Canisius is off to its best start in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men’s basketball in nearly 20 years – just barely.
The Golden Griffins (9-5, 3-0 MAAC) built a 21-point halftime lead and nearly blew it all before walking off with a 67-63 triumph over Saint Peter’s before only 143 at the Yanitelli Center in Jersey City, N.J. The last time the Griffs started 3-0 in the conference was in 1994-95 under coach John Beilein.
Senior Billy Baron scored 25 points to lead the Griffs. Senior Chris Manhertz had 12 points and Chris Perez had 11. However, the biggest contribution may have come from Zach Lewis, a freshman guard from Windsor, Conn., who had only eight points. Saint Peter’s had closed to within two points of the Griffs (62-60) when Lewis hit a three-point shot from the left wing with 2 seconds left on the shot clock and 15 seconds left on the game clock.
“That was a huge shot there from Zach with the shot clock running down,” Canisius coach Jim Baron said. “We came out firing and executing our offense in the first half and in the second half, to their credit, Saint Peter’s came back at us. That’s a good league win for us on the road. Nothing is going to be given to you in league play, and our guys did a good job of stepping up and taking this one today.”
Led by Marvin Dominique, who finished with 26 points, Saint Peter’s used a 17-6 run in the first 6:04 of the second half to cut the deficit to 10. The Peacocks got as close as one, 57-56, with 4:46 left.
Meanwhile, in New Rochelle, Niagara (4-11, 1-3 MAAC) was steamrolled by defending MAAC champion Iona, 118-92, before 1,776 at the Hynes Center.
The host Gaels (6-6, 3-0 MAAC) shot 65.4 percent and set a school record with 33 assists as they hit a season high for points and ended a four-game losing streak in their first home game since Dec. 14.
For the first time this season, the nation’s leading scorer, Antoine Mason, did not finish as Niagara’s top scorer. Mason had 22 points in 31 minutes, only the sixth time this season he’s been under 30 points. That was one point less than freshman Ramone Snowden, who had all of his 23 in the second half. Mason saw his scoring average drop to 28.7. He also was leading the nation in free throws attempted (181) and free throws made (135) but was at the line for only five attempts, making four on Saturday.
“We got to defend better,” Niagara coach Chris Casey said. “They beat us down the floor a number of times and beat us off the dribble a lot, which is something they do well. I don’t think they missed an open look.”
Iona went on a 19-4 run to take a 24-9 lead with 11:45 left in the first half. The Gaels, who led as many as 29 points, took a 62-36 halftime advantage, shooting 75 percent.