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Griffs go inside and out

LEWISTON – Canisius College had too much scoring ability for Niagara University Friday night.

The Golden Griffins used a balanced attack to pull away from Niagara over the final 10 minutes and score a 70-61 men’s basketball victory at the Taps Gallagher Center.

It was the third straight road win for the Griffs, who improved to 10-10 overall and 5-4 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Canisius is the second-highest scoring team in the MAAC, averaging 80 points a game. The Griffs got 17 points from senior guard Malcolm McMillan, 15 from sophomore guard Kassius Robertson and 14 from junior forward Phil Valenti.

Niagara is the lowest scoring team in the MAAC, averaging 63.2 points a game. The Purple Eagles have not been able to get consistent scoring beyond their top two threats, guards Matt Scott and Emile Blackman. Scott had 20, Blackman 14.

Canisius outscored Niagara in the paint, 34-22. The Canisius frontcourt outscored Niagara’s frontcourt, 30-14.

“This was a very good win for us,” said Canisius coach Jim Baron. “On offense the second half, we rebounded the ball a lot better, we went to the offensive glass and we started to be aggressive and we got to the free throw line.”

The game was the third straight solid defensive outing for Canisius, which has struggled mightily on defense most of the season. The Griffs played zone in the second half and held Niagara to 4 of 20 shooting from three-point range.

“I think it slowed them down, because they’re very athletic,” Baron said of the zone. “They can take it off the dribble.”

“They had 61 points, that’s pretty good defense,” Valenti said.

Niagara ranks last in the MAAC in three-point shooting percentage.

The 6-foot-7 Valenti was the key Griff in the first half. After a shaky opening 10 minutes against Niagara’s zone, Canisius got the ball into Valenti in the middle of the lane, and he had seven points in a three-minute stretch.

“We had some trouble communicating because it was loud in there, and we haven’t really been in an atmosphere like that,” Valenti said of the crowd of 2,110. “But once we settled down we did better. That was coach getting us into what we needed to do, finding the weak spots in their defense.”

“He’s very athletic,” Baron said of Valenti. “He can score the ball. He can put it on the floor, he can attack the basket. Plus he’s a good passer. We wanted to put him in a pivotal spot.”

The second half was a group effort for the Griffs, who had 15 assists on 23 field goals overall. Canisius got points from seven different players over the last 10 minutes to break away from a 45-45 tie.

Robertson had a steal and hit a bank shot in the lane. Junior guard Kiefer Douse scored on a baseline drive. Sophomore Jermaine Crumpton hit a bank shot on a drive from the high post. Freshman guard Chris Atkinson hit a floater. Valenti made a jump hook. Then senior center Kevin Bleeker converted a rebound put-back and scored a three-point play on a reverse layup plus a foul shot.

All that gave Canisius a 60-53 lead and firm control.

“Crump is a tough player,” Baron said. “That one play where we isolated him and he took it to the basket, that was a big-time play.”

“I thought we competed very hard,” said Niagara coach Chris Casey. “We needed to make a few more shots and a few more free throws, especially in that stretch toward the end, where the game was back and forth. . . . They were maybe a little tougher than we were around the basket tonight.”

Canisius plays host to Siena at 2 p.m. Sunday. Siena visits Niagara on Tuesday.