ALLEGANY – What a week for the Canisius Golden Griffins.
Five days after putting on an offensive clinic in upsetting the University at Buffalo, the Griffs played even better in stunning St. Bonaventure.
The Griffs conducted a symphony of ball movement, cuts to the basket and working for open perimeter shots. When it was over they had scored a 106-101 overtime victory.
“It’s a great feeling to leave here with a win,” said Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon. “Our guys were terrific. If you’re watching this game and you’re not coming out to see more college basketball, then you should. This was a great game.”
Time for some perspective: Canisius returned only three significant contributors from last year’s 14-19 team and was picked ninth in the 11-team Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Witherspoon has eight newcomers on the roster.
Yet six weeks into the season, the Griffs stand 8-5 and have the most road wins (six) in the nation. Running an entirely new offense installed by Witherspoon, they stand third in the nation in assist rate and 12th in the nation in three-point shooting.
A crowd of 3,433 saw Canisius win in the Reilly Center for the first time since 2003 and just the sixth time in 38 tries.
The MAAC is on notice: Watch out for the Griffs.
“Sweet,” said Griff senior Phil Valenti. “I haven’t won here my whole career. . . . This was a great up and down game. We’ve had two games like this, against UB too. We just fight to the end.”
Valenti, the 6-7 forward, scored 27 points. Canisius got 22 from 6-5 freshman guard Isaiah Reese, 16 from junior guard Kassius Robertson and 14 from 6-7 freshman wing Spencer Foley.
Bona got 33 from junior guard Matt Mobley, who sent the game to overtime on a three-pointer with 3.7 seconds left.
But Bona’s defense was poor despite the fact the Bonnies held an edge in athleticism. The Bonnies could not stop Robertson and Reese from penetrating the lane, could not close out fast enough on outside shooters and did not defend Canisius’ multitude of ball screens very well.
“When you score 101 points in your home gym, you should win,” said Bona coach Mark Schmidt. “But we didn’t. Give Canisius credit. The two freshmen, Reese and Foley, really killed us.”
Just like UB on Saturday, Bona spent the game chasing the Griffs as they moved the ball side to side until somebody got open on the perimeter or someone got loose on a pick and roll.
It was beautiful offensive basketball.
The Griffs shot 52 percent from the field and made 15 of 38 three-pointers (39.5 percent). They had 22 assists and made just 11 turnovers.
“When the ball’s moving, we have a lot of guys who can shoot it,” Witherspoon said. “The most important thing is we have a lot of guys who can pass it. The decision-making, when to pass it, lets our guys know the shot is coming. We can see it one or two passes away. That’s what makes us a little bit hard to guard.”
The first three minutes of the second half epitomized the Griffs’ efficiency. After flying to a 50-43 halftime lead, the Griffs scored on their first five possessions. Open corner three. Layup. Layup. Layup. Open three.
“When they have the instincts to pass it the way they do, it gets the defense spread out and in bad positions in a hurry,” Witherspoon said. “If you make a mistake and you leave a guy, that guy’s ready to shoot it. You have to come out and guard him and then it opens the court up even more.”
Bona finally went to a zone, and it took Canisius a few minutes to adjust. With 5:12 left, Valenti set a screen for Kiefer Douse, who slam dunked an alley-oop pass from Malik Johnson for a 77-74 lead. That righted the Griffs’ ship.
Bona star Jaylen Adams, who scored 17 points, fouled out with 4:03 left. Canisius’ No. 2 scorer, Jermaine Crumpton, fouled out with 2:56 left. He scored 14 points in just 15 minutes of action.
In overtime, Canisius got a clutch three-pointer from Reese to go ahead, 100-98. A rebound put-back by Kiefer Douse with 24 seconds left put the Griffs up for good, 102-101.
Reese was the first player signed by Witherspoon this summer. Witherspoon had scouted him for Tennessee-Chattanooga last spring. Canisius was his only offer. He looks like a steal.
“Isaiah’s a really good player, it’s not like it’s a surprise for us,” Witherspoon said. “What he did today is what we see pretty regularly in practice. . . . He got in the lane and he scored.”
The Griffs are off until a home game against Siena Jan. 2. Bona is off until the start of Atlantic 10 play Dec. 30 at Massachusetts.
“We’ve got to get better defensively,” Schmidt said. “Part of it is dribble penetration. We have a hard time keeping the ball in front of us. So when we get beat, now it’s rotations, and they do a good job of making that extra pass.”