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Canisius fans watching the NIT semifinals at Cole's Restaurant were reminded of the nervous Buffalo Bills fumbling their way through a Super Bowl.

But nothing could take away the Golden Griffins' spectacular rise to the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament in Madison Square Garden Monday night.

"They've already won, just by going to the Garden," said Ginny Scahill of East Aurora, a '78 Canisius alumna.

"They tried really hard, regardless of the outcome. The spirit of Little Three basketball is alive again -- this reminds me of the good old days. John Beilein is doing a good job."

Asked if she shared the view of many at Cole's that the Griffs were having a case of the Bills' Super Bowl jitters, the public relations executive said: "No. If this were our fourth year at the NIT, that might be appropriate."

Canisius junior Mary Ellen Collins of Lancaster didn't mince words.

"They can't shoot," she nagged. "They're pushing the ball up too fast and trying bad shots. They're impatient, they're nervous."

The Griffs got off to a slow start, and in the second half they were behind Virginia Tech by 14 points.

Fingering a cross around his neck was Tom Kempisty of Buffalo, who graduated from Canisius four years ago and now is marketing director for the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

"There's hope -- they're a great second-half team," he said.

"Mayor Tony Masiello is in the Garden, rooting for the Griffs!" Kempisty enthused. "Back when he was playing, they weren't as good as this. It's great for the town and for recruiting."

Mayoral adviser Steve Banko III, who attended St. Bonaventure before winding up in Vietnam, had put aside Little Three rivalry and was rooting for Canisius. But before long he was groaning.

"The first time I do this -- and look what they're doing to me!" Banko exclaimed.

"It's how you end that counts, not how you start," said Anthony Diina of Buffalo, who earned his BA in '69 and MBA in '72 at Canisius. "They've had a few opportunities to come back. I hope it's not too late."

Diina, whose RJD Security Inc. has contracts with Canisius rivals Niagara and St. Bonaventure, said he was beginning to wish the Griffs had gone to the NCAA Tournament instead. "But it's a great thrill for Canisius, and it's good for the city," he added.

It was 8:20 p.m. and the Griffins had slipped further behind, 52-36.

"That's not good," said Trina Coffey of Grand Island, a junior athletic training major. "They've beat better teams than this. They're just nervous."

Freshman Jonathan Tuminaro of Poughkeepsie was watching the TV screen with his hands in his pockets.

"They're just starting to loosen up a little," he observed. "But they've dug themselves a big hole. Thursday night they played amazingly at the Aud."

A big cheer rang through Cole's for Chris Young's three-point shot making it 62-51. Soon Canisius had narrowed the gap to nine points, then to just six points, with still a couple minutes left to pull it out.

But then the guys from Buffalo lost their shooting touch and Virginia Tech's Hokies (sometimes called the Gobblers) "fowl" shot its way to its winning 12-point margin.

"Oh, well," sighed Collins. "Time for Buffalo's favorite words: Next year."

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