ALBANY – Early in the game Reggie Witherspoon saw what was happening with his team. And he didn't understand it.
For the first time all season, the Canisius College Golden Griffins were playing not to lose. That bad mojo led to other players trying to do too much, to take on the task of the postseason by themselves.
That's not what led the Griffs to a share of the regular season Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basketball title.
But it is what led to their downfall in the MAAC tournament.
The second-seeded Griffs were on the wrong side of the second upset of Friday night, losing to No. 7 Quinnipiac, 72-69, in Times Union Center. That loss came just hours after No. 1 Rider lost to No. 9 Saint Peter's, 66-55.
"We had guys that played worried from the beginning," said Witherspoon, in his second season as the Griffs head coach. "We tried to get that out of them and it just becomes a problem. Certain guys recognized that other guys were trying to not lose and then they tried to step up and go harder and force things on their own. Now, we're not together. You've got a combination of bad energy and guys going individual. That was a problem."
There are plenty of uncharacteristic stats in the final box score for the Griffs, but the one that sticks out for Witherspoon, the one that best exemplifies the way they played, was the assist column. The Griffs had just 10 assists on 25 field goals. Only three players registered assists, led by seven from Malik Johnson with two from Isaiah Reese and one from Takal Molson.
That's not the Griffs at their best. When they're at their best offensively, they're moving the ball, getting reversals, and finding each other on the court.
Buckets on Friday came from jump shots or post players going one-on-one.
"We have never been a type of team where we've been able to function with just isolation basketball, one-on-one, and still look good," Witherspoon said. "We don't wear that very well. We don’t wear those clothes very well and we tried them on today. We thought we could get away with wearing them and we didn't."
There were other problematic stats. The Griffs turned the ball over 16 times leading to 21 easy points for Quinnipiac. They shot just 5 of 20 from three-point range and were a dismal 14 of 24 from the free throw line. Defensively the Griffs couldn't stop the Bobcats from the field in the second half when Quinnipiac shot 61.5 percent from the field including hitting 6 of 13 from three-point range.
"What happens is, if you're not playing the game together on offense, you're going to spend too much energy on the way you don't normally play and that energy is going to not be there in other areas," Witherspoon said. "It's not going to be there defensively. Give them credit. They made some shots and we didn't play together on either end."
The Griffs led by as many as 10 in the second half, but turnovers and foul trouble damaged any hope of the Griffs finding their offensive flow. The Bobcats found their stroke from three-point range, including a three from Aaron Robinson with 2:32 left to play which put the Bobcats up 66-60.
Canisius may have been off kilter, but they went down swinging.
The Griffs forced a turnover and Malik Johnson put in a layup with 50 seconds left to cut it to 68-66 but Cameron Young hit two free throws with 41.8 seconds left to make it a two possession game.
Crumpton came back down and with a strong low-post move and completed a three-point play with 36.3 seconds left to make it a one-point game, 70-69.
A layup from Kelly gave the Bobcats a three-point lead and while Canisius had two good looks from three-point range, they failed to connect to tie the game.
With the loss, the Griffs fell to 21-11. They still have an outside shot an NIT bid but more likely will get a call from one of the other post-season tournaments. Crumpton, the fifth-year senior from Niagara Falls who was Co-Player of the year, had a game-high 22 points with 11 rebounds.
Sophomore Isaiah Reese had 13 points with eight rebounds while Molson, the league's Rookie of the Year, had 10 points and six rebounds.
Three of the Griffs starters return next season, but for Witherspoon the work begins now.
"We're going to have to do a better job of clearing out anything individual. Do everything to clear out anything individual," Witherspoon said. "It's hard because as much as our sport is a team sport the individual element always tries to rear its ugly head. We haven't been playing that way … and we can't function that way."