Niagara coach Joe Mihalich would be wise to destroy the tapes, to obliterate all evidence of what took place Wednesday night against Canisius at the Gallagher Center. Surely, it is not in his best interest to have it distributed to the rest of the league coaches this close to the MAAC Tournament.
The Purples Eagles' 85-70 loss was the worst ever suffered against the Griffs at Gallagher. It was also the best example of how you beat this Niagara team, and while we're at it, a textbook illustration of what it will take for any team to win the tournament when it comes to HSBC Arena next weekend.
One thing you learn after years of watching the MAAC teams go at it in March is that the tourney is won in the paint. You do not win with flash and dash, but with solid, fundamental basketball. Not by raining three-pointers, but by establishing your offense in the interior. Not in shootouts, but in low-post wars.
If this is any indication, Canisius is ready to play that way. The Griffs have a habit of relying too much on finesse and outside shooting at times. But they attacked Niagara's soft interior defense with a vengeance Wednesday and showed they are capable of playing the type of game that wins come tournament time.
They went inside at will, taking control early with a relentless parade of layups and short bank shots. Darren Fenn and Andy Bush were close to unstoppable in the post. Clive Bentick and Brian Dux drove to the hole with impunity. Tory Jefferson slashed to the hoop. The Griffs built an early double-digit lead by scoring 12 of their first 14 baskets from inside five feet.
"It was disrespectful the way we played tonight," said Daryl Greene, who scored three points on a bad ankle. "It was horrible. No defense, no offense, no nothing. That wasn't our team at all."
That's not entirely true. Niagara has been suspect on the defensive interior for some time now. It's the main reason they got bumped out of the tournament the last two years in the semifinals. Their centers, Shey Cohen and Christos DeFoudis, are not shot-blocking threats. Small forward Michael Schmidt is a defensive liability.
What Niagara has is a deep, talented offensive team that usually wins by outscoring people, by compensating for its interior deficiencies. Greene and Demond Stewart had the second-highest combined scoring average among the nation's returning backcourts this year. On most nights, their mere presence figured to be enough.
Niagara is 11-6 in the MAAC, but the Eagles have struggled every step of the way. Greene has suffered from tendinitis in his ankle. Now Stewart is hampered by what he believes is a stress fracture in his left foot. With the backcourt compromised, it's much tougher for Mihalich's squad to overcome its weakness underneath. Canisius put on a clinic for them Wednesday night.
"We're still a very, very good shooting team," said Canisius coach Mike MacDonald. "But we really want to drive to the hoop. One of the things I write on the blackboard before every game is "Get the ball in the paint, whether it's off the bounce or the pass.' And once we do that, we can be pretty dangerous."
"We started a small team because of the matchups," Mihalich said. "But they used the matchups to their advantage. Then we had to go big when they had (Fenn and Bush) in there. When we did that, they had two guys who dominated our big guys."
Bush had 15 points in 19 minutes - his best game since scoring 25 in the upset at St. Bonaventure. He's shooting 58.1 percent, which makes you wonder why MacDonald doesn't play him and Fenn together more. Still, it was hard to quibble with the results on this night. The Griffs looked like a team ready to make noise at the Arena next week.
Niagara, on the other hand, will exit the tourney very quickly if it plays defense like this.
"It has to be a straight team effort," Stewart said. "Everybody has to bring their game. That's why it's a team game. It's time to act like a team."
It's time to reach inside. Playing a little defense inside wouldn't hurt, either.