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Baron, Canisius turn their focus to Monmouth

ALBANY – Canisius College basketball coach Jim Baron did not win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Coach of the Year award on Friday.

So what? Baron’s bookcase already is cluttered with four coach of the year awards from his 28-year head-coaching career in college basketball.

A bigger prize is on the table for Baron and the Golden Griffins on Saturday: a berth in the semifinals of the MAAC Tournament.

Canisius, the fifth seed in the MAAC, plays fourth-seeded Monmouth at 2:30 p.m. at the Times Union Center.

It would be a huge achievement for the Griffs, picked for 10th in the MAAC before the season, to make the conference’s final four. Baron was widely respected for his coaching job this season, but the MAAC’s top coaching award went to Rider’s Kevin Baggett.

Rider was picked for seventh and finished second, going 15-5 in conference. The Broncs beat Canisius twice.

Canisius lost twice to Monmouth in the regular season, by scores of 73-68 and 44-40.

“We’re right there with them, and we’re looking forward to the challenge,” Baron said. “They have good balance, good inside outside scoring. … They’ve got experience. They’re a good basketball team.”

Canisius was 11-9 in the MAAC. Monmouth was 13-7. Canisius ranked seventh in scoring, Monmouth was eighth. Canisius was third in scoring defense. Monmouth was third in field-goal percentage defense.

“It’s two teams that are very, very even,” Monmouth coach King Rice said. “He plays a bunch of guys, we play a bunch of guys. We’ve won the first two times, but I think it will be a very even game again. It’s the 4-5 game, so it’s probably the two teams that are closest together. We’ll see how it goes, but I like our chances.”

Canisius’ two centers, 6-foot-9 Josiah Heath and 6-10 Kevin Bleeker, finished strong the last month of the season. Monmouth has pretty good size, with a starting front line that stands 6-10, 6-8 and 6-6.

It will be interesting to see if the Hawks go with a smaller lineup and try to out-quick the Griffs. That happened to a degree in the first meeting between the teams, when Monmouth rallied from a 13-point deficit late in the first half.

Monmouth boasts the MAAC’s first-team all-league point guard in Justin Robinson, a 5-8 sophomore who averages 13.4 points a game. The Hawks also have the MAAC’s co-Sixth Man of the Year in 6-6 wingman Andrew Nicholas, who has 1,163 career points and is a matchup problem on the perimeter.