“Junkyard Dogs” Prevail in Triple Overtime: 34 made free throws keeps Griffs in the game

By Aaron Rispoli

Assistant Sports Editor

The Griffs defeated the Niagara Purple Eagles in an overtime thriller by a score of 102-97 in a game that Coach Jim Baron has deemed “One of the greatest games I’ve ever been apart of.”

After narrowly defeating Chris Casey’s Purple Eagles one week ago, the Griffs were well aware how difficult it would be to complete the season’s sweep of the team just across the bridge.

The Griffs came out of the starting blocks hot, firing the trey in rapid succession which put the Purple Eagles back on their heels. With their key sophomore guard Matt Scott out of the lineup, the Purple Eagles found themselves unable to match the Griff’s expeditious play early on.

Without a Canisius representative in the First, Second or Third-Team All-MAAC and a 13-18 record entering MAAC play, perhaps the Griffs were consciously honing in on their “junkyard” mentality coined by Coach Jim Baron at the beginning of the season. An edge to their game or a chip on their shoulder, if you will. The team knew that they needed to show up on Thursday, and they felt like they had built up the momentum necessary to produce a good result in Albany.

“I think, coming into the tournament, we’ve built a lot of momentum,” Robertson commented to Nick Veronica of The Buffalo News before Thursday’s play-in game against the Purple Eagles.

Robertson's four threes aided the Griffs in victory. Photo Credit: Tom Wolf

Robertson’s four threes aided the Griffs in victory. Photo Credit: Tom Wolf

“We played Iona the first time and they beat us by a good margin. Then we came and played them tough (86-78 loss). I thought we really had that game, just slipped up at the end, had a little bit of breakdown on defense. But we got a lot better. I think everybody can vouch for us and say we got a lot better toward the end of the season playing tough teams. I think we’re battle tested. I think we’re going to come to this tournament making noise.”

They made noise, indeed.

The two teams combined for 199 point which now exists as a conference record for points scored in the tournament. The Griffs contributed 102 of those points which is the most ever by Canisius in the MAAC tournament in its 27 year history with the MAAC.

If an apathetic basketball fan were to amble on by the box score of this game, he or she would not have to invest much of their being to notice the glaring stat line that indicated the Griff’s superiority from the free throw line.

Yes, in a game that had three overtimes and nearly 200 points, the decisive factor were the shots made down the line, in a pinch, under pressure from the charity stripe.

The Griffs were 34-44 from the foul line where the Purple Eagles made it to the line a meager 17 times and converting 10 of those attempts. The Purple Eagles accumulated 30 fouls to the Griffs’ 16.

A team that had been so inclined all season to become desperate and erratic as the game neared the end appeared to stay within themselves, even when the Purple Eagles seemed to hit their offensive groove. The Griffs remained uniquely themselves, impervious to the forthcoming opponent in Iona or the excoriations spewed by those in the media—including the individual who has penned the very article you are currently reading.

The Griffs came out in a blaze as they had decided early on that victory would be earned by playing Canisius basketball or not at all.

Tied at 71-71, Kevin Bleeker misses a potential game-winning trey which sent the game into the first overtime.

After Malcolm McMillan’s go-ahead shot to put the Griffs up 93-91, Karonn Davis responds to tie up the ballgame with 45 seconds left.

Phil Valenti is fouled on the next possession and with the game tied 93-93, he misses both free-throws to give the Purple Eagles possession.

Emile Blackman of Niagara, who ended the game with as the Purple Eagles’ leading scorer with 26 points (10-21), missed his potential game winner at the close of the second overtime.

It may be pertinent to note that the defending MAAC champion Manhattan Jaspers were relegated to spectators as their game, originally scheduled for a 9:00 PM tipoff, was delayed due the inordinate amount of overtimes required for two teams under .500.

But as the cliché goes, that’s just basketball.

Valenti gave Canisius its first lead with just over a minute remaining the third overtime to make it 99-97. On the Purple Eagle’s next possession, Blackman missed his shot which gave the ball to the Griffs.

With 20.5 seconds to go, McMillan is fouled and coming into Thursday’s game, the Baltimore native owned an 82.3 free-throw percentage.

He made both.

102-97 would be the final result.

“I need to get some rest for Iona,” Baron said after the game.

It is the first win for Coach Baron since he signed his new three-year extension with Canisius. It is only one game but one game has been all Coach Baron has preached this season.

“We have to worry about this first game before we worry about the whole tournament,” Baron said.  That is the standard one liner one would come to expect from Baron. The team played with the same game plan as they had the entire regular season. Shoot the ball and defend.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

The Griffs were certainly not trying to be Iona or Monmouth or Manhattan. They were uniquely themselves. The squad repudiated change to the nth degree. Of course the team had to be augmented, but that would be done by getting better at the facets of the game they already do. It would not mean abandoning ship and curtailing the thirst for buckets.

That is Jim Baron in a nutshell, though. You know what you’re going to get day in and day out, whether or not you become enamored of his coaching style is of no concern to him.

The 61 year old has been coaching for over half his lifetime. He is currently 79th on a list of all-time winningest coaches in college basketball. The Brooklyn native is also fifth on the NCAAs list for most losses with 429.

Over 450 times Jim Baron has raised his hands in victory and in just as many times, he has walked off the court in bitter defeat; crestfallen as his team suffered a loss.

Coach Baron has been lauded, especially after taking St. Francis to the NCAA tournament in 1991. He has also been in circumstances where he was humbled; Baron led Rhode Island to a 7-24 record and was subsequently dismissed.

Now, Baron resides at Canisius for the next three years. Enough time to supplant himself into Canisius lore. Three years is a long ways away, though and the past, well—Baron has no tolerance for it.

Right now, Coach Baron is focused on preparing for the contest against Tim Cluess’s Iona squad which guarantees to be a monumental task.

“When will you start preparing for the Iona game?” A reporter asked Coach Baron in Thursday’s post game press conference.

“As soon as you stop asking me questions.”


A sly answer, indeed.



  1. […] the heels of a thriller victory over the Niagara Purple Eagles on Thursday night, the Griffs seemed to be one step behind the now […]

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