Griffs pick up first win of the season against Lehigh: McMillan leads the Griffs with 31 points

By Aaron Rispoli

Assistant Sports Editor

The silent assassin is what Malcolm McMillan, senior, should start going by. The Baltimore native is an unassuming player on a team of otherwise very distinct characters. McMillan, the transfer from Central Connecticut State has put together back to back 30 point games, scoring 31 points in the Canisius 98-89 victory over Lehigh on Monday night. McMillan’s 64 points in his first two games is the best two-game start to a Canisius career since former Griff Larry Fogle scored a combined 76 points to start the 1973-74 campaign.

“Malcolm’s a fighter. He plays so hard and he’s so determined,” Coach Jim Baron said of McMillan. His stoicism off the court is evident, and his fervor on the court is contagious. McMillan epitomizes this growing motif of a team that knows how to play hard-nosed basketball.

Coach Baron commented that this Canisius team is distinct from that of any other team he’s been apart of. “I think this team has more will than any team I’ve ever had. We play with a lot of intensity and a lot of grit. And to be honest, this is the type of team I love to coach. You win games with heart, soul, and grit. You get all the dirty points.”

By “dirty points”, Coach Baron is referencing, amongst others, performances executed by Jamal Reynolds, who earned his first double-double of the season with 13 rebounds and 16 points. It can be said that the Griffs, who now stand at 1-1 on the season, out-willed their opponents, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, on Monday night at the Koessler Athletic Center.

The Mountain Hawks had control of the game early on, leading by 14 points eight minutes into the first half. “Offensively we put ourselves in a good position to compete, but we weren’t able to defend well tonight”, Mountain Hawks Head Coach Brett Reed commented after the game.

The Griffs capitalized on the mistakes of the Mountain Hawks, scoring 24 points off of the 15 Mountain Hawk turnovers. They also outrebounded their opponents 40-35. “We were playing comfortably and then they jumped into the press. We faltered a little bit at that stage. We ended up having a lot of turnovers. We forced and took some quicker shots that were uncharacteristic of the shot quality that we would normally want”, Coach Reed lamented. He was quick to complement the likes of Phil Valenti, who took some time to get his feel for the game but proved to be the impetus behind the Canisius 98 point offensive outing.

“(Phil) Valenti hit a lot of key threes. He can create some matchup difficulty by his ability to stretch the defense. Our player Austin Price gave him too much space on the perimeter, allowed him to be comfortable and he took a pop up shot and knocked it down. His second three-point shot from the top of they key against our zone was definitely a lot more comfortable.”

Valenti explained his 19 point game in his typical simplistic candor. “I just tried to catch and shoot. Malcolm (McMillan) and Kassius (Robertson) were on the sides got it right back to me and their guys (Lehigh) at the top of the zone were slow getting back, and I noticed that so once I noticed that, I got open and I just let it ride.”

“Letting it ride” seems to be exactly what this Canisius team did on Monday. Whether it be a product of ignorance or unparalleled belief in themselves, the Griffs always felt that the result would end up in their favor.

“We knew that Lehigh would be a good basketball team. They’re picked to win their league. They got guys coming back from last year that are very good. But I told our guys when the game was going back and forth, that we’re going to win this game”, a jubilant Coach Baron told the media.

 

—Playing with heavy hearts—

Before the game, Canisius held a moment of silence for the Paris terrorist attacks and for sophomore forward Cassidy Ryan’s father, Paul Ryan, who passed away unexpectedly last Thursday.  “I told the guys that this game was for Mr. Ryan”, a somber Coach Baron commented.

Ryan only played six minutes on Monday night, but he appeared to be the impetus behind much of the team’s performance. “This game was for Cassidy,” Valenti commented. “He’s a tough kid. I can’t even put it into words. I can’t say much about his loss.”

The win for the Griffs appeared to be poetic in a sense. They began the game rather ominously, falling behind the Mountain Hawks early on. After a 96-85 loss at Hofstra, Canisius lacked the command on defense that so defined them last season. But in a matter of minutes, the game became the Griff’s to lose in large part because of the 22-3 run in under four minutes, to take a 70-65 lead. “I expected Canisius to come out and play with a lot of grit, a lot of heart and a lot of determination”, Coach Reed said after the game. “That’s exactly what we saw.”  

Gritty, hard nosed play, as exemplified on Monday night, is a characteristic of this Griffs team. Uniquely apart of their makeup, inherent in each player.

“Gritty junkyard dogs. That’s all Coach tells us. Just be junkyard dogs”, Valenti proclaimed with bravado.

 

—Up Next—
Canisius will be home this Saturday to face Cornell University (2-1) who are coming off of their second win of the season against Binghamton University, by a score of 76-59. The Canisius faithful can come to expect Coach Baron’s team to show up and play hard. In a game of surprises, that much is the closest to a guarantee.

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