Maybe it’s time to change Billy Baron’s uniform number from 12 to 55.
The Canisius College star played all 55 minutes Sunday and scored a career-high 40 points to lead the Golden Griffins to a 92-88 triple-overtime victory over Siena in the Times Union Center.
Niagara once played a six-overtime game against Siena in Albany in 1953, one of the longest games in college basketball history.
Because Ed Fleming played all 70 minutes for the Purple Eagles, his uniform number was changed from No. 6 to No. 70. Larry Costello, who played 69 minutes, changed from No. 24 to No. 69.
Sunday’s game wasn’t as long, but it was just as thrilling and rewarding for the Griffs who had lost eight straight to Siena in the state capital since their last win over the Saints there in 2005.
The victory kept Canisius tied with Manhattan and Quinnipiac for second place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Each is 12-4, two games behind first-place Iona (14-2).
Manhattan defeated Niagara, 90-72, in Draddy Gymnasium in Riverdale to keep pace while Quinnipiac, which will face the Griffs on Thursday in the Koessler Athletic Center, won at Saint Peter’s, 74-64.
“This was a hard fought battle for sure,” Canisius coach Jim Baron said. “We knew it was going to be a tough, physical game. Siena battles. They just keep coming at you. This week has been an emotional one for us. We got the win up at Niagara on Friday and then had to turn around quick and come down here. Our guys really played hard all the way through, which is a credit to them. They made the extra pass, and they followed the game plan of defense, and we got some big stops when we needed them.”
Baron went 10 of 14 from the field and had 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and a blocked shot. His 40 points were the most for a Canisius player since Ron Peaks scored 40 against Niagara on Dec. 9, 1978. He scored nine of the 12 Canisius points in the third overtime and is now averaging 24.6 points a game for the season with 665 points in 27 games.
Baron’s total was the third most ever in a game at Times Union Center. It was his three-point play with 45 seconds left in the third overtime that gave Canisius the lead for good.
Baron missed three-pointers at the end of regulation and the first overtime and Chris Perez of the Griffs missed a triple at the end of the second extra sessions.
Perez had 25 points for Canisius, Rob Poole had a career high 33 for Siena. His three-point play with 56 seconds left in the third overtime put the Saints up, 88-87. His three from the wing tied the game at 80 for Siena in the second overtime.
Baron drove past Siena’s man-to-man defense on the possession that followed Poole’s three-point play, and drew contact while scoring the go-ahead basket. Poole was forced to take a deep, contested three with 12 seconds left on Siena’s next trip and threw an air ball. Baron sealed the outcome with two free throws after Canisius grabbed the rebound.
Of Baron’s 40 points, 18 came at the free-throw line in 19 attempts, a Times Union Center record for makes. Perez made 9 of 10 foul shots. Overall Canisius was 31 for 41 at the line while Siena was 21 for 31, including two misses by Marquis Wright late in the first overtime and another by Brett Bisping in the third.
Another key play was Jordan Heath’s rejection of Wright’s drive in traffic with 12 seconds left late in regulation with the score tied at 68. After a timeout, Baron couldn’t connect on leaner from three-point range.
Canisius is 2-1 in overtime games this season. Sunday’s game equalled the longest the Griffs have played since they defeated Manhattan in four overtimes, 105-98, Jan. 31, 2000. Canisius won a three-overtime game at Iona, 90-88, on Jan. 30, 2005.
Nearly 60 years ago, Canisius went to four overtime to upset North Carolina State, 79-78, in the second round of the 1956 NCAA Tournament at the Palestra in Philadelphia. Until the Canisius baseball team defeated No. 5 ranked North Carolina State, 3-0, on Sunday, that was the only time a Golden Griffins team defeated a Top Five ranked opponent.
Meanwhile, Niagara shot only 25 percent in the first half at Manhattan and never recovered. The Purple Eagles trailed, 31-15, with six minutes to go in the first half and by 41-30 at the break.
Three Purple Eagles were in double figures, led by Marcus Ware had 19 points. Antoine Mason, the nation’s leading scorer, netted 17 points and Tahjere McCall added 16 points.