Griffs grab rivalry revenge against Niagara
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • February 11, 2013 @ 9:22am
Billy Baron isn’t too old to take advice from his family. His dad, Canisius head coach Jim Baron, sat him down late in the week for a film session and advised him to be more aggressive. His brother, Jimmy, a professional basketball player in Russia, reminded Billy of his game-winner-that-wasn’t against Niagara the first time around.
“My brother really let me have it since that [last Niagara game] happened—he broke it down on game film and made me really taste that loss. We understood the importance of this game,” Billy Baron remarked. “[Niagara’s] a first-place team, and Canisius hasn’t won here since ‘02—and we felt we were capable of coming in here to take this win.”
The Griffs’ junior guard took these meetings to heart, and Baron buoyed Canisius to a 77-70 revenge win over the Purple Eagles on Sunday afternoon at NU’s Gallagher Center. Fighting through a sprained ankle late in the second half, the Rhode Island transfer notched a career-high 33 points in willing the Griffs to victory.
Billy Baron shot 11-for-22 from the floor, 4-for-8 from downtown and 7-for-8 from the line—an efficient performance attacking Niagara’s aggressive and long 2-3 zone.
After the victory, Canisius (16-9, 9-5) sits in a three-way tie with Loyola and Iona for second place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, one game behind first-place Niagara (10-4).
There were plenty of situations where Baron could have caved from the pressure. In hostile purple-and-white territory—dealing constantly with chants of “Daddy’s Boy” or “Daddy’s Girl” from the Niagara student section—Baron limped off the floor briefly in the second half after landing awkwardly on the foot of a Purple Eagles’ guard.
Only seconds after returning to the lineup, Baron was clobbered to the floor by Niagara’s 6’8, 240-pound center Devon White on a ferocious dribble-drive down the center of the lane, softly banking in a runner in the process.
After the latter, Baron rose slowly to his feet, leering at the Niagara big man who refused to meet his stare. He’d given the Griffs a two-point lead—66-64—and even though he missed the ensuing free throw, Chris Manhertz snagged the offensive rebound, and Baron’s toughness clearly galvanized his teammates.
“Seeing him go to the ground like that and get back up and not quit on us, it just gave us fuel,” said big man Jordan Heath, who finished with eight points, 12 rebounds and one crucial put-back slam. “We play off that, and that’s huge for us.”
“[Baron] hit big shots—he was leading the team and we followed, and we need that from him at times,” guard Harold Washington added.
While Baron’s toughness inspired his teammates, the two-time MAAC Player of the Week never lost sight of the last-second loss to Niagara where his buzzer-beating three-pointer was waved off because it was a tenth of a second late.
“[Billy] was pretty upset because he played so hard to finish that [first] game,” Jim Baron said. “He’s a competitor and I couldn’t be more proud what he did—he rebounded, he made his free throws and he played very good defense as well.”
It’s no secret that Canisius’ Achilles’ heel this season has been an addiction to hoisting three-point shots and allowing opposing defenses to extend and wear the backcourt down. With Baron making smarter use of ball-screens—and Washington remembering the freedom to attack the rim at will—the Canisius offense avoided the dry spells that plagued the program recently, particularly in the humbling 19-point loss to Manhattan last week.
The Griffs’ aggressiveness in attacking the rim allowed them to compensate for an off-night from sharpshooter Isaac Sosa, who scored only seven points in 26 minutes.
“Last game we settled for a lot of threes and played around the perimeter, and this game toward the end we started driving,” Washington noted. “Billy adjusted early and took hard fouls and sacrificed his body. I think that was the difference in the game, us getting to the line and putting pressure on the defense, because they had to play our shooters and that gave us space to drive.”
After shooting only eight free throws in the first meeting, Canisius went to the line 24 times at the Gallagher Center, and Niagara’s 12-for-23 performance from the stripe arguably cost Joe Mihalich’s club the victory.
Niagara’s star guard Juan’ya Green—shouldering even more of the scoring load with Antoine Mason missing the clash due to an ankle injury—scored 15 second-half points (21 for the game) and propelled the Purple Eagles back from a 16-point first-half deficit to lead by two with 3:13 remaining. Canisius didn’t fold, however, as a jumper by Sosa, Baron’s bucket over White, the transition jam by Jordan Heath, two free throws by Baron and four by Josiah Heath sent the Griffs on a 10-0 run to ice the game.
Niagara’s losing skid has reached three, but fortunately for the Purple Eagles, Loyola, Iona and Canisius have all stumbled in the last week to preserve a one-game edge. Mihalich’s crew visits Marist and Manhattan on Friday and Sunday of this week, respectively, to rebound, while Canisius continues its road trip until Feb. 28. The Griffs play Loyola and St. Peter’s on Thursday and Saturday.