With Malik Johnson smothered by defenders, and with its guards already in a hole due to injuries, the Canisius men’s basketball team needed to quickly regroup.
Majesty Brandon scored a team-high 15 points, but in a 71-67 loss to Manhattan on Friday at the Koessler Athletic Center, the Griffs otherwise struggled to create offense at the perimeter and went 10 for 18 from the free-throw line.
“Malik played 40 (minutes) and Majesty played almost 40, and a lot of other guys had to play a lot of minutes, and that’s just what we have to deal with,” said Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon, whose team fell to 1-6 in its last seven games. “As far as taking Malik out, (Manhattan) did a good job of hustling and we certainly feel like we could have played better.”
In addition to being shorthanded at guard, Canisius labored to match forwards Warren Williams and Pauly Paulicap, who combined for 19 of Manhattan’s 38 first-half points and helped the Jaspers take a three-point lead at halftime.
“Malik was a big focus for us, and our ability to make him work and get him different looks,”Manhattan coach Steve Masiello said. “He’s a young man we feel, if you give him 40 minutes of the same thing, he’s going to beat you. We wanted other people to have to make decisions for them.”
Johnson, a senior, entered the game averaging 13.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists in Canisius’ first 12 games. While Johnson had eight assists and five rebounds against the Jaspers, he scored only six points, and was held to single digits in scoring for only the fourth time this season.
Canisius also finished 5 for 24 on 3-pointers against Manhattan, and 26 for 65 from the floor.
“I’ve been going against it for four years, and the coaches, every year, do a great job of preparing us for this style of play,” Johnson said. “We came out and we gave them the ball too many times and I’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the ball. The team’s got to do a better job, but even though, of everything, we were prepared. We’ve got to execute better.”
Brandon has scored in double figures in Canisius’ last four games, including 30 points in a loss Monday at Pittsburgh.
Brandon’s play also became more valuable in the absence of guards Akrum Ahemed and Sam Rautins, who sat out Friday. Ahmed had a walking boot on his right foot, while Rautins has a lower-body injury.
“Malik is a dominant point guard, which everybody understands,” Brandon said. “He understands people are going to try to shut him out, so we’re going to need that extra strength when they try to do it. It was time for me to step up.”
The Griffs and the Jaspers traded the lead three times in a span of less than three minutes late in the first half before Williams’ layup gave the Jaspers a 27-26 lead with less than four minutes left. However, Canisius committed three turnovers in the final two minutes that allowed Manhattan to open its lead to 38-33 with 22 seconds left.
Johnson, however, hit two of three free throws after he was fouled by Samir Stewart with 3.3 seconds left to bring the Griffs within three, 38-35, at halftime.
The Jaspers led 68-63 after Williams (16 points) made a pair of free throws with 1:45 left, and Jordan Henderson’s jumper 24 seconds later brought the Griffs within three points. Then, with 22 seconds left, Brandon’s free throws again brought the Griffs within three, at 70-67, but Christian Hinckson’s free throw with 15 seconds left opened the lead back to four, and Brandon and Henderson missed shots in the final eight seconds.
“We were on defense and we really needed to dig in and get a stop,” Witherspoon said of his team trailing by three after Henderson’s jumper. “We didn’t do a good job of that. We needed to get more stops. Usually, it’s been our initial defense that’s been better, and it’s been us giving up too many offensive rebounds. Tonight, they got more but they had a lot of misses. We have to do a better job of that.”