ALBANY – The Canisius Golden Griffins self-destructed Friday night, rallied and then saw their season come to a disappointing end in the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament.
The Griffs lost to St. Peter’s, 61-58, in a game that saw coach Reggie Witherspoon bench his four most veteran starters early in the second half.
Second-team all-conference guard Kassius Robertson was the primary subject of the coach’s wrath. Robertson was benched for 13 minutes, from the 17:12 mark until just 4:55 remained in the game. Phil Valenti and Jermaine Crumpton sat out two minutes. Kiefer Douse sat 5:30.
Robertson, a 6-3 junior, averaged 16.3 points a game, eighth best in the MAAC, and led the MAAC in three-point baskets. He finished with only two points in 21 minutes of action.
Canisius rallied from 17 down to within one with 39 seconds left. But a layup by St. Peter’s guard Trevis Wyche with 12 seconds left gave the Peacocks a three-point cushion. The Griffs missed two threes in the final seconds.
Canisius closed its season with an 18-15 record. St. Peter’s (19-12) advanced to a semifinal on Sunday.
Canisius suffered through a poor shooting first half and trailed, 30-25, at intermission. Then they failed to score on their first four possessions of the second half and the Peacocks stretched the lead to 35-25.
Witherspoon sent the four starters to the bench, and the backups promptly made two turnovers and fell behind, 40-24. An angry Witherspoon read the riot act to his starters on the bench during a timeout.
After three minutes, Crumpton and Valenti came back in with the score 42-28.
The Griffs slowly clawed their way back into the game over the final 10 minutes.
Isaiah Reese hit a three-pointer to trim the deficit to 58-55 with 1:05 left. Crumpton hit a three to make the deficit 59-58 before Wyche’s key layup.
Reese, a 6-5 freshman, led the Griffs with 19 points. Crumpton had 18. Valenti had just six in 16 minutes, his time limited largely due to foul trouble.
Witherspoon on the benchings: "It was a bad vibe. I didn’t think we were playing well together. We made some substitutions to change the vibe a little bit. We slowly got them back in. But the effort of some of the guys that came off the bench was phenomenal. I just felt we needed to change the energy in the game and give the guys who were on the bench a chance to get in the game, and get us moving the ball a little bit better."
The coach was not happy with the way his starters ran the offense in the first half and early in the second.
"That was a big thing, just getting our guys to a state of mind where they would trust themselves and their teammates by moving the basketball," he said. "And not taking the anxiety of man, I’ve gotta do something. That’s how the hole got bigger and bigger and bigger."
Why did Robertson sit so much longer?
I think that’s got more to do with No. 13 than anything else,” Witherspoon said, referring to Reese. “For him to come in and get a double-double in this situation. If a guy’s playing really well you’re going to leave him in."
The backups did jump-start the Griff defense. Canisius held St. Peter's without a field goal from the 14:00 mar to 4:06 remained.
"I’m proud of the effort of our guys to fight back, claw back to get back in the game," Witherspoon said.
First half: The Griffs trailed, 30-25, at halftime and had to feel fortunate to be down only five points. Valenti sat out the last 14:39 of the half after picking up his second foul. The Griffs got just two points from Robertson. And they shot just 31 percent from the field.
The Griffs stayed close thanks to good rebounding. They held a 20-13 edge on the boards. They also played solid defense. Valenti’s absence forced Canisius to go deep to its bench to try to defend Welton inside. The Griffs went five minutes with either four or five backups on the floor yet only were down six after that stretch. A three-pointer by Kiefer Douse with 40 seconds left pulled the Griffs within five.
Big career: Valenti, the 6-7 senior from Victor, played his 124th game, tied for third in Canisius history. He entered the game tied for 13th on the Griff career scoring list with 1,331 career points ranks. He ranks 14th in rebounding with 633 boards.
Mr. 1,000: Crumpton became the 37th player in Canisius history to hit 1,000 points for his career when he made the first basket of the game. Crumpton averaged 16.2 ppg as a junior this season, ninth best in conference, and earned third-team all-MAAC honors. The 6-6 Niagara Falls product average 8.4 ppg as a freshman and 9.4 ppg as a sophomore.
Series: The two teams split in the regular season. Canisius won, 72-70, on the road on Feb. 6. St. Peter’s won at the Koessler Athletic Center, 72-65, six days ago. Canisius holds a 43-34 lead in the series.
Rankings: St. Peter’s plays at the third slowest pace of any team in the nation. The Peacocks rank 348th out of 351 in possessions per game (61.3), according to the Pomeroy analytics. Canisius likes to play much faster, ranking 93rd. The Peacocks are 44th in the nation at forcing turnovers, while the Griffs are 42nd. Both teams rely heavily on three-pointers. Canisius gets 35 percent of its points behind the arc (57th in the nation). St. Peter’s gets 36.7 percent from three (35th).
Expectations: Canisius was picked for ninth in preseason. St. Peter’s had four starters back from last year’s team and was picked for fourth.
In the house: Attendance was about 1,000 at the Times Union Center.
Up next: The Peacocks advanced to a quarterfinal meeting at 7 p.m. Sunday against either No. 3 Iona or No. 6 Rider at 7 p.m. Sunday.