The way Damone James was firing jumpers, you would have thought he was still wearing his old Turner/Carroll High School uniform.
The Canisius senior scored all eight of his points in a two-minute span of the first half Thursday and it helped swing the momentum in the Griffs' 89-80 NIT quarterfinal victory over Washington State.
James graduated from high school as the Msgr. Martin Association's all-time leading scorer, but spotty shooting has relegated him to a reserve role his last two years in college. With many family members and friends in the stands, he became an instant hit because of his instant offense.
James entered the game with Canisius trailing, 19-10. It was 21-12 when his three-pointer from the right of the key sparked a 13-0 run that put the Griffs ahead for good. James hit another trey and a 12-foot jumper in the outburst.
"In those situations when coach (John Beilein) puts me in the game and we're down, I know he doesn't want me to come in and be tentative," James said. "I had to try to give us a spark and pick the team up."
"What a storybook way for him to finish his career here because he's had a tough time," Beilein said of James. "He's the most resilient and strongest character you'll see. He could have quit any time. A lot of kids will quit. He never did."
The game itself was probably the easiest part of the week for James. Being the only Buffalo-area player on the team meant having to deal with a huge amount of ticket requests.
"I had to turn my ringer on my phone off," James said. My roommates (center Micheal Meeks and guard Chris Young) got mad at me all day from the phone ringing. It's just been hectic this whole week but I had to turn some people down because I can't get the whole East Side tickets along with my family."
"Oh yeah, everybody was calling," Young concurred. "The answering machine was filled up."
So was the basket at the Terrace Street end of the Aud. Thanks to James and Young, who had seven quick points in the first half, the Griff reserves outscored their Cougar counterparts, 20-4, in the opening 20 minutes.
"Damone and I talk about being veterans and providing spark off the bench," Young said. "You have to play as veterans. We've played in a lot of games and we know how to win."
The victory made the Pac 10 one of 10 conferences to suffer defeats to Canisius this year.
Other Griff non-conference wins have been against the Ivy League (Penn), Northeast (St. Francis), Atlantic 10 (St. Bonaventure), Great Midwest (Cincinnati), Southern (Georgia Southern), Metro (UNC-Charlotte), Patriot (Colgate), Big East (Seton Hall) and Missouri Valley (Bradley).
The attendance figure was fewer than 400 shy of a sellout and was the largest at the Aud for a Canisius game since 16,279 saw Christian Laettner lead No. 1 Duke to a 96-60 victory over the Griffs on Dec. 7, 1991.
The game was only the second time in school history the Griffs have played as late as March 23. The last time was March 23, 1963, when Canisius suffered an 81-66 loss to Providence in the NIT championship game.
Monday night's NIT semifinal against Virginia Tech will make this Canisius season the latest any area team has ever played into March. Thursday's contest was the Griffs' 33rd of the season, two more than the 1946-47 team played en route to an 18-13 record.