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McMillan supplies Griffs with a building block

With just less than four minutes left in the first half Saturday, the Koessler Athletic Center fell silent if only for a split second. You could sense the 926 fans in attendance pause to digest what had unfolded and make sure their eyes didn’t deceive them. After all, it was difficult to fathom.

Malcolm McMillan is listed at 6-foot, which makes you wonder whether Canisius took his word or measured him in heels when he arrived for a bonus year of basketball. The man he tracked down was Eric Fanning, a 6-5 junior for Boston University who leaped toward the basket with cruel intentions.

McMillan also had an agenda when he soared skyward with his right arm extended. He pinned the ball against the rim, turning a sure dunk into a blocked shot while notifying all who witnessed that Canisius had showed up to play Saturday. If there were any questions, McMillan answered them in an 84-68 victory.

“It was huge,” Baron said. “We’re playing with a lot more grit and moxie. That’s what we have to carry over into every game. We have to do the same thing. I’ve been preaching about it. We have to get tougher. We have to get grittier. This was not a one-stop shop.”

The best part about the block was that it came after McMillan missed a three-point attempt, which led to a long rebound. The ball landed in Fanning’s hands in the open court with nobody between him and the basket. McMillan hustled back on defense, never gave up on the play and perfectly timed his ascension.

It was so unexpected that one of the game officials stopped along press row during halftime to double-check with the media if it appeared clean on television replays. It did. The play also tricked the statistician, who initially ruled it was a missed dunk. It was changed to a blocked shot afterward.

“It definitely was a block,” McMillan said. “I blocked it, he kept going, and it hit the rim. … I took it as a chance to make a great play. I jump for everything. I’ve been dunked on, too, on ESPN Top 10. That stuff don’t bother me at all. These guys will tell you.”

It was an impressive play in an impressive win for Canisius, which improved to 4-6. BU fell to 5-6.

Like their senior guard, the Griffs played bigger than their roster suggested against a team that had a considerable size advantage. The resourceful Griffs pressured the Terriers into a sloppy first half. BU had 16 turnovers in the first half and 24 in the game. BU drew within eight points with 5½ minutes left but never fully recovered.

Phil Valenti led all scorers with 21 points while McMillan had 20. Valenti scored eight straight while Canisius opened up a 23-10 lead early in the game. He made a big three-pointer when BU showed signs of a comeback and hit two critical free throws with 5:05 remaining after the Terriers threatened to further close the gap.

Boston University clearly missed junior guard Cedric Hankerson, its leading scorer and best player. Hankerson suffered a knee injury earlier this month and is sidelined for the season. Fanning led the Terriers with 18 points, but his biggest role in the highlight reel was the dunk attempt McMillan negated.

“Great athleticism,” Valenti said with a smile. “He’s the man. Great play. He does that stuff all the time.”

Canisius has proven a capable offensive team, but it came at the expense of stopping the opposition. Canisius was ranked 33rd in points per game but had a 3-6 record to show for its production. Four losses came by seven points or less for a team that was ranked 335th nationally in points allowed.

Baron had pleaded with his players going into the game to tighten up their defense and make a stronger effort on the boards. The Griffs had a 41-28 rebounding advantage, including 21 on the offensive end. BU had eight points and eight turnovers in the first eight minutes and trailed, 43-34, at halftime.

Canisius has had a difficult time with Boston University in recent years. BU had won 12 of 13 meetings before the Griffs won last season. On Saturday, in the decisive first half, the Terriers didn’t belong on the same court with Canisius. BU looked disinterested and continued giving away the ball. The Griffs pounced.

“I thought we did a real good job, especially in the first half, of defending and rebounding,” Baron said. “It’s the thing I was really harping on with this basketball team. We can score, but we need to defend and rebound. I thought we did a great job of doing that. We were aggressive. It was a great team win.”