King Rice knew all about Zach Lewis’ shooting ability. The Monmouth coach circled No. 1 on the board in the locker room, and even noted that more than half of his attempts came from long range.
Also atop Rice’s things to remember was to restrain Billy Baron – always a good place to start – and if someone like Lewis catches a rhythm, so be it.
In the end, another opponent’s strategy was rendered unusable as Lewis scored a career-best 25 points to more than complement Baron’s 26 as Canisius rolled over Monmouth, 87-67, in front of 1,311 at the Koessler Center on Sunday.
It was victory No. 420 for Jim Baron as a Division I coach, passing Digger Phelps, his mentor and former boss at Notre Dame. And it came against a Monmouth team (9-8, 2-4) that had its way with Niagara on Friday night because the Purple Eagles couldn’t crack its 2-3 zone until the game was out of reach.
But it’s hard to stay in a zone against a team like Canisius when Billy Baron lets fly before the defense is set, and when opponents throw junk schemes at the senior guard, players like Lewis step up.
The willowy freshman from Windsor, Conn., splashed seven of the Golden Griffins 14 three-pointers while Baron was 5 of 9 in a game as Canisius — which led by as many as 26 late in the game — was never truly threatened.
“He ain’t made that many in a game in college, today he made ’em,” Rice said. “That’s how you have to play when you have Billy Baron on the other team. If he gets his average, this game is interesting.”
Lewis started for the first time in Friday’s double overtime victory against Rider and scored 12 points in 46 minutes. He was hindered by an injury early in the season that caused him to miss two games.
“He’s a freshman, he’s a tough competitor, he’s a tough individual but he’s a freshman so it’s day-to-day. You don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring,” Jim Baron said. “You have to build consistency and that’s what we’re trying to do with all the guys.”
For Billy Baron, additional sidekicks are welcome.
“For me personally, selfishly, that’s everything I need,” he said. “I told them when they were running those junk defenses, sit there in the opposite corner and I’m going to find you. They doubled me and they left him open a few times. He hit some tough shots there at the end when he got it going but I told him to keep shooting that thing, that’s exactly what this team needs.”
And, perhaps most surprisingly, considering his college career is just 15 games old, Lewis was selective, shooting only when he was open.
“When you have someone like Billy and Chris Perez who was really getting into the lane and finding me for open shots, you have to hit ’em,” Lewis said. “Just them trusting me to take those shots as a freshman, I’m definitely feeling real comfortable out there.”
Billy Baron has that effect on his team and deserves the ultimate compliment: He makes others better. His all-around game on Sunday was splendid with eight rebounds, six assists and no turnovers.
Over the last three games he’s scored 91 points, an average of 30.3, including Friday night’s 38-point outburst and a buzzer beater that is becoming commonplace. No more phone calls for MAAC Player of the Week, please.
“You have a young man like Coach Baron’s son and here’s the deal: I tried to recruit him to Vanderbilt,” said Rice, the former Vanderbilt assistant, who also tried to recruit Perez to Vandy. “I know who he is and I’ve seen how good he’s gotten. … I’m proud of him because he’s become a great player.”
Jim Baron is often muted when discussing his son. On Sunday, he sounded like a proud father.
“If he were at Notre Dame or some of the other programs, that’s all they would be talking about is him,” he said.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself because he’s unbelievable. They put everything on him.”