By Adam Duke
Within the past week, the Griffs have travelled to face the number 2 team in the nation, the Kentucky Wildcats, and Cleveland State Vikings.
Though the Griffs lost both contests, they put up a fight against the Wildcats, holding Kentucky to a nine-point lead at halftime. As for the game against the Vikings, the Griffs lost in a nail-biter, 67-64.
“We did a really good job of not panicking,” said Kassius Robertson on the Kentucky game. “We had a couple rushed shots in the first couple possessions, but we held pressure really well; the pressure of the venue and the time of the game.”
Coach Reggie Witherspoon was very pleased with his team. He commended the Griffs’ ball movement and their ability to force the Wildcats to guard them from sideline to sideline. He was also satisfied with the team’s defensive play and their tendency to avoid turning the ball over in the first 15 minutes. Aside from fouls, Witherspoon was content with the Griffs’ overall performance.
In the game, Robertson led the team in scoring with 16 points, while senior Phil Valenti led in rebounds with seven. Freshman Isaiah Reese was the Griffs’ steals leader, swiping three from the Wildcats. The Griffs hauled in 14 offensive rebounds, which helped close the gap, bringing the total rebounding tally to 39-36 in favor of the Wildcats.
With regards to the matchup with the Vikings, Witherspoon was adamant about the need to work on blocking out and getting defensive rebounds. Witherspoon said that the Griffs need to carry out their performance throughout the game more consistently. He was also glad that the team received the experience of going into a hostile environment against a powerful opponent, like Kentucky, which will help them later on in the season.
Valenti shared the sentiment that the team, as a whole, struggled with rebounding and the offense needs a better flow and higher consistency.
“It’s two games into the season, we’ve got a lot of time to iron things out and fix things,” Valenti stated. “We can’t keep making the same mistakes. We have to keep improving.”
Against the Vikings, junior Jermaine Crumpton scored a team-high 21 points. Senior Kiefer Douse grabbed a team best 10 rebounds. The Griffs led 36-31 at the half, but failed to hold onto the lead.
Tonight, the Griffs travel to Pittsburgh, PA to face off against the Duquesne Dukes. The Dukes currently stand with a record of 2-1, with the Griffs being their first opponent in the Bluegrass Showcase.
“They have good size, they drive the ball very, very well, they play in transition, they were amongst the leaders in points scored last year, and we’re going to have to take care of the basketball so they don’t get out early and get going,” said Witherspoon. “We have to keep them off the glass, too. We have to move [the ball] and be willing to do things as a team.”
Valenti added that the team needs to continue to learn and to keep a positive attitude. Robertson reiterated his earlier point, saying that the Griffs would have to work on blocking out in practice.
“We’ll probably do that for a while and keep focusing on defense and tuning up our offense,” he said.
On Monday, the Griffs will return to the Koessler Athletic Center for their first regular season home game of the 2016 campaign against the UT-Martin Skyhawks.
Witherspoon stated that he feels a sense of relief being able to return home from the rugged schedule they are in the midst of. He noted that they get to sleep in their own beds for a few nights and get to play in the gym they practice in.
Robertson and Valenti were also eager for the home opener and hoped for a good turnout from C-Block and the rest of the Canisius crowd.
“It’s going to be cool. Hopefully we get a good crowd,” said Valenti. “We have to get Duquesne first, so we can come back home on a positive note.”