Sophomore guard Kassius Robertson scored 19 points Sunday to lead Canisius College to a much-needed 67-61 victory over Rider University.
The Griffs (11-14) had lost four straight and eight of their previous 11. But in improving to 6-8 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, they kept themselves in contention for a favorable first-round matchup in the conference tournament.
The MAAC’s top three (Monmouth, Iona and Siena) have separated themselves. But Canisius and Rider (6-8) are among six teams within a game of fourth-place Manhattan and Saint Peter’s (6-6).
The 6-foot-3 Robertson averaged 6.8 points and 19 minutes a game last year and made the MAAC all-rookie team.
This year he’s averaging 14 points and 33 minutes. He’s also leading the MAAC with 65 three-pointers, and he’s ninth in the MAAC in three-point percentage (.406).
Robertson keyed the Griff victory by hitting four three-pointers in a seven-minute stretch. The last one put the Griffs ahead, 60-48, with 5:30 to go.
“He’s really good, he’s talented, he can make difficult shots,” said Rider coach Kevin Baggett.
“This is a big win, not only for just our record but for the team morale,” said Robertson, who went scoreless in Friday’s loss to Iona. “I had a pretty poor shooting game against Iona. I just tried to stay confident. Coach told me just keep shooting the ball.”
Up-tempo: Canisius used a full-court press most of the first half and part of the second. The Griffs forced 17 turnovers, five more than Rider was averaging per game. Canisius outscored the Broncs, 20-6, off turnovers.
Griffs coach Jim Baron said that with so many young players on his team learning his system, it has been hard to incorporate a press. But playing more up-tempo makes sense for his team, which doesn’t have a dominant low-post scorer in the half-court game.
“I told my staff we wanted to rev it up a little bit more than we’ve been doing,” Baron said. “It’s tough with so many newcomers to try to throw the system and up-tempo at them. But we needed to really push the ball, really attack the basket, get it down the floor, get to the offensive glass. I thought that was a real pivotal part of the game.”
Zone works: The Griffs played mostly zone defense against the Broncs, who rank 10th in the MAAC in three-point shooting percentage. Rider made just 5 of 26 three-pointers and did not move the ball around quickly to make the zone shift.
Canisius did a good job playing tight on Rider star guard Teddy Okereafor. He was held to seven points on 2-of-10 shooting.
“We just were going east and west,” Baggett said. “You’ve gotta go north and south. You’ve gotta move the ball. You’ve gotta cut. … We just were going east and west. You’ve gotta go north and south. You’ve gotta move the ball. You’ve gotta cut.”
Rarity: Ed Baron, brother of the Canisius coach, was one of two Griff fans who were thrown out of the Koessler Athletic Center by the officiating crew of Jeffrey Anderson, Ron Tyburski and Andrew Maira. They were deemed overzealous, although there was no profanity heard from the stands. The officiating consistently drew the wrath of the crowd of 792.
The first ejection came 1:30 into the second half. Rider opened the half by getting two free throws for a technical called on Phil Valenti, who complained about a dubious foul call as the teams left the court for intermission. The technical agitated the crowd, and the referees ejected a Canisius fan from the top row.
With 8:11 left in the game, the officials ejected Ed Baron, who was complaining from his seat a few rows behind the Canisius bench.
Scorers: Junior wing Kiefer Douse, in his fourth start, added 12 for the Griffs. Sophomore forwards Jermaine Crumpton and Cassidy Ryan each added 11, and senior guard Malcolm McMillan had 10. Rider got 19 from junior center Kahlil Thomas.
Up next: The Griffs have a tough road game at Siena at 7 p.m. Thursday in Albany. The Griffs visit Saint Peter’s on Sunday.