Canisius heads into this afternoon’s Showdown II with Iona dealing with circumstances that may hinder it in the short term but benefit it in the long run. The issue involves the availability of senior forward Chris Manhertz, the team’s leading rebounder and one of the conference’s more physical low-post presences.
Manhertz was listed as day-to-day before the 2 p.m. tipoff at the Koessler Athletic Center after suffering a broken nose in Friday night’s loss to Manhattan. He returned to the game wearing a makeshift protective mask, but that was before x-rays taken afterward revealed the break.
Even if Manhertz could get away with wearing the makeshift mask from a medical standpoint, the device obscures his vision to where he’s challenged to gauge rebounds and see the floor in general. The injury occurred in the first half when Manhertz was struck by what was deemed an inadvertent elbow.
“I was out of it for a little bit,” Manhertz said Saturday. “I was dazed, just disoriented. I was just trying to clean out the blood and go right back in. But I had no peripheral. Like trying to go for a rebound. I’m like, ‘Where is it?’”
Today’s game is vital in respect to the regular season. The loss to Manhattan coupled with Iona’s dramatic comeback victory at Niagara on Friday night leaves the Gaels alone in first place at 11-2, a full game ahead of the 10-3 Griffs. Iona can open a two-game edge on the field if it avenges the defeat that preceded its current six-game winning streak, an 85-83 loss to Canisius in New Rochelle on Jan. 17.
The Gaels (14-8 overall) rank ninth nationally in scoring at 83.8 points per game and guards fuel the fire. Sean Armand averages 18.6 and A.J. English checks in at 17.3. But the Gaels also have a formidable post presence in 6-foot-9, 250-pound junior David Laury, who’s averaging 23 points and 9.9 rebounds off the bench over the last three games.
If Manhertz can’t go, it falls to junior Josiah Heath and freshman Phil Valenti to help senior center Jordan Heath keep Laury in relative check. It’s a tall task but the experience could benefit Canisius (16-8 overall) come the MAAC Tournament, when depth can be an advantage and victory becomes the mandatory result. Coach Jim Baron labeled the Griffs a constantly evolving team even as they were winning 10 of 12 and climbing to the top of the conference.
“As I look at both Manhattan and Iona, their senior-laden and these guys have been together for a number of years,” Baron said Saturday. “That’s the challenge for us in making the next step is to try and implement the newcomers with what we have. Chris Perez, this is his first year. Valenti, this is his first year. Zach Lewis, his first year. So it’s on the job training for a lot of these guys.”
“It’s still a work in progress,” Manhertz said. “As long as we’re ready in March, like coach says, it’s a marathon, the season. We’re slowly learning, trying to utilize our strengths and just keeping it consistent.”
Iona arrives at the KAC on a high that goes with coming from 10 down in the final 3ø minutes to triumph on the road. But the Gaels are also wary of a Canisius team that hadn’t lost at home before Friday night. Even if Manhertz is a no-go, Iona still has to contend with Billy Baron, who went for 29 points in the first meeting.
“Unfortunately they lost so that means they’re going to come with even more energy, I think,” Gaels coach Tim Cluess said after the Niagara game. “Baron I think is the best player in our league and they have other players around him who are extremely talented players and they are playing at a very high level. They’re probably going to come in a little more angry now, which we expect. And in all fairness we have to play a lot better than we did.”
Meanwhile, Manhattan (16-6, 9-4) takes on Niagara (6-18, 3-10) at the Gallagher Center in another 2 p.m. start. It’s the first meeting between the teams. They’ll go at in again in Manhattan a week from today.