ALBANY — The Canisius men’s basketball team took its time approaching the podium in the minutes following a 73-59 loss to Monmouth in a MAAC Tournament semifinal on Sunday at the Times Union Center.
Perhaps they were licking their wounds, meditating upon what went wrong, or trying to figure out how many times they cut the sixth-seeded Hawks’ lead to three points in the second half.
The Golden Griffins simply couldn’t turn the game around in those tight moments, and missed a chance to qualify for their first MAAC championship game since 2001.
At the microphones, Takal Molson and Malik Johnson wore casual clothes instead of their Canisius warmups or game jerseys, and attempted to pinpoint what went wrong for the No. 2 Griffs (15-17).
Molson scored 17 points and Jalanni White added 11 for Canisius, but their shooting was subpar. The Griffs finished 22 for 58 from the floor, including a 3-for-20 effort on 3-point attempts.
The Griffs cut Monmouth’s lead to three points five times in the first 12 minutes of the second half, but couldn’t get any closer. When they cut it to 55-52 with 8:33 left, the Hawks answered with an 8-0 run to open the lead.
“I’ll take a lot of the blame on that,” said Johnson, who scored 10 points and had five assists. “As a leader, I’ve got to do a better job of getting the guys right on both ends of the floor. We were down eight and cut it to three points multiple times, we’ve got to do stuff to get over that hump. I need to do a better job of relaying that message to my team.
“We played hard. We tried to get over that hump, but there were too many defensive lapses, or times we got the ball on offense and we didn’t get a great shot.”
And when Diago Quinn was on the floor, they had no answer for Monmouth’s 6-foot-9 center, who scored 14 points and had 10 rebounds, despite sitting out for the bulk of the second half after being whistled for his third foul.
“He’s a big body,” Johnson said. “We have guys that are more than capable of guarding him. That game plan, we didn’t really execute it well in the first half and when he got out of the game (in the second half) they got smaller. They started trying to drive us more, but we didn’t really do a great job of keeping the ball in front.”
No. 6 Monmouth (14-20) will face Iona in the MAAC Tournament championship game at 9 p.m. Monday at the Times Union Center. The top-seeded Gaels defeated No. 5 Siena 73-57 in the first semifinal on Sunday. The winner will earn a berth to the NCAA Tournament, and the 68-team field will be announced next Sunday.
Deion Hammond scored 19 points for Monmouth, which earns its first berth in the conference championship game since 2016. The Hawks are in the title game after opening the regular season 0-12 and closing the regular season with four consecutive losses.
The Hawks also beat the Griffs for the first time this season. Canisius swept the season series from Monmouth.
The Griffs and the Hawks traded leads eight times in the first 4:59 of the MAAC semifinal, but Monmouth took a 35-26 lead into the second half despite both teams going without a field goal for a span of more than four minutes. Canisius, however, went without a successful shot for more than six minutes before White made a 3-pointer with 9:19 left, and the Griffs finished 9 for 29 from the floor in the first half.
Canisius cut the lead to 35-32 in the first 2½ minutes of the second half, by building off transition and steals. Then, less than six minutes into the half, Quinn took his third foul and the Griffs cut Monmouth’s lead to four points without Quinn on the floor.
When asked if he was injured or simply benched for being in foul trouble, Quinn played coy.
But Hammond liked how his team compensated for Quinn’s absence.
“We had Sam (Ibiezugbe) and Mustapha (Traore) who played a really big part for us,” Hammond said. “Those two guys stepped it up when he wasn’t in.”
But each time the Griffs got within three points, the Hawks found a way to answer, whether it was grabbing a rebound or sinking a free throw to extend their lead to 14 points in the final five minutes.
The Hawks play for a shot at the NCAA Tournament, while Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon said he was unsure if his program would accept a bid into the CBI or CIT tournaments.
“For us, we were almost an entirely different team from last year,” Witherspoon said. “Give credit to the guys who were hard working, in getting us to this point. It’s been a heck of a run.
"We grinded the other night against Manhattan and we came back, got down and came back and didn’t lead until overtime. We fought and fought and got it down to one possession today, but give Monmouth credit.”