Those jump shots South Dakota missed the other night against St. Bonaventure rang true Monday against Canisius College and the Golden Griffins were in a tussle from tip to buzzer.
But, almost on cue, Billy Baron came to the rescue while newcomer Chris Perez added the final touch as the Canisius slipped away with a 71-66 season-opening victory in front of 1,579 at the Koessler Center.
Baron gave the Griffs (1-0) the lead for good at 67-64 with 57 seconds left. After South Dakota’s Trey Norris made two free throws, Perez hit a tough baseline jumper with a defender seemingly wrapped around him.
Canisius received a bailout when Norris missed a deep three-pointer. Baron grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 4.9 seconds remaining. The senior guard, who finished with a game-high 27 points, made a pair of free throws to cap the victory.
“It was going up, that what I work on and that’s what these guys want me to do,” said Baron on his late three-pointer. “That’s what I’m going to do. I’m a senior and I have to take ownership, I have to take leadership. That shot misses, that’s on me but I’m fine with that.”
Baron, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason Player of the Year, made 6 of 15 shots, including 5 of 9 from three-point range. He also connected on 10 of 11 free throws in 39 minutes.
“Billy Baron is a pretty good ball player and you guys are pretty fortunate to have that sucker,” South Dakota coach Joey James said.
Canisius coach Jim Baron would agree. After the game, Baron preached the gospel of having patience, especially in the backcourt after losing veteran scorers Harold Washington and Isaac Sosa.
“The players that we lost last year, you can’t re-sign them, it’s not the pros, they graduated,” Baron said. “We have a lot of newcomers and we have to build them into the infrastructure. It’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of patience.”
Canisius was picked to finish third in the MAAC behind Manhattan and Iona not because it lost Washington and Sosa but because they returned Billy Baron, Chris Manhertz and Jordan Heath among others. But Jim Baron may have a point.
Billy the Kid will need to find some reliable compadres in the backcourt and Perez, the Stetson transfer, and Dominique Raney were a combined 4-for-17 from the floor and 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. Perez, however, redeemed himself at the end.”
“Chris didn’t play his greatest game but he had the confidence to make a play,” Billy Baron said. “To hit a shot at a time like that, that was big time.”
Redshirt freshman Phil Valenti of Rochester had 10 rebounds, four offensive, in his debut.
“Phil’s first ever college game, getting 10 rebounds, that’s huge,” Billy Baron said. “He even had a no-look pass to me, and I was shocked that he threw it because I know he couldn’t see me.”
Canisius led, 22-14, after a free throw by Baron but the advantage was wiped away quickly as the Griffs piled up missed three-pointers. South Dakota’s Tyler Larson converted a conventional three-point play before Trey Norris chipped in four consecutive free throws and the Coyotes were back in the game, 22-21. Canisius took a 35-33 lead into halftime.
South Dakota (0-2), which lost to St. Bonaventure, 68-46, shot 44.4 percent in the second half and led by as many as four with 12:56 left in a game that featured 16 lead changes and nine ties.
“It’s good to have that pressure on you when time and score is really tight,” Baron said. “We need stuff like because down the stretch we’re going to have to pull out games like that.”