Maybe it’s time to stop calling Canisius a plucky band of overachievers. Coach Jim Baron’s Golden Griffins are turning into a quality basketball team.
The Golden Griffins outplayed another supposedly superior foe Friday night in defeating Quinnipiac, 63-57, before a crowd of 1,403 at the Koessler Athletic Center.
Canisius, picked for 10th in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, remained tied for fourth just past the midway point of the league season. The Griffs improved to 7-4 in the MAAC and 12-8 overall.
Quinnipiac, picked for fifth, dropped to 5-6 and 11-9.
There was one damper on the win. Sophomore forward Phil Valenti, the Griffs’ No. 2 scorer, No. 3 rebounder and leader in assists, went out with an ankle injury with 17:21 left in the game. It appeared significant, and he was taken to the hospital for X-rays. Valenti came down awkwardly on his right ankle while fighting for a rebound. He was in a lot of pain and was tended to for about 10 minutes before being taken off the court in a wheelchair.
“He plays so hard, he gives it everything he has, and when he goes down that was a tough one for us,” Baron said. “I thought the guys really rallied for him and stepped up. … It was a great team victory.”
The challenge for the Griffs in this game was Quinnipiac’s size and rebounding ability.
Quinnipiac leads the nation in rebounds per game (44.8) and rebounding margin (plus 13). The Bobcats have led the nation in offensive rebounds each of the past four years and in total rebounds the past two years. They led the nation in rebounding margin last year at plus 11.8.
Baron countered by having his team play as up-tempo as possible.
Canisius outscored Quinnipiac on the fast break, 12-0, and on points off turnovers, 16-6.
“We did a good job of sharing the basketball,” Baron said. “We kept running. We kept pushing the ball. I told our guys we want to keep attacking the bucket. … It’s very difficult for them to get to the glass and get back on defense.”
Redshirt freshman guard Kassius Robertson led Canisius with a career-high 16 points and excelled in transition. Robertson, from Toronto, scored 11 of his points in the last 10 minutes.
In one two-minute stretch, he scored a fast-break layup, hit a 12-footer in transition and caught a long-bomb pass for another fast-break layup. All three passes came from freshman guard Jan Grzelinski. The last layup gave the Griffs a 49-41 lead with 7:32 to go.
Robertson’s play was particularly big because Bobcats guard Zaid Hearst did a decent job defensively on Canisius’ top scorer, Zach Lewis. Lewis had 12 points.
“He made layups and made shots and took the burden off of Zach,” Baron said of Robertson. “Hearst was playing Zach really, really tough. Kassius was a missing kind of link we need.”
Quinnipiac held the edge in rebounding, 48-40, but the Griffs held their own, getting 16 offensive rebounds. The Bobcats had 18 offensive boards.
The key on the glass?
“Box out,” Baron said. “It’s real simple. Get your body in and box them out, whether it’s a post guy or whether it’s guard. I thought for the most part we did a good job with that. We had nine offensive rebounds in the first half.”
Hearst, averaging 20 ppg, scored 19 points. But he was only 8 of 24 from the field.
Canisius entered the game ranked second in the MAAC in scoring defense, holding foes to 61.4 ppg.
“This was a good win for us,” Baron said. “They’re a good team. They were picked fifth. … They’ve got four seniors. They’re good players. They’ve got one of the best rebounders in the league and one of the best guards.”
Canisius plays host to Marist at 2 p.m. Sunday. Fans who go to the game have a chance to win the “Ultimate Tailgate Experience” prize package. It includes a 42-inch Smart TV by LG, a Bose Bluetooth speaker, a “Made in Buffalo” food package, two chairs, a cooler, New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl hats from New Era, two Buffalo Bills knit caps from New Era, a charcoal football grill, Pepsi backpack, T-shirts and three cases of Pepsi products. It will be awarded at halftime.