ALBANY – Kayla Hoohuli tried her best to put her Canisius College team on her shoulders Thursday morning. It was too heavy a task.
Hoohuli capped a brilliant career with 18 points but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Golden Griffins from losing to Monmouth, 68-56, in a first-round game at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament.
The loss ended Canisius’ season at 10-20. It was the sixth straight losing season for the Griffs and the sixth straight season they failed to make the semifinals of the MAAC Tournament.
The Griffs graduate only one senior this year, but that player is Hoohuli.
“Every year of her career she got better as a player, and I think that’s a testament to her work ethic,” said Canisius coach Terry Zeh. “She’s the best two-way player I’ve ever coached, meaning she defends at a very high level and she plays offense at a very high level.”
Hoohuli, a 5-foot-7 guard, finished her career 14th on the Canisius scoring list with 1,190 points. She ranked third in career starts with 111, third in three-point field goals made and fifth in three-point percentage.
“It’s very upsetting we had to end it that way,” said a choked-up Hoohuli. “But I couldn’t have asked for a better career these past four years with Coach Zeh and the girls.”
Canisius fell behind by 11 early in the second half due to a barrage of three-pointers by Monmouth. Hoohuli scored 15 second-half points. But the Griffs could not get enough defensive stops to make a rally.
“She was trying hard like she always does and it’s tough to see it end, no matter when it ends,” Zeh said.
Monmouth shot 45.5 percent from the field for the game, 11 percent better than its MAAC season average.
Defense was an issue all year for the Griffs. They ranked 10th in field-goal percentage allowed, at 41.4.
“We’ve got to get gritty and defend,” Zeh said. “When the ball didn’t go in the basket today for us, our defense got really flat. We’ve got to figure out how we can be gritty and defend.”
Canisius got outplayed at the point, too. Monmouth point guard Helena Kurt scored 22 points. The Griffs’ Tiahana Mills ranked last among MAAC starting point guards in assist-to-turnover ratio.
The Griffs swept Monmouth (13-17) in the regular season. But a Griffs offense that shot a MAAC-best 40 percent from three-point range managed only 26 percent behind the arc.
“In the first two games, we attacked the pressure for baskets and in this game we couldn’t attack for baskets as quickly,” Zeh said. “We bogged down in the half court a little bit, and we missed some shots that normally go down.”
Canisius was picked eighth and finished eighth. Nine underclassmen averaged double-digit minutes, and 79 percent of its scoring will be back.
“We’ve made steps forward,” Zeh said. “We graduated a bunch of kids last year, so we had a lot of inexperience. We had seven games we lost that were essentially last-possession games. Not having enough veterans around is probably why we lost some of those games. I like the development we’ve had with the young kids.”