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INTERIOR PLAY LEADS TO SUPERIOR NIGHT FOR GRIFFS

Bombs-away basketball may be a glitzy way to play but taking the ball to the hole is the way to win, especially when the calendar hits February and March.

Canisius did that with regularity Wednesday night and the result was a convincing 85-70 victory over Niagara before 2,029 fans at the Gallagher Center.

The 15-point margin of victory was the Griffs' biggest ever at Gallagher and their first win here since a 65-63 overtime triumph in 1997.

"Having never won here before, it was a big game for me," said Canisius senior center Darren Fenn, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds. "Especially since Niagara came into our place earlier this season and took one from us (an 80-77 win Dec. 7 at the Koessler Center). We were really focused today on trying to dominate."

The Griffs did exactly that. They hit 27 of 54 from the field, 28 of 33 from the free-throw line and had a 38-33 rebounding advantage. Fenn led five Griffs in double figures as Canisius pounded the ball inside against an overmatched Niagara interior.

Center Andrew Bush came off the bench to score 15 points while guards Clive Bentick and Brian Dux drove the lane at will and collected 13 apiece. Forward Tory Jefferson chipped in 11 points and eight boards.

Canisius had been averaging 20.2 three-point attempts per game, but cut that total to just 10 Wednesday (making three). That means it was 24 of 44 from inside the arc.

"We're at our best when we have four or five guys in double figures, when everyone is touching the ball," said Fenn, who moved into eighth place on the school's all-time scoring list (1,359 points) and third on the rebounding chart (795). "When Andy (Bush) and I are working in the post and scoring, that opens driving lanes up for other people . . . opens up everything."

With one game left, everything remains up in the air regarding the teams' seeding for next week's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament at HSBC Arena.

Niagara (14-12 overall, 11-6 MAAC) will finish second if it wins Saturday at Siena but could slide as low as fifth with a loss. Canisius (17-9, 9-8) would finish no worse than sixth - and escape the prequarterfinal round - with a win Saturday at Marist. The Griffs, who have won three straight and six of their last seven, can still finish anywhere from fourth to eighth.

Canisius never trailed Wednesday as Niagara made only one of its first 11 shots. The Purple Eagles finished 26 of 66 overall and 3 of 22 from three-point range. Canisius led at halftime, 36-26, and by as many as 18 points in the second half.

Niagara made just one mild foray, a 6-0 run midway through the second half that cut the Canisius lead to seven (55-48).

After a timeout, Canisius got the ball inside to the 6-foot-10 Fenn and he bulled his way to a three-point play. On the next possession, Dux found Bentick for an open three-pointer from the left of the key to make the score 61-48 and end any suspense.

"The two biggest plays of the game," said coach Mike MacDonald. "It was starting to teeter a little bit and our seniors grabbed the game by the throat and kept it on our side."

"Those are shots we had to take," Bentick said. "Fenn feels the same way. We have to step up and make plays."

Niagara didn't make nearly enough of them.

"I think the bottom finally fell out a little for us," coach Joe Mihalich said. "We've been keeping things together with Band-Aids and it's starting to show."

Point guard Daryl Greene remains hampered by ankle tendinitis and scored just three points in 27 minutes.

Off guard Demond Stewart (16 points, 12 rebounds) said the mild stress fracture in his left foot that he originally suffered over the summer flared up again and contributed to his 5-for-15 night.

And guard Rhossi Carron had seven points on just 2-for-8 shooting while playing with a dislocated finger suffered Sunday against Loyola.

"You can talk about those things but it's really not fair to Canisius," Mihalich said. "We had no answers for (Fenn), nobody who could stop him. They were very good tonight. They thoroughly cleaned our clock."

METRO ATLANTIC Conference All Games
W L Pct. W L Pct.
Iona 12 4 .750 19 8 .704
Siena 12 5 .706 19 9 .679
Niagara 11 6 .647 14 12 .538
Marist 10 7 .588 15 12 .556
Rider 9 7 .563 14 11 .560
Manhattan 9 7 .563 12 14 .462
Canisius 9 8 .529 17 9 .653
Fairfield 7 9 .438 11 14 .440
Loyola, Md. 2 14 .125 5 20 .200
St. Peter's 1 15 .063 3 22 .120
Wednesday's Results
Canisius 85, Niagara 70
Siena 63, Marist 54
Tonight's Games
Rider at Iona, 7:30
Manhattan at Loyola, 7:30
Fairfield at St. Peter's, 7:30
Saturday's Games
Niagara at Siena, 4:30
Canisius at Marist, 7:30
Sunday's Games
Rider at St. Peter's, 3:00
Iona at Manhattan, 4:00
Loyola at Fairfield, 5:00
END REGULAR SEASON

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