Canisius coach Mike MacDonald always preaches to his freshmen to stay ready because there's no telling when he might need them.
Fortunately for MacDonald, Jon Ferris was listening.
The reserve forward made a pair of free throws with 21.6 seconds remaining to give the Golden Griffins a thrilling 70-68 victory over Marist before 1,011 at the Koessler Center on Saturday.
The win was the third in a row for Canisius (14-8, 6-7 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference), which includes decisions over the top two teams (Iona and Marist) in the MAAC going into this weekend.
"Last Friday, everybody was disappointed we lost to Fairfield," said guard Clive Bentick, whose 12 points tied Toby Foster for team scoring honors. "But everybody has picked up their intensity. We're starting to play the kind of ball we're capable of."
Many players contributed for Canisius Saturday, but the hero was Ferris, who was forced to play at crunch time because starting center Darren Fenn and backup Andrew Bush had fouled out.
Ferris played only eight minutes, but he made the most of them with six clutch points in the final six minutes.
"I'm really happy for him," MacDonald said. "He and Rick (Hampton) have kind of battled back and forth on where to play and who's going to get that extra minute. When we have Darren, Andy and Toby all healthy, it's real tough to get all five guys minutes at the four (power forward) and five (center) spots. But Jon hasn't complained or hung his head. He's worked hard and kept playing."
Two free throws by Donald Vale (game-high 19 points) got Marist within a point at 68-67 with 29.7 seconds left. Canisius beat the defense down court and Tory Jefferson found Ferris, who missed the layup, but got fouled.
His first free throw bounced high off the back of the rim, banked off the backboard and into the basket. The second attempt was much cleaner and the Griffs had a three-point lead.
"When I stood at the line, I thought, 'That's why I came to college, to be put in this position,' " said Ferris, a 50 percent free-throw shooter. "I think back to being in high school and my coach telling me, 'Jon, if you want to get better and go big-time, you've got to want to take those big-time shots.' I wanted the ball at the end."
The Red Foxes (14-10, 9-5) had a chance to force overtime when Jefferson fouled Nick Eppehimer on a three-point shot with 5.9 seconds left. Eppehimer missed two of the three foul shots, but Canisius couldn't retrieve the rebound. After a mad scramble under the basket, the ball popped out to Marist guard Sean Kennedy, who missed a wide-open 10-foot jumper at the buzzer.
"I think every hand that was on the court touched it," MacDonald said. "(Marist) Coach (Dave) Magarity might have had a hand in there, too. That was excruciating."
Marist protested briefly that one of its players got fouled after Eppehimer's last missed free throw, but Magarity expected the no-call afterward.
"I can sit here and say the kid got fouled . . . but that's a tough call to make at the end," he said. "They gave us the call on the three-point shot when (Eppehimer) got fouled. Sometimes you don't get that call. The refs didn't lose the game for us. We had our chances."
The Griffs, who never trailed, got off to another fast start. An early three-point shooting barrage helped them build a 21-5 lead. Marist clawed its way back with a 16-3 run over the next six minutes, but point guard Brian Dux (10 points) scored one basket and assisted on three others as Canisius closed the first half with a 13-4 spurt to take a 39-27 lead into the break.
Fenn picked up his fourth foul two minutes into the second half, touching off a quick 10-0 burst by Marist that trimmed Canisius' lead to 43-39.
Fenn fouled out and Bush got his fourth during a 9-0 Marist run capped by an alley-oop dunk and a free throw by Matt Tullis that tied the game for the first time at 50-50 with 10:14 left.
"It was tough, but it doesn't matter whether the calls were right or not," said Fenn, who scored 10 points in just 11 minutes. "That's part of the game, you have to deal with it and move on."
The Red Foxes tied it up twice more, the final time at 65-65 on a three-pointer by Rick Smith with 1:39 to play. But they never could pass the Griffs.
Marist also was done in by a questionable blocking foul on Tullis, who appeared to have established position before Foster made contact driving to the basket for a layup. Foster completed the three-point play to put Canisius ahead for good at 68-65 with 1:13 remaining.
"That was a big swing in the game," Magarity said. "It just puts you in a position now where you have to make big plays. But I thought (Tullis) made a big play. I thought it should have been a charge."
"I was real impressed with the way we survived," said MacDonald, whose team visits Fairfield Monday. "We stuck it out and we persevered when things were going crazy on us."