Don't write off Canisius just yet.
Seemingly destined for the play-in round of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament when it hits town March 2, the Griffs are suddenly making a charge that could get them into the top six of the conference standings and avoid an extra game in the tourney.
After Sunday's 62-57 victory over Manhattan at HSBC Arena, Canisius has won five of its last six games to improve to 16-9 overall -- its most wins in Mike MacDonald's four years as head coach. The Griffs are 8-8 and seventh in the MAAC, looming behind Rider and Manhattan (both 9-7) and Marist (10-6) with two games to play. Teams 7 through 10 stage prequarterfinals March 2.
Canisius closes its season with two road games, Wednesday at Niagara and Saturday at Marist.
"You guys (the media) all probably think I'm full of it but we're really not focusing in on all that," MacDonald said. "We're focusing in on playing well. We'll end somewhere. Maybe we'll be seventh and have to play another game. We're 8-8 in our league, which isn't terrible. We've come a long way from last year."
That's true, since the Griffs were 10-20 last year. But this season has been frustrating because Canisius could be in much better shape had it, for example, not blown a 22-point second-half lead at Siena or suffered a stunning one-point loss to lowly Loyola.
"Shame on us because we've had a couple games get away from us," MacDonald said. "There's nothing we can do about that now. We can't get those back. . . . But I'm sick of apologizing for where we are. We're 16-9. Last year at this time, we were 7-18."
Canisius held on Sunday after nearly blowing yet another double-digit lead in the second half. The Griffs used a 17-0 run in a nine-minute stretch spanning both halves to take a 39-26 lead and Manhattan (12-14, 9-7) never caught up.
The Jaspers, however, made things very tight. Star forward Durelle Brown scored 13 of his game-high 25 points in the first 15 minutes of the second half as Manhattan crept within range.
Two free throws by freshman David Holmes with 1:14 left pulled Manhattan within a point (58-57) and the Jaspers got a chance to take the lead when Holmes took a charge from Canisius guard Brian Dux with 57 seconds left. But with the shot clock winding down, Holmes missed a fallaway jumper over Griffs center Darren Fenn.
Canisius forward Tory Jefferson hit two free throws with 12.9 seconds left to put the Griffs up three. Jaspers point guard Von Damien Green was then short on a potential tying three-pointer and Canisius sewed up the win on Fenn's two free throws with 1.3 seconds left.
That clinched a juicy slice of revenge for the Griffs, who were whacked at Manhattan, 88-64, on Jan. 15 in a game that saw them grab just one offensive rebound. They had 10 Sunday in forging a 39-27 advantage on the boards.
"This feels great," Jefferson said. "We lost by 24 last time but it seemed like we lost by 40."
"We went down there and played horribly," Fenn said. "Manhattan is very good and they took us out of whatever we wanted to run. We just didn't feel comfortable down there for whatever reason."
Fenn led three Griffs in double figures with 16 points, 13 rebounds and was equally effective on the defensive end. Manhattan hit just 21 of 61 from the field (2 of 15 from three-point range).
"He was good today," said Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez. "He was physical and was really active. He was moving around playing post 'D' and played like a 6-10 post guy. There was one legitimate center out there and we didn't have him."
Gonzalez said a healthy Fenn, now a month back after knee surgery, is good news for the Griffs. Most conference observers deem them a major threat to win the tournament -- if they only have to play three games to take the title, rather than four.
"It's not like climbing Mount Everest," MacDonald said. "If you have to win four, you have to win four. These guys would probably rather play a game than practice anyway. . . . The way our guys are playing, I believe in them. I think they believe in each other, too."