ALBANY – The Canisius women’s basketball team made adjustments, executed its game plan, worked for good shots and protected the ball against the fiercest defensive team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Friday afternoon.
The Griffs did everything they wanted to do except close the deal.
Canisius went cold down the stretch and let a giant upset slip through its fingers in falling to Quinnipiac, 63-58, in the MAAC quarterfinals. The Griffs managed just one point in the final five minutes, scoring on just one of its final eight possessions.
Thus ended Canisius’ eighth straight losing season. After beating Niagara in overtime in the first round Thursday, Canisius finished 10-21 overall, 8-12 in the MAAC.
“In two days we got to be involved in two pretty good college basketball games,” Canisius coach Terry Zeh said. “Yesterday was a fun one. Today was fun till the end.”
Quinnipiac (25-6), which has won three straight regular-season MAAC titles, advanced to the semifinals on Sunday against either Siena or Iona.
Quinnipiac ranked No. 1 in the MAAC and No. 24 in the nation in points allowed, yielding just 55.9 a game. The Bobcats force 21 turnovers a game, 13th best in the nation. Just seven days ago, the Bobcats’ zone defense stymied Canisius and forced 18 turnovers in a 62-49 decision.
But Canisius played a brilliant first half, getting 11 assists on 12 field goals and taking a 33-27 intermission lead.
“We literally put in some things last night in the ballroom with tape on the floor, and a towel taped up to go against their zone,” Zeh said. “Their zone killed us at their place at the end of the regular season. . . . I thought the layups were big and we executed well. It took them out of that zone. They were done with it.”
Quinnipiac star defender Aryn McClure held Griff leading scorer Sara Hinriksdottir to six points on 3 of 14 shooting. The Griffs compensated by getting 16 from sophomore forward Maria Welch and 13 from junior forward Saliah Serette.
Canisius held a 57-55 lead with 5:00 to go. The Bobcats focused their defense on Hinriksdottir and Welch. Senior point guard Tamara Miskovic missed close shots on drives to the basket on three straight possessions that would have stretched the Canisius lead. Then Hinriksdottir missed an open three.
“I thought they were really good shots,” Zeh said.
Quinnipiac took the lead for good, 60-57, on a three-pointer by Carly Fabbri with 1:22 left.
“I missed pretty badly on an air ball the shot before, but shooters shoot,” Fabbri said.
Quinnipiac got 19 from guard Adily Martucci. Canisius made just 13 turnovers.
Graduating: Canisius returns five of its top six scorers next season and got commitments from four recruits in the fall, including Cardinal O’Hara star Anndea Ziegler. Only two healthy players graduate, No. 2 scorer Lauren D’Hont and Miskovic. D’Hont, who averaged 10.3 points, finished her career with 781 points and 342 rebounds. Miskovic, who came back nine months after suffering torn knee ligaments last February, averaged 2.2 points and 3.4 assists. Injured senior Emily Weber also graduates.
Better D: Canisius improved from ninth to fifth in points allowed this season after switching to a matchup-zone, “pack-line” defense, emphasizing a solid interior. Zeh thinks the freshman recruits will help make the defense more athletic and stronger next season.
“We do have a very young team,” he said. “To get a win in the tournament and then play this game, I think it gives us some energy and excitement to build on. We were very close this year in a lot of games. We tightened up our defense at the turn of the semester and got really good defensively.”
Powerhouse: Quinnipiac is one of 18 women’s programs to have an active streak of six straight 20-win seasons. The Bobcats are 75-15 in conference since joining the MAAC in 2013-14. The Bobcats also are the best-funded program in the MAAC. Their women’s basketball budget was a MAAC-best $2.1 million in 2015, counting cost of tuition, according to federal documents. The MAAC average minus Quinnipiac was $1.5 million, and Canisius ranked ninth at $1.38 million.
In the house: There were about 200 in attendance at the Times Union Center.