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Griffs to battle Rossiter, new-look Siena ; Saints' big man poses problems

To prepare for tonight's matchup against Siena, Tom Parrotta went back to his scouting report from Canisius' season opener against St. Bonaventure and reviewed how his team defended Andrew Nicholson. Like the Bonnies, Siena has a dominant big man in Ryan Rossiter.

The Golden Griffins (6-7, 0-3 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) play host to Rossiter and the defending league-champion Saints at 7 tonight in the Koessler Center to kick off a busy weekend in the Big 4.

Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy will be honored by Niagara University when the Purple Eagles (3-12, 0-3 MAAC) host Rider (10-5, 2-1) at 9 tonight in the Gallagher Center for an ESPNU broadcast. As an assistant at DeMatha High School in 1978-79, Niagara's Joe Mihalich coached ESPN's Dereck Whittenburg, the Most Outstanding Player of the 1983 Final Four, who will serve as the color analyst for tonight's game.

Also, Charlotte (8-7, 0-1 Atlantic 10) visits the Reilly Center on Saturday for a 4 p.m. matchup against St. Bonaventure (8-5), which is coming off a 68-55 victory on Wednesday at Arkansas-Little Rock. It's a homecoming of sorts for Buffalo native and 49ers assistant Desmond Oliver, a former assistant at Niagara, St. Bonaventure and most recently Canisius.

The University at Buffalo (8-4), which has won four of five, opens Mid-American Conference play at home against Bowling Green (5-9) at 7 p.m. Saturday in Alumni Arena.

Siena (5-8, 2-1) seeks its 11th consecutive victory over Canisius and hasn't lost to the Golden Griffins since a 67-50 setback in the Koessler Center on Dec. 11, 2005, Fran McCaffery's first season as coach.

It's been nothing but Siena since then as the Saints have rolled over the Griffs by an average margin of 19.3 points per game.

Under McCaffery, now at Iowa, Siena played at a breakneck pace and came at opponents in waves. One of Rossiter's jobs was to kindle the fast break.

"They got that ball up court as quickly as anyone I've seen and Rossiter was one of the best guys to get the ball inbounds," Parrotta said. "He was one of those Kevin Love types or [Bill] Laimbeer types who could dance on that end line and snap that pass almost to halfcourt and start their break accordingly."

If they didn't score immediately, the Saints would flow into their superior motion offense. But under first-year coach Mitch Buonaguro, Siena is more set oriented and the defense features more zone, perhaps to protect Rossiter, who plays nearly 37 minutes a game.

"If he's going to be the guy who scores night in and night out, running up and down is counterproductive for them," Parrotta said.

Indeed, the 6-foot-9, 236-pound Rossiter has become quite an asset for the Saints, while averaging 18.6 points a game. He's also the nation's second-leading rebounder at 13.3 boards a clip.

"He's at another level and has gotten better each and every year," Parrotta said.

In the Saints' last game against Iona, the Gaels led 26-12 early in the first half before the Saints cut the lead to three by halftime. With 49 seconds remaining, Rossiter hit a jumper, was fouled and hit his free throw to put the Saints ahead to stay, 69-67. Siena won, 73-67, with Rossiter scoring 26 points and grabbing 15 boards.

Bona's Nicholson didn't quite have those numbers, but he did score 23 points back on Nov. 12 against the Griffs. Canisius won that game, 80-70, because they outrebounded Bona.

Can the Griffs contain Rossiter?

"We have to make it as difficult as possible for him to get the ball around the basket," Parrotta said. "He's effective from 4, 5 or 6 feet away and if he gets any closer, it's almost automatic."

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com