It was almost as if Canisius couldn't see Howard, whose players move with the swiftness of a getaway car, as the Golden Griffins' languid passes fell into the Bison's hands. The more the Griffs played hot potato with the ball, the more the Bison converted easy layups.
There was a list of excuses for the Canisius' 87-76 season-opening debacle in front of 909 at the Koessler Center, starting with first-game jitters of a young team. But there was no accounting for the team-wide malaise of passes which led to 18 turnovers and 26 Howard points.
"It was very disappointing obviously for us," said Canisius coach Mike MacDonald. "I thought we played about 30 minutes of good basketball and the last 10 I don't think we did the things we needed to do."
Like taking care of the basketball. Frontcourt was supposed to be Canisius' biggest question mark coming into the season, not the backcourt. Not with a senior guard, a fourth-year junior and a sophomore in the lineup, who are usually dependable with ball-handling. There were a string of days like this last season when the Griffs couldn't buy a basket or grab a key rebound, but ball-handing was rarely a problem.
"Traditionally we have not had trouble with pressure, but obviously we did today," MacDonald said. "A lot of it was coming to the ball or meeting the pass. Whatever it was, it was unacceptable for the way we played."
So now Canisius (0-1), which led by as many as 10 points in the first half, goes into Saturday's HSBC Arena matchup against St. Bonaventure with a troubling loss against a team that finished 6-22 last season. A team with a nine-game losing streak dating back to year. A team picked to finish seventh in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. A team that was playing its third game in four nights. A team whose leading scorer, guard Cliffone Ault, made just one field goal. A team that was obviously good enough to beat Canisius.
Despite having three players finish with double-doubles and outrebounding Howard, 49-38, turnovers hindered the Griffs. Junior guard Kevin Downey had six and sophomore Darnell Wilson had four.
Howard (1-2) started out missing 12 of its first 13 shots but found a hit of adrenaline in the second half by shifting to a full court man-to-man press.
Using their press and timely three-point shooting by Darryl Hudson (17 points) and Darek Mitchell (16) off the bench, the Bison cobbled together a run midway through the second half and took its first lead at 53-52 on a free throw by Darryl Hudson. That's when the Bison's pressure defense kicked in as Canisius suffered turnovers in a variety of ways. Off in-bound passes. Off steals from behind. Tipped passes.
And Canisius knew it was coming: Howard forced 25 turnovers in its loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday.
"Normally with three guards, we handle it pretty well," said Downey, who finished with 14 points and seven boards. "We didn't come to the ball and when we did get the ball in-bounds, the other two (guards) would run away so it would leave him to bring it up by himself instead of beating it with the pass."
As Howard heated up, Canisius couldn't find the basket. The Griffs trimmed the lead to 66-64 on a three-pointer by Anthony Byrd but couldn't get any closer. When the offense goes nearly four minutes near the end without scoring a field goal, there is no way to play catch-up.
"It hurts to let one slip away," MacDonald said. "But we're not going to cancel the season."
Canisius was led by senior Dewitt Doss' 18 points. Downey had 14 points and seven rebounds, Chuck Harris had 12 points and 10 boards, Wilson added 12 points and 10 rebounds while freshman Rigoberto Sargeant made his debut with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Howard was led by 5-foot-6 point guard Louis Ford with 24 points, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals in 39 minutes. Ault was 1 of 16 from the floor and finished with nine points.