Jim Baron coached his 800th game Sunday and his Canisius Golden Griffins made sure he looked marvelous during the milestone occasion.
The Golden Griffins did a phenomenal job sharing the basketball (24 assists on 31 baskets). They made their shots when the opportunities presented themselves, specifically newcomers Dominique Raney and Zach Lewis. When it mattered most, their defense – led by senior newcomer Chris Perez – came up with stops, forcing 17 turnovers that led to 17 points.
Of course, Billy Baron was his usual playmaking self – pouring in game highs of 21 points and 13 assists.
Add all of that up and it’s easy to see why the Griffs cruised to a 93-78 victory over Siena in an early-season Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men’s basketball game at the Koessler Center.
A matinee crowd of 1,555 – which Jim Baron said after the game he wished was bigger – saw the home team hound the Saints from the opening tip en route to building a four-touchdown lead early in the second half.
Each time Siena tried to blunt Canisius’ momentum, the Griffs (5-3, 2-0) scored to keep their foe down as they won for the fourth time in five games and completed a weekend sweep of MAAC opponents on their home court. They beat Saint Peter’s on Friday night, 82-67, and are one of four teams off to a 2-0 start in conference play.
It’s the second straight season Canisius has started 2-0 in conference and just the fifth time it’s happened since it joined the MAAC in 1989-90.
“They’re a good team. They beat Bonaventure,” Baron said. “They’re coming off a good win at Niagara but I thought our kids really came out fired up. We stepped up.”
For the second straight game, Canisius showed that Billy Baron isn’t the only one wearing white, blue and gold who can score. Instead of Jordan Heath (15 points, four blocks and three assists) striking for a career game, though, it was underclassmen Raney (19 points) and Lewis (18 in 16 minutes) who set personal bests to leave first-year Saints coach Jimmy Patsos – the former long-time bench boss of Loyola (Md.) – lauding the Griffs while shouldering the blame for his team’s poor showing. Siena fell to 3-8, 1-1 in conference.
“I’m a little disappointed in our start and I’m a little disappointed in our finish,” said Patsos, who led Loyola to the NCAA Tournament in 2012. “Canisius played great. If they make threes, they’re going to win the league.”
Billy Baron still made his presence felt. He dished out eight of his 13 assists during Canisius’ 57-point first half as the Griffs were just two missed treys from striking for 63 in a half for the first time since Jan 10, 1979. Whenever the Saints tried to double team him on drives, he found the open shooters who buried their shots.
“My teammates made me really look good today,” he said.
“Billy Baron’s going to the NBA,” Patsos said. “He can really shoot and knows the game. I really liked him.”
What Jim Baron liked was the unselfish play of the Griffs, who return to action Wednesday night at First Niagara Center against University at Buffalo, and others stepping up to score for the second straight game.
“We really did a great job of sharing the basketball,” Jim Baron said. “Chris Perez had four assists, Billy what he did with 13 assists.
“It’s good. We need that,” Baron said of the contributions of Raney and Lewis. “Now we’ve got to carry it over. That’s going to be the challenge for this basketball team because those guys didn’t play last year. Zach didn’t play. Raney didn’t play. Perez didn’t play. We’ve got a lot of newcomers and we’re going to have some growing pains. Fortunately we’re on the side of makes but when we have some adversity that’s going to be the true tale of how far we can go and how consistent we can be is when we do have adversity and those shots don’t fall. … But this was a great team win for us.”
Perez, who sat out last season after transferring from Stetson, helped limit Siena’s top scorer, Rob Poole, to nine points, roughly six under his average. Brett Bisping led the guests with 17 points.
Canisius led, 57-36, at halftime. The lead grew to 66-38 on Raney’s steal and dunk with 17:13 left. Canisius shot 15 for 26 from downtown for the game, including 10 for 15 in the first half and made 31 of 63 shots overall.
Siena shot 56.1 percent for the game and outrebounded the hosts, 35-30, but shot 1 for 9 from beyond the arc and was too careless with the basketball.