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Immediate reactions: Notre Dame 87, Canisius 81 (OT)

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

In most major sports, the subject of refereeing is taboo—casting blame on the officials is considered a feeble excuse to mask inferior play, but after Canisius’ 87-81 overtime loss on the road at Notre Dame, second-guessing was king.

The point of contention came with 28 seconds left in regulation and the game tied at 73. On offense late in its shot clock, Notre Dame’s Eric Atkins lost the ball along the baseline and Canisius’ Billy Baron tiptoed along the out-of-bounds line, clutched the loose ball and signaled for a timeout—all in seemingly one motion.

First, the referee on the baseline handed possession to Notre Dame, allowing the Fighting Irish to settle for the final shot of the game.

The ruling on the court was that Baron had established possession in bounds and then stepped on the sideline as he called timeout—a change of possession, a Baron turnover and thus a fresh shot clock for Notre Dame.

Livid with the call, Jim Baron demanded that the officials walk to the replay monitor to review their decision, but Baron was rebuffed and, even though Notre Dame’s final possession of regulation was squandered by Eric Atkins, the Griffins were, at least in Jim Baron’s eyes, unfairly denied the chance for a game-winning shot.

Remember the last time the Griffs had the ball with seconds on the clock and an opportunity to win in dramatic fashion?


After the game, Jim Baron reflected on the call that went Notre Dame’s way:

“I want to see that last play. We called timeout and they said they got the ball, and, ‘I’m like what are you talking about? We called timeout, we got possession!’ The explanation was we didn’t have possession.

I was just real disappointed because I think you go to the monitor, I said go to the monitor and look at it just to see what it is. It cost us the game. We could’ve had last possession of the game. We played great defense, the clock went down, and now you’re going to give them back possession after we played great defense?

That was a pivotal part. We did a great job on defense, we didn’t foul them, the ball went out of bounds. I just want to see it.”

According to LaPhonso Ellis, ESPNU’s announcer with whom I was able to speak following the contest, it appeared to him that Billy Baron had come from out of bounds to possess the ball—which would not signal a change of possession and would instead grant Notre Dame the ball under Canisius’ hoop with just two seconds on the shot clock.

Simply put, the officials’ determination of possession and the handling of the shot clock were the argument’s central issues.

In overtime, Notre Dame center Garrick Sherman—a Michigan State transfer—scored five unanswered points to put the Fighting Irish in front 82-77, and a dagger three-pointer from Atkins iced the game with 13 seconds left. Canisius’ most effective post defender, senior Chris Manhertz, had foul out only 48 seconds into overtime.

Here are the immediate reactions:

**Billy Big-Time: The stage was set for Canisius senior guard Billy Baron to make yet another dent on a national scale—maybe it wasn’t equivalent to University at Buffalo football star Khalil Mack’s opportunity against No. 2 Ohio State—but the gifted mid-major guard had the spotlight of ESPNU, joked around with Notre Dame legend Digger Phelps before the game and dealt with a stiff test against the Irish’s pesky facilitator, Eric Atkins.

The point guard match-up was mesmerizing to watch—Atkins (30 points) sunk three after three to keep Notre Dame afloat, while Baron shouldered the scoring burden for the Griffins in the second half and overtime, scoring 26 of the team’s 48 points and creating 10 more through his four assists.

Although Canisius survived the first 20 minutes with a two-point lead, Baron wasn’t one of the primary reasons, posting seven points, five rebounds and two steals. Atkins, on the other hand, led the Irish’s charge back from a nine-point deficit with an efficient 4-5 shooting display with four assists and three rebounds.

We’ve come to expect such a performance from Baron (pictured in the header), even though his 33 points matched a career-high and his 43 minutes set a new mark. I doubt there’s a mid-major player with as much guile, resilience and determination as the Canisius point guard, who’s thirsting for a MAAC title in his senior season.

**Three-ball barrage: Pessimists and nit-pickers would call it sluggish perimeter defense and questionable rotations, but the optimist would watch in awe at the three-point shooting display in the second half, as the two teams combined for 13-20 from behind the arc and Canisius sinking six of its first seven. Let’s run through them:


—Popping out of a ball-screen, Jordan Heath drifted to the left corner and nailed an open triple with an assist from Baron.

—With Notre Dame reluctant to follow him in transition, Perez took a few dribbles before canning an uncontested three.

—Good ball movement against the Irish zone allowed Billy Baron to find a soft spot in the opposite corner for a cross-court pass..

—True freshman Zach Lewis called for an isolation late in the 35, then crossed over to his left to lose two defenders before calmly draining his try.

—With Notre Dame picking up steam, Baron sank a contested, momentum-killing triple right in front of his teammates on the bench.

—A gorgeous step-back three from Baron with just under 10 minutes to go.

—With the shot clock waning, Jordan Heath nailed a three-ball from his sweet spot on the left wing.

**Opportunistic Griffs: With Notre Dame’s leading scorer, guard Jerian Grant, removed from the team due to academic issues, Canisius took advantage of an Irish offense suddenly seeking a new identity. The visitors forced Notre Dame into 16 turnovers, including seven by new go-to scorer Atkins—Baron’s six steals set a career-high.

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey excused many of Atkins’ turnovers, citing the fact that the senior point guard was demanded to make plays—a new burden stemming from Grant’s dismissal. 10-14 from the field—and 6-8 from three-point land—more than offset Atkins’ occasional carelessness with the basketball.

**Shallow Frontcourt: It was telling that Jim Baron turned to redshirt-freshman Phil Valenti instead of junior Josiah Heath in overtime, as the latter struggled mightily at both ends when trying to defend Sherman.

While you can’t question the younger Heath’s effort, he still looks confused and frustrated more often than not, and he has a troubling tendency to forget to box out.

**Stat-line I liked:
—Canisius forced Notre Dame into 16 turnovers, as I mentioned before.

**Stat-line I didn’t like:
—The Griffs were out-rebounded 44-31, including 24-10 in the second half and overtime.

TAGGED: billy baron, canisius griffins, college basketball, immediate reactions, jim baron, notre dame fighting irish

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