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Tsuj’s Ten: Detroit loss fuels Griffs for return of the MAAC

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Covering the Canisius vs. Detroit game Sunday was worthwhile for more reasons than wandering around Comerica Park, Ford Field and Greektown. Jim Baron’s upstart Griffins met a foe of equal ability, and despite an 83-78 defeat, demonstrated more resilience and toughness, two qualities oft-absent during the non-conference portion of NCAA teams’ schedules—particularly on the road.

“I felt like this one slipped away from us—I thought [Detroit] played a good game, but I think we lost it overall,” junior guard Billy Baron ruminated. “We had momentum going into halftime, and coming out right away I thought we’d pull away by double-digits.”

The test took a toll, however, as the Griffs were banged up by a feisty Titans squad and a lenient officiating crew. Point guard Billy Baron received the brunt of the punishment, pulling himself off the ground three times after he was fouled hard driving to the rim.

He met Canisius Griffin editor-in-chief Nick Veronica and me in the hallway outside the Canisius locker room, a giant ice pack wrapped tightly around his right knee.

“I got hit a few times, but I’ll be fine,” Baron told us bluntly following the game. His status for tonight’s home game against Fairfield (7 p.m., AM 1400) is uncertain, but we’d be surprised if he didn’t suit up.

“We have to get healthy—they were beating the hell out of Billy—I saw blood at one point,” Jim Baron said with annoyance. “One over the back—I was irate—you can’t let that happen. I was worried about guys getting hurt for [conference] play.”

1) Plagued by turnovers: The Griffins committed 23 turnovers against Detroit, as the Titans were very aggressive in defending ball-screens, and their team-wide physicality threw off Canisius’ timing. Credit Detroit’s Nick Minnerath and Doug Anderson, who were both active and versatile defensively, and often were forced to combat stronger opponents. Harold Washington paced the Griffs with six turnovers, Billy Baron and Isaac Sosa each had four, while Reggie Groves and Chris Manhertz each had three. Many of the turnovers were travels or out-of-control drives, and Billy Baron wasn’t too concerned post-game.

“That’s something you can easily fix,” the MAAC Player of the Week explained. “We just have to be a little more aware—[Detroit] played screens a little different, they were crafty with that—and we’ll have to look over film to be more aware of that.”

2) Fear the Titans: Ray McCallum Sr. and the Titans advanced to the NCAA Tournament after knocking off Valparaiso in the Horizon League final. Even though Detroit fell in the first round to eventual runner-up Kansas, four rotation players have returned from that group, including junior guard Ray McCallum Jr., who actually lent advice to Billy Baron shortly after the transfer left Rhode Island

Despite shooting only 5-14 from the floor, McCallum was exceptional from the free-throw line, sinking seven in the game’s final 50 seconds to ward off Canisius’ desperate long-distance barrage. The projected NBA second round pick is a major reason the Titans have won 15 straight on Dick Vitale Court.

“[McCallum’s] a good player—you can tell his dad’s taught him well,” Billy Baron said. “He’s everything a coach wants in a point guard—he can shoot, he can score, he makes everyone better, he makes sure the mood on the team is good.”

3) Oh, those referees: The officiating trio of LaMar Simpson, Lamont Simpson and D.J. Carstensen was frequently berated by Canisius head coach Jim Baron, whose son was pounded on his way to the rim on several occasions and came up clutching his shoulder and knee on two separate occasions. Two other game-changing instances stuck out as well: Doug Anderson’s desperation three at the shot clock buzzer—which pushed Detroit’s lead from three to six with 2:18 left—appeared to be still in his hand when the buzzer sounded, but the play wasn’t reviewed.

The play that really lit a fire under Baron, however, as the first half offensive foul on Reggie Groves, who had pump-faked McCallum off-the-ground, leaned in to shoot an off-balance three as the Titans guard fell on him, trying to draw a three-shot foul. Instead, the official whistled an offensive foul on Groves for kicking his leg out instead of penalizing McCallum. That potential three-point swing was lost in the fact that Canisius scored five points in a row shortly after.

“They called a foul on us for putting our foot up—I told the ref, you’d better tell Kobe, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, that they’d better never put up their foot—because that’s what they do all the time,” Baron noted after. “I’ve never seen a call like that—it was a huge play, because it was on McCallum, we’d get three foul shots—it’s just the indication of where everything was going. I thought it should have been a no-call if anything.”

4) Growing confidence: A close road loss in snowy Detroit spurred little more than frustration and winces from Canisius’ father-son duo, but the tournament-esque atmosphere hinted that the Griffs’ brutal non-conference schedule (Temple, Syracuse, Detroit, UNLV, St. Bonaventure) has them awfully prepared for the MAAC slate, which continues with rematches against Fairfield then Marist.

“[We’re] very confident [going back to MAAC play]—one loss isn’t going to sink the ship. We’re going to learn from this, we’re a veteran team, and our goal is to win the conference—that’s our main goal,” Billy Baron emphasized. “We have to move on to the MAAC and win the league.”

“That’s why you play these games—it’s been one of the toughest schedules that I’ve ever gone against—let alone my first year,” Jim Baron added. “[We’ve played]Top 20 teams left and right—[Detroit] went to post-season.”

5) Previewing Fairfield: You’ll remember that Canisius knocked off Fairfield 67-55 to open MAAC play on Dec. 7, holding the Stags to 40% shooting on their home floor. Fairfield hasn’t suffered a defeat in the five games since losing to the Griffs, however, and senior guard Derek Needham—the “victim” of Frank Turner’s crotch-punch—has averaged 15.4 points per game over that span.

Sydney Johnson’s Stags boast seven players who average between five and eight points per contest, and Desmond Wade and Maurice Barrow are tough-as-nails defensively. Canisius should be able to shoot over Fairfield’s smallish backcourt—Needham stands 5’11 and Wade is 5’8—but the Stags are second in the MAAC in scoring defense and fourth in three-point shooting percentage against.

6) Previewing Marist: Life isn’t quite as peachy for the Red Foxes, who stand 4-9 overall in their return to MAAC play. Senior guard Devin Price and sophomore swing-man Chavaughn Lewis lead the charge for Marist; expect the Griffins’ Jordan Heath and Chris Manhertz to have a field day against the Red Foxes’ interior players. In the 94-82 Canisius win on Dec. 9, Manhertz set a career-high with 18 boards, leading Canisius to a 47-to-29 advantage on the glass.

Marist visits the Gallagher Center tonight for a 7 p.m. clash against the Niagara Purple Eagles, so if for some reason you’re skipping the Fairfield vs. Canisius tilt, head north to the other MAAC showdown.

7) Playing down to the competition: Regardless of how well a team is playing, there’s always the temptation to stoop to the level of the competition. With Fairfield, it’ll be crucial for Canisius to dictate the pace, capitalize off turnovers and prevent the Stags from instituting a glacial, half-court dominated game. Against Marist, Jim Baron’s Griffs must again control the interior and do their best to turn Price and Lewis into volume shooters.

Billy Baron isn’t too concerned about a letdown in Saturday’s 7 p.m. clash, however.

“We’re not going to take [these two MAAC teams] lightly because we beat them both at their place, you know, teams get beat and get caught sleeping,” Baron noted. “That’s not going to happen to us.”

8) Student attendance: The Canisius College campus reopened for students yesterday, but classes do not begin until Jan. 14. While I don’t anticipate a heavy student turnout for the two upcoming games, the onus is on the students to support an NCAA Tournament-caliber squad Jan. 17 vs. Manhattan and Jan. 19 against Siena. Jim Baron has done everything in his power to raise awareness about the men’s basketball program and invite students to attend—from prowling the cafeteria to handing out free tickets, the new Canisius head coach has been aggressive in creating a culture and a pride in basketball at Canisius. It’s up to the students to respond.

“I just hope we can fill the Koessler Center up—we have to pack that place,” Baron said after the loss to Detroit.

9) Shaking off the rust: Niagara hasn’t played since Dec. 21 against then-No.22 Notre Dame, where the Purple Eagles lost by 22. Tonight’s tilt against Marist is the perfect rust reliever for Joe Mihalich’s crew, and it’s worth investigating to see what changes have been implemented during the 12-day layoff. Will Devon White’s fitness be better? Will the team exhibit more patience on offense? Has Juan’ya Green found the cure for his sophomore slump? There are many questions to be answered in tonight’s 7 p.m. game. The Purple Eagles then welcome Fairfield at 3 p.m. Sunday.

10) By the numbers:

Canisius, 9-4—Kenpom Ranking: 103 (Improved by 1, so +1)
Niagara, 5-7—Kenpom Ranking: 171 (-12)
St. Bonaventure, 7-5—Kenpom Ranking: 101 (-31)
UB, 5-9—Kenpom Ranking: 175 (-9)

Previous Tsuj’s Tens:

Dec. 30
Dec. 25
Dec. 22
Dec. 13
Dec. 8
Dec. 4
Nov. 30
Nov. 27
Nov. 19

TAGGED: big 4 basketball, billy baron, canisius griffins, college basketball, detroit titans, fairfield stags, jim baron, ray mccallum jr., tsuj's ten

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