Self-imposed pressure is the issue the Canisius Golden Griffins say is sometimes affecting their attitude toward playing at home.
“I think it’s a little bit of nervousness, a little bit of pressure, especially when family comes,” Canisius junior guard Kassius Robertson said Monday. “It has nothing to do with the fans themselves. We love the fans. A lot of alumni have been nothing but supportive. It’s more something in our minds. We‘ve got to get rid of it.”
Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon said after Friday’s home loss to Niagara that “the players told me before we started the season that they hate playing at home. Now I guess I believe them.”
The Griffs tried to explain the situation as they prepared for Tuesday’s home game against defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Iona at 7 p.m. at the Koessler Athletic Center.
“I think it’s self-imposed pressure,” said junior forward Jermaine Crumpton. “There’s nothing wrong with the fans. This is our home court it, it’s where we practice and we’re used to it. It’s more about letting our fans down when we don’t win.”
Crumpton is from Niagara Falls. Canisius senior Phil Valenti is from the Rochester area. Four Griffs are from Southern Ontario.
“I’d just say we’ve got guys from Canada, I’m a local guy, Phil’s not too far away,” Crumpton said. “I feel like for me personally, it’s pressure trying to perform well in front of not only the fans here at Canisius College, who are great, I love the fans here, but playing well for my family. When you don’t do that and you lose at home, it’s like you let the fans down. We don’t like to do that.”
The Niagara performance prompted Witherspoon to bring the issue to the public’s attention. Canisius had just beaten two of the better MAAC teams (Siena and St. Peter’s) on the road. Then the Griffs laid an egg. Niagara is ninth in the MAAC. But the Purple Eagles dominated the second half and won, 94-81.
The Canisius offense, which has been wonderful for much of the season, was rushed.
“I think there’s an anxiousness,” Witherspoon said. “I think it’s a little like the kid at the recital, where he knows the song and he or she plays it well in front of the instructor. But when the recital comes they might play it a little faster. Because you want to do it so bad.”
“The other challenge about playing at home is your adrenaline starts to make decisions for you if you’re not careful,” Witherspoon said. “For us, we don’t have that margin of error. We have to have quiet enough minds.”
Canisius is 6-5 at home, 9-6 on the road. There have been some good home performances, such as a win over Siena. The Griffs’ shooting statistics are comparable at home and on the road. But perception is reality, and the Griffs have perceived tension at home.
“I think it was more of a conversation earlier in the season,” Robertson said. “We had a meeting about it where we trying to find out if it was a real thing. Coach was asking us about how we feel about playing at home. I think the problem kind of was amplified because we were doing so well on the road. We were undefeated on the road at one point. Then we dropped a couple games at home, and that kind of raised the question. I don’t think it’s a big problem.”
Iona presents plenty of problems. The Gaels stand second in the MAAC at 10-5. They whipped the Griffs, 98-75, on Jan. 8.
Iona ranks first in the MAAC in scoring, first in shooting percentage. The Gaels are 12th in the nation in three-point percentage (39.9) and 16th in the nation in three-pointers made per game (9.9). Canisius (8-7) is in a tight battle for a top-five seed, which brings a first-round tournament bye.
“They thrive in transition and getting it out,” Crumpton said. “No matter if we score, they’re looking to get up the court fast and score early in the shot clock. We really gotta emphasize getting back and getting guys accounted for so they don’t get good, open looks.”