It would be a gross exaggeration to say it was all worth the wait. Seventeen years is a long time to go without a postseason game. There are Canisius players who were barely out of diapers the last time the school played on past its conference tournament.
But it’s probably not a stretch to say it was the wait that made Canisius’ 69-53 victory over Elon more satisfying for the faithful who’d been made to wonder if they’d ever see this day.
The Griffs are off the schneid. Their first postseason tournament game in 17 years resulted in their first victory in 18 years, an emphatic conquest of the Phoenix in the first round of the Collegeinsider.com Tournament. A crowd of 1,187 gathered on short notice at the Koessler Athletic Center to see Canisius further its turnaround from the five-win season of a year ago. The Griffs were waiting into the night to learn who they will face in the second round.
As one might expect at this time of year, it was a senior who stepped up to lead the Canisius charge. Harold Washington rebounded from the devastation he felt upon being ousted from the MAAC Tournament to score 19 points while confounding the Phoenix (21-12) with his open-floor quickness. He was the catalyst when Canisius took the lead for good midway through the first half and made it clear there would be no letdown by scoring the first six Canisius points of the second half.
“I thought I did a good job stressing how bad I wanted to play in the last few interviews,” Washington said. “I just felt that early on I was doing a good job of getting to the rim. At first there were some tough looks but I thought if I showed some patience and still attacked then things would open up. And it did.”
Washington was one of five players to hit double figures as Canisius (19-13) shot 44 percent from the field and held the Phoenix to 29.4 percent, the lowest total by a Griffs opponent this season. Center Jordan Heath added 13 points, making two threes. Isaac Sosa added 11 while Billy Baron (seven assists) and Josiah Heath had 10 apiece.
Elon found the going tough on the outside (9 of 34 from behind the arc) and just as tough on the inside. Jordan Heath had five of seven Canisius blocks while Chris Manhertz (nine boards) had the other two.
“In tape we went over help side a lot,” Heath said. “We knew their bigs, they were going to go to the rim so I was looking to help a lot and get blocks over the top.”
A double digit lead made for a rollicking second half at the KAC, especially when Josiah Heath went in solo for a dunk off his own steal with 14 minutes left. That made it 51-32 Canisius and ensured first-year coach Jim Baron could savor his birthday. Thirty-six years ago to the day Baron was a senior captain on the St. Bonaventure team that won the NIT.
“This is really special,” Baron said. “I’ve been doing this a long time and this is really special. It’s special for the upperclassmen. … There’s not many teams still playing so it’s a great opportunity. You’re playing basketball and you’re in the postseason. So I think it’s tremendous.”
Elon had a 17-14 lead when the Griffs took off with just one to two starters on the floor. Washington got things going on a drive and Manhertz scored inside. Washington stole the inbounds pass following the Manhertz hoop and scored again, forcing a Phoenix timeout with the Griffs up, 20-17, and 8:01 remaining.
The half ended when Billy Baron rushed up court following an Elon miss and found Sosa on the wing. Sosa swished his third three, getting it off with two-tenths of a seconds left, and the Griffs had a 12-point lead.