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Canisius road warriors in the thick of the MAAC race

Canisius’ ability to win on the road has thrust coach Reggie Witherspoon’s Golden Griffins smack in the middle of the race for the
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season men’s basketball championship.

The Griffs used a 13-0 run in the second half to gain a 10-point lead, then hung on for a tight 64-60 victory over Saint Peter’s on Sunday afternoon before 595 at the Yanitelli Center in Jersey City, N.J.

Canisius is 6-1 in conference road games and its 8-4 record ties Siena for second place, a half-game behind first-place Monmouth (9-4). The Griffs own victories over both Siena (road) and Monmouth (home) so far.

All six of the Canisius’ conference road wins have been by five points or less. The Griffs (11-13) have eight victories away from the Koessler Athletic Center. The lone conference loss on the road was at Niagara.

“We forced them to turn it over 16 times,” Witherspoon said of Sunday’s performance. “We were able to capitalize on their turnovers with 21 points. That was really important today, because it’s hard to win when you get out-rounded by 12 for the game.

“We also did a good job sharing the ball with 14 assists and just nine turnovers.”

Canisius turned a 52-49 deficit into a 62-52 lead with 4:39 left in the game. The 13-point run included four 3-point baskets — one by Jordan Henderson, two by Takal Molson and one by Scott Hitchon — and a free throw by Molson.

The Peacocks ran off seven in a row to make it 64-60 with Devauhnte Turner on the line for two free throws 6 seconds to play. Turner made the first, but missed the second and Canisius rebounded.

Malik Johnson of the Griffs then made a pair of free throws with 2 seconds left to wrap it up.

Molson led Canisius with 21 points while Johnson and Hitchon had 11 each.

Molson’s total was his sixth 20-plus point game this season, and the 12th in his career. Two of his 20-plus games have come against Saint Peter’s.

Johnson, a junior, has scored in double figures in five straight games, and he has dished out seven or more assists in five straight games as well.

Canisius shot 48.1 percent overall (25 of 52) from the field and was 9 of 24 (37.5 percent) from 3-point range.

Niagara, meanwhile, remains the most unpredictable team in the MAAC. The Purple Eagles (11-4, 4-8), who own a 27-point win over first-place Monmouth but were routed by 21 points Marist on Friday, did a lot of positive things in a 79-76 loss to Iona on Sunday at Hynes Center in New Rochelle before a crowd of 1,807.

The Purple Eagles made a Niagara record 15 3-pointers in 28 attempts and led for 23:08 of the 40 minutes against the Gaels, but couldn’t make a shot when they needed in the final minute.

Niagara took its last lead, 76-75, on a tip-in by Raheem Solomon with 1:15 remaining, then forced an Iona turnover only to come up empty on the possession.

With 15 seconds left, the Gaels’ E.J. Crawford was fouled. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, but teammate Tajuan Agee grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He made both free throws to put Iona in front, 77-76, with 0:14 left.

After a Marvin Prochet jumper rimmed out with 0:01 left, Iona rebounded the miss and Asante Gist scored the game’s final points at the foul line.

Marcus Hammond, a freshman from Queens, led Niagara with 18 points off the bench. Senior Marvin Prochet had 17 points and eight rebounds and two more freshmen, Dominik Fragala and Solomon, had 10 points each for the Purple Eagles.

Crawford led Iona with 21 points.

Niagara was attempting to sweep the regular-season series from Iona for the first time in 11 years and win for the third year in a row at Hynes Center.

Canisius and Niagara will have visits from Fairfield and Manhattan on Friday and Sunday afternoon. First-place Monmouth’s game at Rider, the preseason conference favorite, on Friday is another key game.

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