Feisty Canisius falls in OT to Niagara
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • February 16, 2012 @ 11:25am
Before last night’s game between Canisius and Niagara at the Gallagher Center, every storyline smiled upon the Purple Eagles. Niagara had won two straight MAAC games, thumped Canisius by 19 at Koessler in January and had the rowdy Purple Eagle student section behind them for Wednesday’s “Battle of the Bridge: Canal Cup” contest.
Niagara held on for a 60-57 overtime win, but Joe Mihalich’s team had to earn every point against a young Canisius squad that, at 4-22 (1-15 in MAAC), had every excuse to sleepwalk through the game and wait for a blank slate next year.
With 1:32 left in overtime, Canisius actually held a slim 57-56 lead after Griffin guard Harold Washington made one of two from the stripe. On the ensuing possession, when Canisius forward Josiah Heath leaped to challenge Antoine Mason’s three-point shot from the right wing, however, he inadvertently grazed Mason’s wrist—a three-shot foul. Mason hit two of the three for a one-point Niagara lead, then tacked on another two free throws for a three-point edge. Due to a great drive-and-kick by Gaby Belardo with the game-clock waning, Alshwan Hymes’ open three point try to tie the game bounced off the back rim as the buzzer sounded. The loss was Canisius’ 10th straight.
The Purple Eagles seemingly had the game wrapped up at 55-51 with just over 30 seconds left in regulation, but hustle earned the Griffs two trips to the free throw line to tie the game with 5.7 seconds left. Niagara guard Antoine Mason took the ball the length of the floor before badly missing an off-balance, contested jumper as the buzzer sounded.
Neither team could knock down an open look throughout the game, as the shooting percentages—27% for Canisius and 30% for Niagara—indicate. The majority of shots weren’t hotly contested either, as both teams dared their opponent to convert open long-range shots over packed-in 2-3 zones. Between the two schools, there were 59 three-point attempts and only 15 makes—a 25% clip when “average” is considered 33%.
The night was particularly disastrous for Canisius’ Washington, who heard the “airball” chant from the Niagara student section—virtually every time he touched the ball—after failing to hit the rim on his first shot only 4:45 into the game. Canisius’ leading scorer posted a 1-8 shooting line, finishing with nine points—eight below his average—seven rebounds, five assists and four turnovers.
Hymes and Josiah Heath were the lone bright spots for Tom Parrotta’s club, as Hymes (5-14 from downtown) hit several big threes to stop Niagara runs and Heath gobbled up 14 rebounds and defended well. The latter was especially active in the second half and overtime, tormenting Niagara’s star guard Juan’ya Green whenever the MAAC Rookie of the Week tried to penetrate into the lane. The Canisius freshman big man took charges, blocked shots, gathered offensive rebounds and had a hand in seemingly every passing lane.
Mason led all scorers with 21 points, including a 9-11 outing at the free throw line. Canisius guard Gaby Belardo, fighting through his chronic back injury to participate in the rivalry game, had a forgettable night: five points on 2-15 shooting (1-7 from downtown), eight rebounds and six turnovers.
On ESPN BracketBuster weekend, Canisius hosts the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Koessler Athletic Center. The Purple Eagles will try to push their win streak to four with a road tilt against America East Conference co-leader Vermont.