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Poor second-half shooting sinks Canisius in loss to Manhattan

Malik Johnson’s highlight-reel-worthy 3-point shot just before the halftime buzzer appeared to give the Canisius men’s basketball team a much-needed lift against Manhattan.

But instead of carrying the momentum into the second half, the Golden Griffins couldn’t muster the same shooting precision in a 70-65 loss to the Jaspers on Sunday at the Koessler Athletic Center.

Jibreel Faulkner scored 20 points and Takal Molson added 15 for the Griffs (12-14, 9-5 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference), who led by two points at halftime but finished 8 for 22 from the floor in the final 20 minutes, and lost the lead in the first six minutes of the second half.

“We have to stay together and talk on defense,” said Faulkner, whose team finished 20-for-45 shooting. “We need to be more in tune with each other, and move on to the next play when we make mistakes.”

The Jaspers (9-17, 7-7) entered the game ranked 16th nationally in scoring defense (62.6 points per game) and allowed Canisius only 45 shots – the Griffs averaged 56.5 shots a game prior to Sunday. Manhattan also forced Canisius into 15 turnovers, including eight in the first half.

Still, Manhattan coach Steve Masiello said his team underestimated Canisius’ shooting prowess in the first half.

“In the first half, they understood, ‘Okay, these guys are shooting 52 percent against us,’ ” Masiello said. “That doesn’t happen a lot against us. We turned up a little bit. We made some good adjustments as far as some pick-and-roll coverages and getting to Takal (Molson), understanding where Malik (Johnson) was. I thought our ball pressure turned up. I thought we disrupted them a little more.”

The Griffs remained tied for first in the MAAC with Quinnipiac, which beat Siena 107-100 in triple overtime Sunday in Albany. Canisius holds the tiebreaker by virtue of two wins against the Bobcats. The Griffs had a chance to create a little separation from the rest of the pack, but didn’t capitalize. Monmouth and Rider each are one-half game behind Canisius and Quinnipiac, and Siena and Iona are one game back.

Canisius has four games remaining in MAAC play, including a game Friday at Monmouth. The Griffs will play Iona, rival Niagara, and Siena to close the regular season.

The long faces the Griffs wore after the loss to the Jaspers, though, were in no way indicative of a first-place team. What concerned Griffs coach Reggie Witherspoon the most, though, was his team’s lack of consistent energy.

“I don’t think our energy was good, even when we were playing well, aside from the last seven minutes,” said Witherspoon, who was unable to earn his 250th career coaching win. “Manhattan played hard, no doubt about that.”

The Jaspers took a 27-16 lead with 8:19 left in the first half by taking advantage of Canisius’ sloppy ball-handling, as the Jaspers scored 11 points off the Griffs’ first six turnovers.

Faulkner keyed a 17-4 run by scoring 13 of his 15 first-half points in the final 8:19. He tied the game at 27 on a free throw with 3:59 left, and helped Canisius take a 33-31 lead with 2:05 remaining in the half.

With the Griffs trailing 34-33 with 1:15 left, Faulkner grabbed Ebube Ebube’s missed layup with 31 seconds left to set up Canisius’ final possession. Johnson’s 3-pointer just before the buzzer gave the Griffs a 36-34 lead at halftime.

But after the Jaspers and the Griffs traded leads three times in the first 7:01 of the second half, Thomas Capuano gave the Jaspers a 44-42 lead on a 3-pointer at 6:01 of the second half, and Manhattan opened its lead to 11 with 7:07 left.

Down by 10 with less than five minutes left, Molson hit a 3-pointer that cut Manhattan’s lead to 62-55, then made his third 3-pointer of the game to make it 66-62 with 2:30 remaining.

Johnson’s 3-pointer 32 seconds later cut Manhattan’s lead to 68-65, but after the Molson drew a charge against Samir Stewart (13 points), Molson’s 3-point attempt with 1:10 went wide of the basket.

“It was just communication,” Stewart said of the difference between the first and the second halves. “We weren’t talking enough and we had some breakdowns.

“The turning point was the first four minutes of the second half. We really buy in on that. If we win the first four minutes of the second half, we know we can end the game strong. We made sure we won those first four minutes.”

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