ALBANY — Scott Hemer offered the Canisius women’s basketball team some perspective in the days before its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinal game Saturday against Monmouth: There's no turning back from here.
“We spent some time talking before the game, and even most of the week, about making sure that we understood this was all-or-nothing time,” Canisius’ first-year coach said.
“This was it for us. We had to lay it all on the line.”
Yet Saturday was it for the Golden Griffins.
Fifth-seeded Canisius' stay in the tournament lasted one game, a 64-53 loss to fourth-seeded Monmouth at the Times Union Center. Monmouth will face No. 1 Quinnipiac (24-6) in a semifinal at 11 a.m. Sunday.
The Griffs (11-19) had no answer for the Hawks’ inside play in the fourth quarter. Monmouth (14-16) outscored Canisius, 20-9, in the fourth, and held the Griffs to one offensive rebound in that 10-minute span.
Despite finishing 20-for-28 on free throws, the Hawks went 6-for-8 in the final 4:21, offsetting a span in the fourth quarter in which the two teams went without a field goal for more than five minutes.
In that drought, the Hawks streamlined their focus.
“The defense really comes into play at that point,” said Monmouth forward Alexa Middleton, who scored 14 points and had 12 rebounds. “The offense will come, but we needed to get things done on the defensive end.”
Twelve of Monmouth’s 20 fourth-quarter points came in the final 4:20. After Sara Hinriksdottir brought the Griffs within three at 56-53 on a layup with 1:46 left, McKinzee Barker (11 points) scored four points in 13 seconds, including a layup off a steal with 56 seconds left.
“At the end of the day, only one team walks out of here without a loss from this tournament,” Hemer said. “Only one team walks out of the NCAA Tournament without a loss. When that final horn goes off for us, we want to make sure we understood it was on our terms, and I thought there were a lot of things that we struggled with today, that we could have done a better job of.”
In particular, Hemer pointed out his team’s disadvantage playing against Monmouth’s size, and Monmouth’s ability to put pressure on Canisius’ post players.
While five players in Canisius’ lineup are listed at at least 6 foot tall, they couldn’t answer the inside presence of Monmouth forwards Middleton (6-foot-2), Lucy Thomas (6-foot), and center Erica Balman (6-foot-5), who came off the bench.
Griffins reserves Danielle Sanderlin and Anndea Zeigler scored eight and nine points, respectively, but starting forwards Hinriksdottir and Amanda Schiefen combined for 10 points, and Hinriksdottir (eight points) didn’t score her first points until late in the first half.
“They got the ball inside a lot, and they just took over with the size advantage,” said D’Jhai Patterson-Ricks, who led Canisius with 13 points. “They also crashed the boards hard, so we didn’t execute boxing out. We weren’t consistent.”
After opening 0-for-4 from the floor in the first three minutes, Monmouth cut Canisius’ lead from 11-5 to 11-9 with 2:02 left in the first quarter. Middleton’s free throw with 26.9 seconds brought the Hawks within one point at 11-10.
Despite going scoreless in a span of nearly three minutes in the second quarter, the Griffs tied the game at 24-24 on Hinriksdottir’s free throws with 1:17 left in the half — Hinriksdottir’s first points of the game — and Maria Welch’s free throws with 4.2 seconds left gave the Griffs a 26-24 lead at halftime.
Monmouth outscored the Griffs 20-18 in the third, as Middleton’s layup tied the game at 44-44 with 23 seconds left in the third.
Thomas (18 points) hit a 3-pointer three minutes into the fourth, which gave the Hawks a 52-49 lead, but neither team scored for the next 2:03, until Zeigler hit a pair of free throws that brought the Griffs within one — the closest Canisius got in the final five minutes.
“If nothing else, they went down together,” Hemer said. “For our program, there’s something to be said about that, the direction we’d like to go in. And I told them in the locker room that I was proud of them.”