Jim Baron’s eyes started to water. He admitted that at this moment he was incapable of summoning the words to express what he really wanted to say. Because it’s one thing to coach a great basketball player. That’s every coach’s dream. But imagine the thrill that goes with that player also being your son, who has just gone off for a career-high 38 points and hit the winning shot from right in front of your face in double-overtime.
Don’t they make movies out of these kind of things?
There was no containing Billy Baron Friday night, at least not once a close game passed the half and it became time to get down to business. Baron scored 32 of those 38 points after intermission. He produced 11 of them in the second overtime. And or course he fired the final bullet, hitting a fallaway three from in front of the Canisius bench with two-tenths of a second on the clock for a 94-91 victory over Rider. Those in the crowd of 1,226 will struggle to find a more entertaining night out than this one.
The game was a slugfest. Both teams came in 3-1 in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play and were striving to maintain their share of the league lead. Rider (7-7 overall) once led by as many as nine points, Canisius (10-6) by no more than five. The score was tied 13 times. The lead changed hands on 14 occasions. And the finish line kept moving.
A third overtime looked possible after Rider guard Anthony Myles sank a three-pointer for a career-high 30 points with just 10.1 seconds on the clock. Canisius inbounded to Baron, who immediately encountered a wall of Broncs. Baron fed it ahead to Josiah Heath, who caught the pass just over midcourt, took a dribble, then found Baron hustling up as the trailer. Baron squared and let it fly from some 24 feet, falling onto his back as the shot swished through the net.
“When he gave it back to me I just let it go,” Billy the Kid said. “I didn’t even see it go in. Josiah was in front of me. Everyone was going nuts. Just very thankful.”
“Baron, that’s why he’s the best player and that’s why he’s the preseason player of the year,” said Rider coach Kevin Baggett. “He hit a big shot and give him credit. He hit some big shots throughout the game.”
For 20 minutes Rider appeared to have found the antidote to Baron’s poison. They fought over ball screens and flashed double teams whenever the Canisius leader had the ball, eliminating his trademark dribble penetration. He’d gone for 20 or more points in 10 games this year but this wasn’t shaping up as one of them.
“We wanted to throw a couple different guys at him, try to wear him down as much as possible,” Baggett said. “I thought we did a good job the first half.”
Baron never fatigued. He played a game-high 48 of the 50 minutes and made 11 of 19 shots from the field. He was also 12 of 13 from the line, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out seven assists against just one turnover.
Yet in reality this was no one-man show.
Senior center Jordan Heath scored 17 points and produced a school-record nine blocks. Freshman guard Zach Lewis scored 12 points in his first career start and redshirt freshman forward Phil Valenti came off the bench to add another dozen. The Griffs shot 54.7 percent for the game, a ridiculous success rate given the circumstances. They were 8 of 11 from the field in the OTs.
Myles was outstanding for Rider and played a big part in corralling Baron early on. But he also had help. Zedric Sadler struck for 16 points and sent the game into overtime by converting a conventional three-point play with 23.6 seconds left in regulation. Kahlil Thomas netted a dozen.
This was Baron’s night.
He either scored or assisted on 23 of the Griffs’ final 25 points in regulation. He overcame the size advantage of the 6-foot-5 Myles to drive the basket and produce a three-point play to knot the score at 76 with 1.2 seconds left in the first overtime.
And then he scored the final 11 Canisius points of the night, leaving his father the coach misty eyed.
“It’s a fabulous experience,” Jim Baron said. “It’s just special. I treasure it. It’s just too cumbersome right now to explain it, but I think as time goes on I will explain it. It’s so special. He knows how I feel and I love him to death. He’s a special kid.”