ALBANY – This is why the cliche about playing for 40 minutes exists. Because anything can happen. And come conference tournament time, anything usually does.
It looked as if Canisius College had put itself in position to move on to the quarterfinal round of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament. The Griffs led since the opening tip, and by as many as 15 in the second quarter.
But Monmouth responded with a 20-6 run in the fourth quarter and a 3-pointer from Kayla Shaw with 1:53 left gave the Hawks their first lead of the game.
Monmouth went on for the 61-58 win in Times Union Center Friday morning, sending Canisius home with a 10-20 mark for the 2017-18 season.
"I thought we we really good for 32 minutes and then we got really tight," Canisius coach Terry Zeh said. "It was one of those games where you're feeling really comfortable for long stretches and then when they make a run, you're not comfortable. We couldn't get back to a comfortable place offensively. I thought we played pretty well for most of the game. Unfortunately you've got to do it for 40 minutes."
For the first three quarters, Canisius was in the flow. The Griffs were attacking around the rim, moving the ball quickly and with purpose, and creating turnovers. The Griffs spurted out to a 9-0 lead in the first two minutes and seemed able to absorb the punches the Hawks threw at them.
And Monmouth always had a counter punch, keeping itself within arm's length. Then early in the fourth quarter their starting center, Erica Balman, went down with an injury, and the urgency became more intense. Monmouth put together an impressive defensive effort that fueled enough offense to advance to a quarterfinal matchup with top-seeded Quinnipiac on Friday.
"That's what 40 minutes looks like because it didn't look good for 25-30 minutes," Monmouth coach Jody Craig said. "We talked a lot about you've got to close out games, you've got to play for 40 minutes. You've got to play with courage. You've got to fight together. Everything we talked about for the entire season came together in those last 10 minutes.
"I'm really proud of these girls for ... how we battled back today with no fear as a team, played together, played within ourselves and defended our butts off down the stretch."
The 3-pointer by Shaw that tied the game (the first tie since 11-11 in the first quarter) came with 6:12 remaining. Both teams played tenacious defense as neither team scored until Shaw's go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:53 left.
"I think the fourth quarter they gained momentum when their player went down," Canisius forward Danielle Sanderlin said. "They gained momentum from that, shot after shot, and they were punching back. We tried to respond."
But the Griffs couldn't get over the hump in the final two minutes.
The Griffs were led, again, by junior forward Sara Hinriksdottir, who finished with 18 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Hinriksdottir was named an All-MAAC third-team selection and has led the Griffs offense all season, averaging 14.8 points. She reached the 1,000-point mark this season and 51 of her career 86 games have been in double digits.
The positive for the Griffs is not only that Hinriksdottir returns as a senior but that younger players started to find their touch as the season progressed. That includes Sanderlin, an All-MAAC rookie selection, who had 16 points and seven rebounds in Thursday's loss. Fellow freshman Anndea Zeigler came off the bench to score 11 points.
"This year was tough in a way because we had so many different lineups," Zeh said. "We couldn't really get a great rhythm going for the entire season. We'd get a rhythm then lose some people and some people would come back. Now these pieces fitting together, I think there will be less stress on (Hinriksdottir). (Sanderlin) can put the ball in the basket. (Zeigler) can put the ball in the basket. So it's less stress on her. There was a stretch where there was a lot of stress on her to score and I think there's less stress now."