There was an agonizing stretch of first-half basketball Wednesday night during which Canisius looked like a team on the brink of full-fledged implosion. The Griffs trailed Northwestern State by nine. They had missed 13 straight shots from the field. From here on out nothing but conference games remain (save the ESPN Bracketbuster), and senior-laden Canisius was not looking ready for the challenge.
To the Griffs' credit, while their shooting suffered their commitment to defense and rebounding remained steadfast. They forced turnovers in bunches. They hammered the backboard with a ferocious zeal. And it was their attention to the less glamorous side of the game that accounted for a dramatic about-face and an 85-52 victory that sends them back into Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play on their second two-game winning streak of the season.
It wasn't a senior but a sophomore who got the Griffs turned around on the offensive end. Alshawn Hymes came off the bench to torment the Demons with a flurry of threes launched from a wide variety of locations, setting a school record with nine on 15 attempts. He finished with a game-high 28 points, with Elton Frazier (14) and Julius Coles (15, surpassing 1,000 for his career) also hitting double figures.
But scoring was a small part of the story. Canisius (6-6) won the boards, 43-38, 22 of those coming on the offensive end. They produced 16 steals while forcing a resounding 29 turnovers. And beginning Monday at Saint Peter's they'll see if it all carries over into MAAC play.
"We've talked about the human-nature aspect of things," said Canisius coach Tom Parrotta. "If you're not making shots everything seems to suffer. And that's one of the things we've been battling because we're trying to plug holes on certain nights. In this building a couple of times we allowed those things to get the better of us and then we let down our guard. We didn't defend, we didn't rebound. We didn't run offense. And I thought they took a great step in a positive direction tonight to make sure that those things didn't happen."
It was by tending the laundry list, dictating tempo and gaining numerous transition opportunities that Canisius cleared space for Hymes to fire away. The 6-foot-2 sophomore from DeWitt, shooting a hardy 38.3 percent from beyond the arc coming in, had one of those nights every pure shooter envisions.
"It wasn't as much me hitting shots as us playing as well as we did," Hymes said. "I dream about it all the time. I know how good a team we can be and tonight we just proved -- taking steps in the right direction."
The change of direction in the last sentence sums up where Canisius stands. The Griffs have proved nothing other than what they're capable of on a given night. The remainder of the season will determine the legacy of seniors Frazier, Greg Logins, Julius Coles, Tomas Vazquez-Simmons and Robert Goldsberry.
"It's very important," Frazier said. "We came in as freshmen, the five seniors I mean, and we strived to play defense and just work hard. And we lost ourselves for a minute but we got back to that. Teams aren't going to come in here and lay down because we got five seniors."
It was a first half of extreme extremes for the Griffs, 20 minutes where they experienced abject famine followed by a king's feast while building a 41-31 lead.
Canisius missed all 10 of its field goal attempts between the first and second media timeouts. Amazingly enough, the Griffs went from tied to only nine down during a drought that grew to 13 straight misses before Gaby Belardo connected on a runner with 9:56 remaining.
Dominance on the boards and a turnover-producing defense turned the game around. Hymes buried a trio of threes during a 17-0 blitz that saw the Griffs go from 21-12 down with about 11 minutes remaining to 29-21 ahead with about five minutes to go.
A Northwestern basket put a halt to the avalanche, but the Griffs responded with a 9-0 surge that included another three by Hymes and Frazier's second of two open-floor jams worthy of entry in any dunk contest. There was no doubt as to the outcome thereafter.