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Griffs can’t protect home court, Purple Eagles roll

Photo of Juan'ya Green by Nate Benson

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

All the ingredients for a home victory were present for the Griffs: a hot start, a flash mob from the C-Block and a rousing pep band throughout. As hard as the crowd urged on Canisius, the Griffins fell to Big 4 rival Niagara 75-56 at the Koessler Athletic Center Thursday.

Poor shooting and long-stretches of standing around on offense have been major problems that have haunted the Griffins time and time again this season. Little changed against Niagara, as the Purple Eagles’ active zone defense forced the Griffins into 31% shooting for the game (18-58).

“We just labor to score,” Canisius head coach Tom Parrotta said bluntly. “We’re trying to have our defense keep us in games, but until we figure out ways we can score some points—from the guys that need to score points—we’re going to find ourselves in positions like this.”

A prime example was Harold Washington, who’s 8-40 (20%) from the floor over the last three contests. The junior transfer mentioned last Sunday that he simply needed to get more shots up in the gym, but the problems run a little deeper. In addition to learning the ropes in Division I basketball—like when to attack the basket off the dribble and when to settle for pull-ups—he’s also grieving a personal loss, the death of his grandfather, over the past few weeks.

“Harold was one of the guys I was really animated at during halftime because I thought he could have been a lot more aggressive,” Parrotta noted in the post-game press conference. “Standing out on the perimeter as a sitting duck isn’t the approach that we wanted to do, honestly. There were gaps there [in the NU zone.]”

Parrotta continued: “Washington’s struggling right now. He hasn’t been the same since he had a little emotion thing going on a couple weeks back—his grandfather died—and he hasn’t been the same since.”

The Griffins jumped out to a 12-4 lead behind 10 points and an assist from junior guard Gaby Belardo, whose energy and sharp three-point shooting briefly stunned Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich’s squad. One Purple Eagle bench player, Marvin Jordan, was undaunted, as the sophomore gunslinger sank four straight three-pointers to turn a 15-11 deficit into a 23-17 lead—one Niagara would never concede.

“We call [Jordan] ‘the Microwave’ like Vinnie Johnson,” Mihalich said. “He comes in off the bench and knocks down a couple threes. That’s what Marvin does for us—[the MAAC] gives awards for sixth man of the year, but they don’t give an award for fifth man of the year. [Jordan] comes into the game, and we get better.”

“The assistants said, ‘MJ is ready to go’ after warm-ups,” Mihalich added. “His attitude—it might have been a game or two when MJ had to adjust to this role—but he’s become a special guy for this team.”

“I was ready to be open the next time I shot. I was waiting to see if they’d leave me again—and they kept doing it—so I knocked them down,” Jordan explained about his scoring explosion.

Sensational Purple Eagles freshman Juan’ya Green, the second-leading scorer in the MAAC (18 ppg), was held to only six points, but he made an impact as a distributor. When Canisius had trimmed the deficit to single-digits—60-53—Green came through with a crucial assist to seal the win.

With 5:15 on the clock, Green dribbled slowly on the perimeter, searching for gaps in the Griffin defense. In the blink of an eye, he whipped a no-look pass to former Philadelphia high school teammate Ameen Tanksley on the right block, and the fellow freshman made no mistake with the lay-in. Parrotta signaled for a timeout, and Canisius could no longer sustain its late-game surge.

A boisterous section of Niagara fans that made the trip—probably around 250 in number—chided the home fans once the game was out of reach, unveiling chants about “pancakes” and “Canisius needing more practice.”

“I told [our team] to remember because that’s all you can do,” Parrotta said with a frustrated tone. “I told them in the locker room: ‘you have to remember them here beating us and hooting and hollering because that’s what they should do. They beat us fair and square, and we have to take our medicine.’”

Canisius (4-14 overall, 1-7 in the MAAC) travels to Rider for a 3 p.m. game on Sunday. The Purple Eagles, an even 4-4 in MAAC play, visit Manhattan on Sunday as well for a tough road game (4 p.m.) against the upstart Jaspers.

TAGGED: big 4 basketball, canisius griffins, gaby belardo, harold washington, juan'ya green, maac basketball, marvin jordan, niagara purple eagles

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