carried the Griffs. It was Baron who hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 1:22 remaining in regulation. Reggie Groves missed two free throws with 27.8 seconds left and Saint Peter’s Yvon Raymond buried a three-pointer to tie the game at 61 with 19.2 seconds on the clock.
On the ensuing possession, Isaac Sosa drove into the paint, leaped and passed the ball to Josiah Heath. Heath, looking for Baron for the potential game-winner, instead committed a turnover. Blaise Ffrench missed a short jumper that would have won the game for Saint Peter’s.
After Washington’s three-pointer jump started the Griffs in overtime, Sosa drained one from downtown, then Baron scored six consecutive points on two free throws and two layups that gave Canisius a 73-65 advantage. That was more than enough to finally tuck away the Peacocks.