Reggie Witherspoon’s cell phone started blowing up with congratulatory text messages as soon as the buzzer sounded on Canisius’ 94-87 overtime victory over the University at Buffalo Saturday.
By the time he hit the post-game news conference, the Golden Griffins’ coach said he had 50-some messages.
Witherspoon wouldn’t acknowledge that he took extra satisfaction in beating the university that fired him 3 1-2 years ago. But he could not deny his new team’s first meeting with the Bulls meant a ton to friends and family.
“I just was reading some text messages, and for the people who stayed with us when we were down as a family, it means a lot to them,” Witherspoon said. “I can see that from the text messages from friends, some of them coaching around the country. Some of our family members, it meant a lot to them.”
While Witherspoon’s history with UB could not be denied, it did not overshadow the sensational exhibition put on by the Golden Griffins.
Canisius continued its phenomenal offensive efficiency in winning a thriller before a Big 4 Classic doubleheader crowd of 5,327 at KeyBank Center.
Junior forward Jermaine Crumpton scored a career-high 31 points to lead the Griffs (7-5) to a fourth straight win.
Canisius entered the game ranked 25th in the nation in three-point shooting – hitting 40.3 percent of their shots behind the arc - and made 14 of 30 three-point shots against UB. Crumpton hit 5 of 10 threes to push his season average behind the arc to an unconscious 56 percent.
Canisius entered the game fifth in the nation in assist rate and made 22 assists on 30 field goals made.
The way Canisius spaced the floor and spread the ball around was beautiful to watch.
“Coach emphasizes turning the court over, not letting the ball stick, keeping the ball moving,” Crumpton said. “When we do that we get good shots. It’s tough to guard.”
UB’s offense was hardly shabby. The Bulls got balanced scoring from its top four weapons. Blake Hamilton scored 19, Nick Perkins 18, Willie Conner 17 and C.J. Massinburg 16.
The final minutes of regulation were spectacular. Crumpton hit a three-pointer to tie it at 79 with 2:30 left. Kiefer Douse put Canisius ahead, 81-79, with a slash to the rim. Hamilton tied it, 81-81 with a strong drive down the lane.
With 39 seconds left, Hamilton made a huge block of a shot by Kassius Robertson, who had broken free on a back-door cut. But then Crumpton played textbook defense and drew a charge of Hamilton with 19 seconds left.
In overtime, Canisius’ flurry of cuts and passes wore the Bulls down. The Griffs scored on five straight possessions – four via layups – to take command.
“It’s a rivalry game, a great win in the Big 4 Classic,” Crumpton said. “It was fun. I’d like to credit my teammates with getting me the ball and screening for me, putting me in position to do something. . . . The shots were falling. I continued to shoot and they continued to fall.”
Crumpton became the first player to score 30 in the downtown arena since Steph Curry put up 30 for Davidson in the NCAA Tournament in 2007.
“He carried us the whole game offensively and defensively,” Robertson said. “He got some huge charges, some clutch charges.”
“If you get beat and have to help, they share the ball,” said UB coach Nate Oats. “Their assist rate is high. You can’t keep getting beat because they’re going to share the ball, move it around and get an open shot.”
For UB (5-6), there was no shame in losing to a team that it barely beat a year ago, 98-96, in overtime.
However, Oats was not happy with his team’s defensive effort.
“To me it’s an embarrassing loss because we’re supposed to be better than this,” Oats said. “We have four seniors, and this wasn’t what they planned for their senior year, to be 5-6 at this point.”
“They played harder than us,” Oats said. “They wanted the game more. We tried to explain to our guys the situation going in, how this was going to be the biggest game of the year for them. . . . I thought they outplayed us effort-wise.”
Canisius got 14 points from Robertson, 13 from Douse and 12 from forward Phil Valenti, who played only 22 minutes due to foul trouble. But the Griffs also got eight points and nine rebounds from backup senter Selvedin Planincic and nine points on three three-pointers by freshman Spencer Foley. Freshman point guard Malik Johnson did a good job making Massinburg work to bring up the ball. Massinburg, coming off mononucleosis, had to play 42 minutes and was 0 for 6 behind the arc.
“I can’t say enough about guys off the bench who were able to play minutes and be productive, particularly defensively,” Witherspoon said.
“I told the guys in the locker room we’re onto something very special,” Crumpton said.