As Canisius games have gone this year, this one had a familiar script. A big deficit. A big comeback fueled by three-pointers. A staggering opponent.
Only this time, the hill was too high to climb. As a result, the Griffs' hopes of winning the National Invitation Tournament for the first time have died. Canisius fell into a 17-3 hole in the first seven minutes and never got even Monday night as they dropped a 71-59 decision to Virginia Tech in a nationally televised NIT semifinal at Madison Square Garden.
The Griffs (21-13) hit field goals on just two of their first 13 possessions and were never closer than six points in the final 34 minutes. They finished the game hitting 23 of 72 from the field.
"If anybody asked me what we had to do to win, I would have said, 'Stay close early so we can just play,' " said coach John Beilein, whose club closes its season in the consolation game against Penn State (20-11) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
A crowd of 8,023 saw Beilein's worst-case scenario come true. Tech (24-10) pounded the offensive boards in an 11-0 run that produced a 13-2 lead. The Hokies were up by as many as 16 before settling for a 38-25 halftime lead.
Tops among Canisius' problems was a three-point outing from center Micheal Meeks, 13 under his average. Meeks hit just 1 of 15 from the field and did not grab a defensive rebound. He had six offensive boards.
"Mike is a terrific player, a great field goal shooter (48.6 percent entering the game) who had a bad night," Beilein said. "That's how we got to the dance, with Mike Meeks shooting. And you don't leave him in the middle of the dance."
"We were doubling down on him and really getting a lot of help from the guards," said Tech forward Travis Jackson. "It was total team defense."
While Meeks foundered, the Griffs got a career-high 32 points from senior forward Craig Wise. He was 12 of 20 from the field and the only Griff to hit at least 50 percent of his shots. The 32 points set a school record for a postseason game, breaking the mark of 29 achieved twice by Hank Nowak during the 1956 NCAA Tournament.
"I wanted to get some easy looks and try to get into the flow a little bit and that happened," Wise said. "Unfortunately, we were down in a big hole to begin with and it was like we were climbing back the whole way."
Tech was led by guard Damon Watlington, who scored 20 points. He had 14 in the first half, when he hit 5 of 5 from the field and all four of his three-pointers. All-Metro Conference center Ace Custis had 18 points, while guard Shawn Good had 15.
Tech seemed in control with 4:33 left when two Good free throws put the Hokies up, 62-45. The Griffs roared back with a 14-3 run in the next 2:31, cutting the gap to 65-59 on a Chris Young three-pointer with 2:02 to go. But they didn't score again.
"They're up 17-18 points and we could just fold right there," Wise said. "Everyone in the nation would be thinking this team doesn't belong here. You have to give us a lot of credit for playing as hard as we can right until the very end."
"That's typical Canisius basketball," added point guard Javone Moore. "We never give up no matter what the situation is. We just didn't have enough at the end."
The Griffs had one last chance with the score at 66-59. They took three treys on one possession, each of which would have cut the gap to four, but missed all of them. Tech ended the suspense with five free throws.
The Hokies came out in a zone defense but quickly shifted to a man-to-man. The switching seemed to befuddle the Griffs, who made 11 of 33 shots in the first half (0 of 9 on three-pointers).
"I don't know what you can attribute it to," Wise said. "We came out and everybody was pumped about playing. Maybe we were overpumped. Really, you can credit Virginia Tech's defense. They have a real nice game plan and our shots just weren't falling."
Over the weekend, Beilein expressed concern that his team had not practiced well in the aftermath of the emotional quarterfinal win over Washington State. He wasn't going to use that as any sort of excuse.
"We've had some of our greatest wins ever when I almost lynched these guys the day before," Beilein said. "I know you're all trying to figure out what went wrong. If people could figure that out, you could bottle it and sell it for lots.
"We just had a bad game. You can't point fingers at anything in particular except maybe point a finger at Virginia Tech and say, 'They're a real good team. It's not what Canisius didn't do, it's what Virginia Tech did do.' "