Coaches insist there is no such thing as a hollow victory. Those who were in the Koessler Center Tuesday night for Canisius' 62-60 win over the University at Buffalo know better.
The Griffs (12-8) frittered away a 22-point first-half lead to a UB team so decimated by injuries that it suited up just six scholarship players. To a UB team that was 2-16. To a downtrodden group that had lost 11 straight games overall and 22 in a row on the road.
Sophomore guard Brian Dux saved Canisius from colossal embarrassment by canning two free throws with 3.6 seconds left to snap a 60-60 tie. When Louis Campbell's running jumper at the buzzer missed, the Griffs had avoided one of the most catastrophic losses in school history.
"I can't worry about perceptions of everybody else. It's a 'W,' " insisted Canisius coach Mike MacDonald. "We've lost three of our last four, two in overtime (to Siena and Fairfield, blowing big second-half leads in each) and the third by one point (to Loyola). We were due one."
Canisius had a 44-25 halftime advantage, but scored just 14 points in the first 19 minutes of the second half.
"I didn't think we were as focused as we needed to be," MacDonald said.
No kidding. The Griffs were outscored 35-18 and the 18 points tied their lowest total ever at Koessler, last set against St. Peter's in 1996. So did their 22.6-percent shooting (7 for 31).
The crowd of 973 saw four key Canisius plays in the final minute. The Griffs made two defensive stops, got a jumper by Toby Foster with 53.3 seconds left to forge a 60-60 tie and the drive by Dux that produced the game-winning points after a foul on UB's Jason Robinson.
"It was a 50-50 call but that's exactly what you have to do at the end of the game," Dux said. "You have to play the odds, be aggressive, get into his body and draw the contact."
The call by official Ken Turner was questionable, with Dux falling off balance to his left. Much more rugged contact is often let go at the end of tie games.
"We're not going to get (calls from officials) until we earn our respect," UB guard Davis Lawrence said.
"It was a tough call," added UB coach Reggie Witherspoon. "But (Dux) did make the free throws, though. Brian is good. He's very poised . . . He said, 'I got this one. I'm taking this shot.' "
Canisius had a 17-6 lead through eight minutes. Toby Foster scored eight of his team-high 16 points to spark a 16-0 run that bloated the score to 37-15 with 3:26 to go in the half. It was 44-25 at intermission.
"The first half we came out flat. We were in a daze," UB's Damien Foster said. "In the second half, we had more fight, more energy and they panicked."
The Bulls quickly turned things around in the first 40 seconds after intermission on a layup by Robert Brown (16 points) and two in a three-second span by Lawrence after a steal of an inbounds pass.
"I figured I'd try to get the team some momentum, take some chances and get us back in the game somehow," Lawrence said.
UB opened the half on a 13-2 run to get within eight (46-38), drew even at 58-58 on Lawrence's conventional three-point play with 4:13 to go and capped a 9-0 run when Robinson's jumper with 3:11 left produced a 60-58 lead.
Canisius survived even though seniors Clive Bentick and Darren Fenn had just seven points apiece and combined to shoot 6 of 26. UB was only 2 of 17 from three-point range after hitting 14 of 28 in Saturday's 78-77 loss at Akron. Still, Witherspoon was pleased to see his team's fire in the second half.
"You can't legislate the call at the end but you can control your effort," Witherspoon said. "We didn't have good control of it in the first half. We did in the second half."