For the last decade and a bit beyond, the words luxury and Canisius were rarely if ever intertwined. The Griffs weren’t good enough to rest players with an eye on the schedule’s next game. Nor were they deep enough to rotate nine players without a marked drop-off in talent level. They had to go hard, game in and game out, and even then the wins came with a maddening infrequency.
What transpired at the Koessler Center on Monday night was straight out of the scrapbooks of days long gone by. Canisius gave center Jordan Heath the night off to rest an ankle tweaked on Saturday at Syracuse. Coach Jim Baron divided minutes as if it was imperative everyone got an ample piece of the pie. And still the Griffs accomplished their mission with gusto, celebrating their first home game in 27 days with an overpowering 82-54 victory over Longwood.
Guard Isaac Sosa set the Griffs (7-2) on course by picking up where he left off at Syracuse. Sosa nailed five threes against the Orange and upped the total to eight in scoring a game-high 24 points against the Lancers. Alshwan Hymes (18 points) buried another four treys, but there was more to the Canisius attack than life behind the arc. Forward Chris Manhertz muscled inside for 13 points and nine rebounds while center Freddy Asprilla went for nine points, five boards and drew two charges.
The game spoke to the Griffs’ depth. Their two leading scorers, Billy Baron and Harold Washington, combined for eight points, 26 under their combined averages, yet save a few brief moments the outcome never seemed in doubt.
Longwood (3-8) opened the second half with six straight points, drawing within five, before Sosa resumed his barrage with a straightaway three. A short while later he buried another, this one from 25 feet coming off a screen, and the Griffs were back in charge with a 47-36 advantage.
“Isaac stepped up and that’s what he does,” said Canisius coach Jim Baron. “If you give him time and space he has that uncanny ability and I’ve constantly challenged him as far as stepping up and being able to knock it down.”
Sosa came out sharper than the claws on the Griffin. He scored the first Canisius basket on a trey from the corner and added two more from the wing before the game was 2½ minutes old. And when he wasn’t beating the Lancers over the top Manhertz was tormenting them on the inside. The two combined for the first 20 Canisius points as the Griffs built a 39-28 halftime advantage.
It’s almost as if the Griffs take turns lighting it up from the perimeter. Four of them have at least 14 makes through nine games and each has had at least one three trey night.
“It takes a lot of pressure off me,” Sosa said. “To be honest this team has a lot of talent and a lot of people can shoot and I’ve never been on a team like that. And that’s why I think I can get a lot of open looks. I think we’re a very unselfish bunch, and that obviously helps.”
There’s no telling how many threes Sosa might have rung up had this been a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference game. But Canisius played at Syracuse 48 hours prior, and the Griffs are at Temple Wednesday night. Taking all that into consideration, Baron spread the minutes around, with no one playing more than 29 minutes and eight playing at least 20.
“The bench stepped up and that’s how these guys practice,” Baron said. “We play against each other, we work against each other and they know that when I put them in the game I expect them to be aggressive. ... We need to have that kind of confidence as we move forward.”
Canisius steadily pulled away in the second half. An Asprilla layup with 5:09 remaining pushed the lead to 20. Sosa’s eighth and final three made it a 30-point margin with 33 seconds left. Sosa finished one shy of the school – and Koessler Center record – of nine threes Hymes set two years ago in a 33-point victory over Northwestern St.
In women’s basketball, St. Bonaventure hosts Kent State at 7 p.m. tonight. Bona evened its record at 6-6 with a win over Canisius on Sunday.