Don't look now, but the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference might have to start taking the Canisius Golden Griffins seriously.
The Griffs were picked to finish eighth in the MAAC this season and seemed to justify that forecast by starting the season 3-6.
But Thursday night the Griffs continued their January resurgence by defeating Rider College, 74-68, and getting back to .500.
The win was the third straight for Canisius, which improved to 8-8 overall and 4-4 in the MAAC. Best of all, it was an artistic success.
Canisius treated a sparse crowd of 1,221 in Marine Midland Arena to the kind of fundamental offense any hoop purist would enjoy.
The Griffs had four players in double figures. They made just one turnover the second half. They shot 51 percent from the field. They had great ball movement, evidenced by the fact almost every basket (20 out of 24) came off an assist.
"I thought it was a great team win," Canisius coach Mike MacDonald said. "We're sharing the ball very well. We have to move the ball and get good shots, and we've been doing that the last three weeks."
Canisius was led by its three seniors -- forwards Keith Lambkin and Jamie Cammaert and guard Kevin Worley. They had 17, 14 and 15 points, respectively, and made most of the big plays in the second half.
With four minutes left, Canisius was starting to look a little ragged after Rider had cut an 11-point lead to six.
MacDonald called timeout to set up a play. Cammaert took the inbounds pass at the top of the key and fed Lambkin on a backdoor layup -- just like it was drawn up on the blackboard.
"It never usually works that well," MacDonald said. "Jamie made a great pass."
With 1:30 left, Canisius broke the Rider press and Cammaert drove hard to the basket for a layup, got fouled and converted a three-point play.
With 40 seconds left Lambkin made a steal that led to two clinching free throws by Worley.
"I think we're playing blue-collar basketball," said sophomore center Darren Fenn. "Just get the ball and go to the rim strong. Jamie had a huge three-point play for us by doing that."
Fenn had 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting and continues to give Canisius a strong inside threat to complement Worley's three-point shooting.
"Darren's coming along opens up threes and opens up driving lanes for us," said Lambkin.
The Griffs, who rank sixth in the nation in three-point field-goal percentage, hit 6 of 10 threes Thursday. But the Griffs did not rely on the outside shot against Rider, which made MacDonald happy.
"That's what I'm proud of, we're not forcing threes," he said. "Rider has made more threes than us, but we've taken less. That's the sign of a smart team."
Rider (7-9, 3-5) was led by its leading scorer this year, Greg Burston, who had 14. But the senior guard did not have a good night, partly due to Lambkin's defense. Burston hit just 3 of his first 13 shots.
"The pace of the game definitely was the way they like it," said Rider coach Don Harnum. "They did a good job of taking it deep in the shot clock. Those are some killer baskets, when you get scored on with under 10 seconds to go in the shot clock. They did that too much, and it took wind out of us and prevented us from getting up-tempo."
The win kept Canisius within two games of third-place Siena in the parity-ridden MAAC. Canisius plays host to Manhattan at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Koessler Center.