Wins in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference have been hard to come by for Canisius. Except when the opponent is Marist.
The Golden Griffins used smothering defense to sweep the regular-season series with an easy 75-49 victory over the Red Foxes in a matchup of MAAC cellar-dwellers Friday night.
A crowd of 918 at the Koessler Center had plenty to cheer about as the Griffs (10-18, 4-13) allowed the fewest points to a MAAC opponent at home since a 61-48 win over Siena on Feb. 2, 1997.
The Griffs believe their conference record is not a true reflection of how good they are. They point to the four losses by three points or less. But they are playing their best basketball during a season-high three-game winning streak, just in time for the MAAC Tournament next week.
"I think a lot of teams we'll face will be scared of us because we have a lot of weapons," said forward Greg Logins, the current MAAC player of the week. "If we keep playing the way we are I think we're going to be very successful."
The Griffs rank first in the MAAC in three-point and total field goal percentage defense and are tied with Niagara for first in rebounding. They were at their best in those areas Friday night.
Contesting nearly every shot, Canisius limited the Red Foxes (9-21, 4-13) to 32.1 percent from the field and 4 of 18 behind the three-point arc. The Griffs also dominated the backboards with a 46-27 rebounding advantage.
"Yeah, we're playing pretty good basketball," said head coach Tom Parrotta, who called the team's four-game stretch its mini-MAAC Tournament. "But anytime we defend, which we usually do, and not turn the ball over, like we did, we're a pretty good team. We're getting better."
Offensively, the Griffs were balanced and efficient. Logins continued his strong play with 16 points, sharing team-high honors with guard Frank Turner.
Guard Julius Coles had 15 points and 11 rebounds, while forward Tomas Vazquez-Simmons chipped in 13 points and did a solid job defending Marist's leading scorer, Ryan Schneider. The Griffs shot a solid 45.8 percent from the field.
"We matured tonight making shots and making plays," said Turner, who added seven assists and only one turnover in 39 minutes. "It's more to learning and getting better, but I thought we did a good job overall."
The tone was set in the first half when the Griffs held Marist to 18 points en route to their largest halftime lead of the season (38-18). They constantly smothered the passing lanes and contested nearly every shot around the basket.
Schneider scored 12 points to lead the Red Foxes, but was held scoreless in the first half. He has made just six of 24 shots in two games against the Griffs.
"When we played them the first time our defense was in all-out denial," Vazquez-Simmons said. "He's a good shooter, so you have to get up on him and stay in front of him if he puts the ball on the floor. The rest of the guys did their job pressuring them outside and making it harder for him to get the ball. We stuck to our principles and if a guy gets beaten we have second and third lines of defense in a rotation where people slide over and step up."
There was no let-up in the second half. The Griffs kept the pressure on and the intensity up to make sure Marist never got back into the game.
"I told them at halftime, 'The next 20 minutes you'll mature beyond your years if you can go out there and put this team away,' " Parrotta said. "They are very dangerous. We took the punch and were able to keep it at 16, 17, 18 points and we kind of wore them down. It's a big step for these guys."
The Griffs end the regular season at home Sunday against MAAC leader Siena.