SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — In the end they were left to wonder if three seconds might have made a difference. Two seconds. One.
What if that final shot had come from 22 feet? Twenty-five? Somewhere inside 33? Might then have Billy Baron found the mark, forced overtime, kept alive his long-declared goal of making the NCAA Tournament? Would Canisius have found a way?
They’ll never know.
There are myriad reasons Canisius fell to Iona, 75-72, in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference semifinals Sunday evening and a failure to execute fundamental end-game strategy ranks among them. The Griffs needed to foul quickly after Chris Manhertz dunk drew them within 73-72 with 9.7 seconds remaining. Foul and hope for the best. Foul and the likely worst-case scenario is down three with nine seconds to tie.
Instead, the Griffs pawed at the ball Tre Bowman held tight after the inbounds pass. Dominique Raney took a swipe. So did Zach Lewis.
Seven seconds. Six. And finally the foul, with just 5.2 seconds remaining.
Both Bowman free throws found the mark. Up the floor dribbled Baron striving to find a comfortable range. A.J. English fronted him, draining ticks from the clock. Baron pulled up well behind the three-point arc, let it fly and …
No NCAAs. The consolation probably will be a bid to a minor tournament, which beats nothing at all, although at the moment in their eyes not by much.
“I knew that was short right away,” Baron said. “Just didn’t put enough legs into it. I guess I pulled up a little deeper than I wanted to. But those are the things you just got to live with. That’s got to make you better. That’s going to push me this entire summer to elevate my game.”
If you’re a player on the losing team and in particular a senior you don’t lose a game this way and not think about it forever. There are the two straight-away threes Baron missed that would have given Canisius the lead, the last with 34 seconds left.
“I missed a few big shots there,” Baron said. “Not that last one, but there were a couple balls there I should of hit and I missed those. That’s basketball for you. You’re not going to hit everything.”
There’s the help defense Manhertz provided to take a layup away from English, only to see the ball fall into the hands of David Laury for points that put top-seeded Iona on top for good with 56 seconds left.
There were the 19 seconds of clock frittered away between a Sean Armand free throw for a 73-70 Iona lead with 28.2 seconds to go and the Marhertz jam. And then there was the failure to foul quickly following the ensuing inbounds pass.
“We really tried to get the five-second count so we could get the ball under our basket,” Griffs coach Jim Baron said in a circuitous explanation. “That’s what we really tried to do.”
Credit Billy Baron and Canisius (21-12). They appeared done for when the Gaels (22-9) opened a 10-point lead with 4:18 to play. Then Baron accounted for nine points in a 10-0 blitz that tied the game at 70 with 1:29 remaining.
Iona’s next possession went late into the shot clock before English penetrated and made for the basket. Manhertz appeared to get a piece of the shot but the rebound found its way to Laury. It was his only basket of the game, but what makes Iona so formidable is they have no shortage of scorers. Sean Armand went for 21 points, Bowman and Isaiah Williams for 16, English for 12. As for the 6-foot-7 Laury, the rebound that found his hands led to his one and only basket.
“I seen the shot go up and I was just trying to chase it down,” Laury said.
Canisius tried to respond. Baron, the MAAC Player of the Year, misfired on a straightaway three, a shot he’s drained countless times in his two years with the Griffs. He didn’t get another look until the urgent jumper before the buzzer. He finished with 23 points and five assists, making 8 of 17 from the field but just 2 of 9 from three-point land.
“We’ve seen Billy on film win enough of those game,” Iona coach Tim Cluess said. “I told our guys he’s not going to win this game, it’s going to be someone else that’s going to beat us tonight, and I thought our guys did a great job of taking it out of his hands and also recovering to make other shots contested.”
Manhertz came up big for Canisius, his 15 points and 13 rebounds good for his second double-double of the tournament. Zach Lewis added 13 points, 11 in the opening six minutes. Senior Chris Perez went for 12 points and five rebounds.
“Our guys played our hearts out, that’s all you can ask for,” Manhertz said. “And even though it’s not the outcome that we wanted, at least our guys played our hearts out.”