No one was sure what to expect from the Canisius College men's basketball team this season with a new coach in Reggie Witherspoon and several newcomers playing key roles along with veterans Kassius Robertson and Phil Valenti.
Well, the Golden Griffins are on a bit of a roll heading into Saturday's showdown against the University at Buffalo in the Big 4 Classic at KeyBank Center on Saturday afternoon.
The Griffs got strong performances from Robertson and Valenti Monday night in their 77-64 victory over the University at Albany Great Danes in the Koessler Center.
Canisius (6-5) led most of the way, once by as many as 15 points in the second half to win their third in a row and fifth in their last six games. One of the losses as at Kentucky and two others were in very competitive road games. Also the Griffs own road wins over Duquesne, Manhattan and Boston University.
The way Valenti, a senior from Victor via Aquinas High in Rochester, started he seemed on his way to possibly topping his career high of 33 points. He had 14 points in the first half and had made 5 of his 7 field goala attempts, including 4 of 5 from three-point range. As it turned out he finished with 19 points on 7 for 11 shooting and his five three-pointers in six attempts matched his career high.
Robertson, the Griffs' scoring leader, also had 19 points, including four three-pointers. It seemed anytime the Great Danes threatened, Robertson came up with a big basket, usually a three.
Albany had closed a 32-27 halftime deficit to 32-31 early in the second half, but never got the lead. Robertson nailed a three and scored again moments later for a 40-31 Canisius lead. The junior from Toronto hit another three to make it 49-37. His two free throws and a three by freshman Isaiah Reese had the Griffs on top by 15 points, 54-39 with 11:52. Valenti's last basket put the Griffs up by 15 again (58-43) around the 10minute mark of the secondhalf. Albany never got closer than nine points after that.
Besides Robertson and Valenti, other double figure scorers for Canisius were Reese with 13, senior Kiefer Douse with 12, and Niagara Falls junior Jermaine Crumpton with 10 and a team-high nine rebounds.
Guard David Nichols got hot in the second half and led Albany with 21 points. Joe Cremo, who came into the game averaging 17 points a game, had 13, Mike Rowley had 14 and Greig Stire 11 for coach Will Brown's team.
Albany (6-5) owns wins over two of Canisius' Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference rivals, Siena and Marist, and was coming off a 74-66 win at Colgate.
Canisius and UB will meet at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday's Big 4 doubleheader in the downtown arena. St. Bonaventure and Niagara will get things started at 1 p.m.
Big 4 Notes
On Monday, Reese was named the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s Rookie of the Week after he averaged 16.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last week in two non-league games. He is the first Canisius freshman to earn the conference’s rookie of the week award since the 2014-15 season. The Miami, Fla., native scored 16 points in a win at Boston University anda career-high 17 points and career-best seven rebounds in a home win over St. Francis of Brooklyn.
Niagara men's basketball celebrated Alumni Weekend at the college with a 65-61 win over Norfolk State on Saturday afternoon. Among the Purple Eagles basketball alumni who returned for the weekend former former player and coach Frank Layden (1951-53). Others included Benson Egemonye (2006-09), Bilal Benn (08-10), Chararon Fisher ('04-08), Greg Hudecki ('64-68), Patrick Jones ('85-90), Ed Ladley ('58-62), Tyrone Lewis ('06-10), Bill MacCready ('68-69), Juan Mendez ('01-05) and Marshall Wingate ('68-72).