Being the player that he is, the coach’s son that he is, Billy Baron had a full appreciation for what he and his teammates had just witnessed. Assess Evansville senior swing guard Colt Ryan in terms of raw athletic ability and he won’t blow anybody away. But to see him on the basketball court is to view a master of the craft.
Ryan is the reason Canisius’ CIT run came to a quarterfinal ending Tuesday night before 1,403 at the Koessler Athletic Center. He scored 39 points, four shy of his career high. He poured in 16 straight Purple Aces points as they went from two down with just under six minutes to play to eight up with 52.1 seconds remaining. He made long-range jumpers off screens, mid-range jumpers off the dribble and lured the Griffs into fouls with uncanny instinct. Evansville 84, Canisius 83 was all his doing.
“Very intelligent player,” Baron said. “That’s the one thing that really stuck out. Intelligent. Not the quickest guy but knows how to get himself open. They run him off a lot of screens, makes whoever’s guarding him very difficult. And he can shoot the ball obviously. Once he got in that groove it was tough to stop him.”
“When we were scouting him I said, ‘Fellas, this guy can play,’ ” Griffs coach Jim Baron said. “I said to our guys, ‘This kid’s like Stephen Curry.’ When I saw him I said, ‘Boy, this guy comes off of screens and can fire that ball as good as anybody I’ve seen all year.’ I said, ‘This is Steph Curry.’ He’s really good. I think he has a great chance to be a pro.”
Ryan tied the score at 65 with two free throws. He erased a 69-65 Canisius lead with a 15-footer and a straightaway 18-footer off a screen. His 18-footer with 2:23 left put the Purple Aces (21-14) ahead to stay. His three with 1:44 to go made it 74-69. Canisius never got closer than three until Billy Baron’s trey at the buzzer.
“There wasn’t one certain shot,” Ryan said of his rampage that made him Evansville’s all-time career scoring leader. “Down the stretch we ran a couple plays and I kind of got some open looks and I was able to knock them in. And I kind of got into a groove and then down the stretch everything was feeling good.”
“He’s a special guy,” Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. “It’s been a privilege to be able to coach him for four years. I’ve said it 1,000 times, he’s done everything we’ve asked of him and then some. He’s probably not going to win any 100-yard dashes or any vertical leaps, but he certainly understands how to play basketball, get open and make shots and get to the free throw line. And his knowledge of the game to get his teammates the ball as well is as good as anybody that I’ve been around.”
Canisius (20-14) went into halftime up by nine, 37-28, as Reggie Groves hit a three just before the buzzer. It looked like the Griffs were still riding the momentum of their second-round victory over Youngstown State, when they came from 22 down to win in overtime. All systems were go.
Evansville erased the lead in a flash and inched ahead for the first time at 42-41 on a Ryan basket four minutes into the second half.
“The start of the second half really helped us,” Simmons said. “We got off to a great start. You could see our guys, just the look in their face was better.”
The Griffs hung tough but Ryan’s exploits were too much to overcome. Baron finished with 21 points for the Griffs while seniors Alshwan Hymes and Harold Washington struck for 14 and 13, respectively.
“I’m just glad to leave the program while it’s headed in the right direction,” said Washington, who endured the five-win season of a year ago.
“I’m just real proud, especially of our upperclassmen,” Jim Baron said. “To get to this point is something that’s really, really special. … Hopefully that’s something we can build on.”
The Griffs lose double-figure scorers in Washington and Isaac Sosa, along with Hymes and Freddy Asprilla. They return Baron and their starting front court of Jordan Heath and Chris Manhertz.
“It’s hard to think about next year in front of Harold,” Billy Baron said. “These guys deserve a lot of attention for what they’ve done. But we’re going to work every day. We’re going to be the most driven team in the conference, if not the country. I’m being honest with you.”