MAAC Tournament: Fouls, rebounding doom Griffs
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • March 10, 2013 @ 8:59am
Reality sank in as four Canisius Griffins approached the press conference podium following the 89-85 loss to Iona in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference quarterfinals, a bitter end to a sparkling season. [Read the detailed live-blog].
Senior Harold Washington looked wistful, frustrated that he fouled out with 23 seconds left and Canisius down only three, knowing his collegiate career had closed without reaching a MAAC semifinal.
Center Chris Manhertz displayed a distant look, perhaps chewing on the fact that the Griffins were out-rebounded 37-28, while the junior hit just 5-of-10 free-throws and mustered just one rebound in the second half.
Head coach Jim Baron candidly handled most of the post-game chatter, gushing about his team’s overachieving season but pointing to rebounding, defense and avoiding fouls as three areas that eluded Canisius on Saturday evening.
The coach’s son, Billy Baron, took the loss the hardest. He didn’t make eye contact with anyone asking him a question, and his voice cracked as he muttered the following lines:
“The whole season we talked about going to the NCAA Tournament, so I’m very disappointed. Extremely disappointed.”
“It’s really painful right now, and yeah, I’m really anxious [to get back at it next season].”
Although he wasn’t fortunate offensively in the first half—several fearless drives resulted in layups that rimmed out—Baron kicked his performance to another gear when Canisius trailed by 12, 60-48, with 12:11 to go.
The junior guard scored 15 of the Griffs next 37 points, willing Canisius back within one point on two occasions: 76-75 and 78-77 with under four minutes left. Like he had countless other times this season, Baron shouldered the Griffs’ burden, dominating the game without dominating the ball.
Still, it was Iona’s marksmanship from the free-throw line that preserved the Gaels’ lead for most of the game, as Cluess’ team wound up 34-for-40 from the stripe—starting guards MoMo Jones and Sean Armand combined for a scorching 25-for-26 FT outing.
By my count, only two of Armand’s and Jones’ makes hit the rim—all others swished smoothly through.
“Once we started to foul, [Iona] got to the foul line and started to press, and that slowed us down,” admitted Jim Baron, referring to the Griffs’ struggles after busting out to an 18-10 edge. “[The Gaels] had 40 foul shots—I don’t know if I played a game this year where a team had 40 foul shots.”
The foul problems reared their ugly heads quickly, as Griffin guards Washington and Alshwan Hymes fouled Sean Armand behind the three-point arc, handing a 77% free-throw shooter a free six points and an easy route for Iona to match the Griffs’ transition buckets. Armand hit all 10 of his free throws in the first half and ended the night with 24 points.
Known for hoisting three after three, Armand made up for Jones’ early ineffectiveness by bombarding the basket with dribbling forays—instead of standing tall with their arms in the air to absorb contact and take a charge, Jordan and Josiah Heath found themselves in foul trouble. Head coach Baron reamed out Josiah repeatedly in the first half for not moving his feet to square his body on Iona’s drives and for trying to block shots instead of raising his arms straight up.
“We talked about stepping in and taking charges so they don’t run over us,” Baron said bluntly following the game, visibly unhappy with his team’s defending.
“That’s the way we beat them last time,” Baron said, referring to Canisius’ 77-74 home win over Iona on Feb. 2. “We rebounded and we defended. We did that to a lot of teams this year, whether it’s Rider, Niagara or Loyola.”
Jones, a transfer from Arizona who won MAAC Player of the Year honors earlier this week, tallied 21 of his 33 points in the second half, knifing his way through Canisius defenders to either finish at the rim, deftly drop in a floater or draw a foul on a Griffs’ frontcourt that resorted to lunging, hacking and grabbing.
To make his performance even more memorable, Jones played through an illness—his eyes were heavy and he was covered by a thick towel during the post-game presser, barely offering enough energy to respond to questions.
Watching the disparity in free throws (40 for Iona to 21 for CC) and team fouls (23 on Canisius, 15 on Iona) swing wildly out of control, Baron shouted angrily at the officiating trio of Jim Haney, Bob Adams and Guy Pagano, appealing call after call to no avail.
“[There are a] couple crucial plays I can’t wait to see,” Baron said. “Harold stepping out of bounds [with 48 seconds to go]. I thought he was clearly in bounds—that was a huge play because our momentum was going. And the foul where he went over the top of the hand-off—that happens all the time, and he was just being aggressive.”
Canisius’ comeback was mesmerizing, however, as the Griffs showcased some of the prettiest fundamental basketball of the entire season.
Possession after possession, the Griff guards found good angles for entry passes to Manhertz in the post, who either spun inside or out to draw a foul, finish at the rim or connect with an open teammate. Iona’s Taaj Ridley and David Laury III did their best to body him, but Manhertz (13 points, 11 rebounds) wouldn’t be denied.
“They didn’t have any answers for Chris. He got the ball in real tight, and they physically had no answers to guard him,” Jim Baron explained. Unfortunately, rebounding still favored Iona—thanks to Laury’s 14—and that category played a major role in determining the result.
“It was even up at halftime,” Jim Baron said, “and I said we needed to win the battle of the boards in the second half, and we fell short on that.”
While the quarterfinal loss is a rather unceremonious way to end the year, Jim Baron kept perspective on just what the program had accomplished—a sentiment shared by former coach Tom Parrotta as well.
“I thought overall we had a hell of a year,” the elder Baron said, beaming with pride. “I’ve never been part of a program to go from one win to 11 wins in the league—plus-10 [differential]—that’s incredible. And to beat everyone in the league, these guys deserve all the credit for that.”
Canisius will wait to see if it’ll be invited to a minor post-season tournament, but the early tournament exit won’t do the Griffs any favors.