Immediate reactions: UB 76, Eastern Michigan 66

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Immediate reactions: Canisius 87, Monmouth 67

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Enjoy Billy Baron’s time as a Canisius Griffin, because the ship will sail much too soon.

With Javon McCrea’s up-and-down senior season at UB well documented, there’s no doubt that Baron is the marquee player in the Big 4.

The 6’2 senior stuck the dagger in Rider on Friday night with a game-winning three-pointer in double-OT (watch below), then followed up that 38-point outburst with game-highs in points (26), rebounds (eight) and assists (six) in the 87-67 win over Monmouth.

The Griffs’ engine rarely makes a mistake, attacks the rim without losing control and doesn’t force many shots. He’s developed as a lights-out three-point shooter—17-39 in four-game stretch, 42 percent for the year—which makes him a near-impossible matchup for opponents.

Baron’s one of the few players in the MAAC able to put a team on his back—he did in the second halves of the Notre Dame and Rider games, and the Griffs will go as far as he takes them in the MAAC Tournament.

**Zach Lewis’ impact in starting five: I wrote yesterday about the swagger that Shannon Evans offers the University at Buffalo as a dynamic freshman with game-changing ability.

Evans may be more emotional and boisterous than Canisius’ Lewis, but the latter is J.R. Smith-like in his instant offense.

Don’t think that today’s 25-point (seven three-pointers) explosion in his second career start was a flash in the pan—when he’s on, Lewis can light up the scoring column in a hurry.

Should Lewis (pictured in header) have said something to incite anger from Monmouth head coach King Rice after sticking a three in front of the Hawks’ bench at the first-half buzzer?

No, probably not—Rice noted post-game that, from his admittedly old-school perspective, players should never talk to the opposing team’s coach and vice versa. The exchange was fairly harmless—Rice recalled saying to his team, “He’s got to make it!”, and then Lewis turned to the Monmouth head coach and said, “Made it!” before jogging off to the locker room.

You take the good with the bad from Lewis and hope that he matures as his Canisius career moves along. For what it’s worth, he earned his partial standing ovation as he left the floor with 20 seconds left.

**Out of foul trouble: Chris Manhertz picked up his second and third fouls in the first 2:16 of the second half, leaving Canisius frontcourt with Jordan Heath, Phil Valenti and Josiah Heath as the lone available big men.

Foul trouble has plagued Manhertz throughout his career, but fortunately his absence for a 7:29 stretch of the second half didn’t cost the Griffs. Is this a continuous story-line to watch? Yep.

**Breakdown the Hawks: Monmouth tried to make life impeccably difficult for Billy Baron—running a 2-3 zone, box-and-one and other “junk defenses,” as Baron calls them. The Griffs’ star wasn’t expecting to face much zone—Monmouth head coach King Rice admitted that he’s a man-to-man team that was forced into a zone to shutdown Baron—but he wasn’t rattled at all.

The Hawks pressed regularly, trapped aggressively in the corners and put lockdown perimeter defender Max DiLeo on Baron’s hip as much as possible. None of it made a marked difference—Canisius hit 14 of 30 threes for the game and shot 61 percent in the second half

A more seasoned zone could give the Griffs trouble, as Canisius lacks a full complement of comfortable ball handlers and smart passers. Billy Baron protects the ball well, but Jim Baron is making a concerted effort to have his son play more off the ball.

The onus was on true freshman Zach Lewis, senior off-guard Chris Perez and transfer Jeremiah Williams to withstand pressure and make wise decisions with the ball.

The early returns on Williams weren’t favorable—he seemed a step slow in getting rid of the ball before pressure arrived, but Lewis and Perez acquitted themselves well, as Canisius turned the ball over just three times in the first half and seven for the game.

**Hawks’ Justin Robinson: Buffalo’s a city that appreciates the underdog and cheers for the type of player (or team) that doesn’t typically succeed. We’ve got a soft spot for 5’8 Monmouth freshman point guard Justin Robinson, who’s more than just a spark plug and defensive gnat.

The Kingston guard ranks sixth in the MAAC in assists at 3.8 per game, and he’s lightning quick in transition and slithers into the lane with ease. His spin move between two defenders and ensuing delicate floater was Monmouth’s only highlight-reel play of the afternoon.

If Robinson had some offensively-inclined big men to help him, then you’d see those assist averages double.

**Stat-line I liked:
—The win marked No. 420 of Jim Baron’s coaching career, surpassing that of his former boss, Digger Phelps, who won 419 games as head coach of Notre Dame and Fordham.

**Stat-line I also liked:
—Billy Baron’s last four conference games: 160 minutes, 116 points, 24 rebounds, 22 assists, 10 TOs (and just one in his last 98 minutes). Those per-40 averages: 29 points, six rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.5 turnovers. Disgusting.

**Opponent I didn’t like: Max DiLeo, Monmouth. He’s reminiscent of former Griffin Robert Goldsberry, a player with minimal offensive ability but extreme tenacity. He did his best to contend with Billy Baron, but it felt oddly gratifying—even as an impartial observer—seeing the Griffin star shred DiLeo.

**What’s next?:
—A 9 p.m. Friday tilt against Iona (ESPNU) will be a great challenge for Canisius—a rematch of the Griffs’ MAAC Tournament loss last year. After a Sunday matinee at Monmouth, Canisius returns home on Jan. 22 for a Battle of the Bridge tilt vs. Niagara.

(All photos are courtesy of Buffalo.com freelance photographer Don Nieman—you can see that full gallery here).

TAGGED: billy baron, canisius griffins, college basketball, justin robinson, maac, monmouth hawks, zach lewis

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