Off and running: men’s basketball team finds offensive success in CIT

by John Langley

Assistant Sports Editor

The Canisius men’s basketball team came into the 2014-15 season under the simple slogan of “run with us,” symbolizing the fast-tempo in which they wanted to play. Headlined by star Zach Lewis, the team was looking to continue their success on the offensive end from the previous two seasons.

That would not be the case, however, as the Griffs averaged just over 62 points per game throughout the regular season. Their calling-card was on the defensive end, shutting teams down, allowing just over 60 points per game.

That all changed once the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament began, however, where the Griffs drew the Dartmouth Big Green, who weren’t too bad on the defensive end either. The Big Green came in allowing just 63.1 points per game, but struggled on the offensive end scoring just 63 points per game.

This is where the explosion began for the Griffs. Junior guard Jamal Reynolds reeled in another double-double, scoring 22 points while bringing in 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Zach Lewis found his groove, scoring 20 points in the effort as well. The offense was in complete control, scoring 87 points in the outburst.

The Griffs had this type of outburst during the regular season as well, scoring 83 points in a win over Siena on January 16 where the Saints had four of their five regular starters sidelined due to injury. What the Griffs didn’t have, however, was the consistency to string it along for multiple games in a row.

Two games into the tournament, the Griffs are averaging 84.5 points per game, far above their season average.

“Everyone is really gelling and locked in playing good team basketball,” Reynolds said. “I think you play your best basketball in March, and we are finding each other and seeing the floor so it’s a really good time for us.”

Reynolds is averaging 19 points per game, hauling in a double-double in the team’s first two tournament games. Reynolds spoke throughout the season about finding his role with the team and finding his comfort zone, something he now says he has found.

“I think I am really comfortable and I know exactly what this team needs me to do,” Reynolds said. “I go out there and try to do the little things like getting rebounds and finding my teammates. At this point, I think I am doing a better job of contributing to the team.”

It is also no coincidence that the offense has seemed to spark since senior guard Jeremiah Williams was inserted into the starting lineup. In a home game against the Saint Peter’s Peacocks, Williams went off for 22 points and from there, he was the starter and has logged big minutes for Jim Baron’s club.

Since entering the lineup, Williams has scored in double-digits in every single game, including 18 in their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament game against the Monmouth Hawks. Williams has been a threat all over the court, something his teammates have attributed to the team’s recent offensive explosion.

“He has been great for us since he has been inserted into the starting lineup,” Reynolds said. “He has that offensive ability to go off for 20 or 30 points on any given day, and he is so explosive and fast so with him running our offense, he is such a threat.”

Williams doesn’t credit himself for this, however. Williams was quick to credit his teammates and the system Baron has put into place.

“I’m just trying to get better each and every practice and play with my teammates and within the system,” Williams said. “I like the system. It is my style of basketball.”

Williams continued by saying, “When we run sets, I am able to run through the offense and wait for my opportunities to come and my teammates are really working with me.”

The senior point guard has been the leader of that explosion, but he points to many other factors that have led to the recent success. Williams points to every player finding their spot and hitting their stride in the up-tempo offense.

“We are just playing basketball right now,” Williams said. “We are working off of each other. Josiah (Heath) has found his spots, Zach (Lewis) has found his spots, Kassius (Robertson) has found his spots, Jamal (Reynolds) is hitting the glass, allowing us to push the ball up the court a lot.”

In an up-tempo offense, the team has been looking to score quickly and efficiently without using a lot of the shot clock. In the CIT, the league has been experimenting with the 30-second shot clock for future consideration. With that can come higher scores or lower scores, depending on how the team adjusts to the difference.

Reynolds loves the shorter shot clock, saying, “I think it’s great for college basketball and it’s great for us. The tempo has really helped us score and you can see that the pace has been pushed and it gives a lot more freedom. There are less foul calls and less whistles, so I’m really in favor of it.”

The same sentiment goes for the team’s point guard as well. Williams believes the new shot clock has helped the game of basketball, saying, “It is more fun. I like it a lot and the team likes it a lot as well. The first game was difficult to adjust to it but after that, we adjusted to it and really ran and pushed the ball. Coach Baron really likes it because he would like to score as quickly as possible.”

While it may be just a coincidence, since going to this new shot clock, the Griffs have been scoring with ease, leaving their opponents in the dust. The goal was to push the ball up the court this season, and with this shot clock in place, they have been able to do so.

There are drawbacks to the new clock, however, as pointed out by senior forward Josiah Heath.

“I like it,” Heath said. “It speeds us up and gets us up and down the court, which coach likes. We are playing well with it but it does rush us a bit.”

The shortened clock has forced teams to think quicker and for those teams who play in the half-court, they may be forced to throw up a shot they don’t like because of the shortened time.

The Griffs will play New Jersey Institute of Technology on Saturday in the CIT quarterfinals. The Highlanders are known for knocking off the Michigan Wolverines earlier in the season when the Wolverines were ranked. As for confidence, Williams isn’t short of that coming into the anticipated matchup.

“They have to play us,” Williams said. “They can beat whoever they want. This is March. Teams develop throughout the season. We are playing our best ball. They have to play against our style and our tempo.”

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