By Canio Marasco
The Griffs men’s basketball team has started the season with a .500 conference record, as they split games against the Manhattan Jaspers and Monmouth Hawks.
The Griffs’ first game in the MAAC was against the Manhattan Jaspers, who were 2-5 entering the game. The Griffs started the game slowly – they shot forty-three percent, while the Jaspers were shooting over fifty percent. They were unable to hang with the Jaspers’ offense in the first half and fell behind 46-32. In the second half, the Griffs completely turned around their shooting and quickly narrowed their halftime deficit. The Griffs were able to maintain their steady shooting, while the Jaspers’ shooting fell to twenty-seven percent. With the Jaspers unable to score, the Griffs were able to tie the game with four minutes left. The Griffs then took a slim lead in the dying minutes of the game. With eight seconds left, and down by one point, the Jaspers had the chance to win the game; however, senior Phil Valenti forced a turnover to ensure 77-76 victory.
Coach Reggie Witherspoon, after the last-minute win, stated to gogriffs.com, “I thought this was a tale of two halves, really. We came out strong and Manhattan really got after us in the first half and sped the game up on us. We needed to settle down and keep it simple. Once we settled down and made the extra passes, it opened some things up for us and we were able to get some open looks.”
Junior Jermaine Crumpton put together another strong performance, totaling twenty-six points and nine rebounds. The most apparent reason the Griffs were able to make a comeback in the second half was because the Jaspers were unable to shoot. While the Griffs maintained their shooting percentage of around forty-five percent throughout the game, the Jaspers shooting percentage fell by twenty-six percent in the second half. Although this could be attributed to the Jaspers simply taking bad shots, the true reason was the Griffs’ improved defensive play. They were able to hold the Jaspers to only three field goals in the final ten minutes of the game.
In the Griffs’ second conference game they traveled to play the Monmouth Hawks, who were the runner-up in the MAAC last season. The Griffs and the Hawks partook in what ostensibly was a shoot-out. At the half, the Griffs trailed 49-45, but both teams were shooting an impressive forty-seven percent from the field. In the second half, both teams continued their fantastic shooting, as they both shot over fifty percent. The Griffs were able to tie a school record of making sixteen three pointers throughout the game, but they still couldn’t narrow the gap. Despite several ties and lead changes, the Hawks were able to pull out a 94-88 win.
Coach Witherspoon, on their loss to the Hawks, stated to gogriffs.com, “Monmouth is a really good team, and King [Rice] has them playing really well right now. They do a good job of controlling the pace of the game, and they have the ability to fight through adversity and persevere when things get tough during the course of the game.”
The most evident reason the Griffs lost to the Hawks was due to their poor defense. Despite the Griffs out-rebounding them 35-32, they simply couldn’t stop the Hawks from scoring in the paint. The Hawks were able to outscore the Griffs 40-22 in the paint, a significant margin. The Griffs not only tied a record for most three pointers in school history, but junior Kassius Robertson totaled twenty-nine points, one of his highest totals this season. Even though the Griffs had almost unparalleled offensive output, they simply couldn’t stop the Hawks.
In their most recent game, the Griffs traveled to play the Boston University Terriers, who entered the game 4-4 overall. The Griffs continued their fantastic shooting, as they shot over fifty percent from the field. The Terriers weren’t so fortunate in the first half, as they only shot thirty-nine percent from the field. With this shooting deficit in mind, the Griffs were able to build a 48-35 lead at the half. The Griffs continued to shoot around fifty percent in the second half; however, the Terriers shot an astounding fifty-six percent. With the Terriers firing on offense, the Griffs were forced to fend off and defend their halftime lead. The Griffs weathered the storm and were able coast to an 87-77 win.
Coach Witherspoon, after the win, stated to gogriffs.com, “I liked our resolve tonight. We practice late-game situations all the time, but until you’re in a real game against another team, you don’t get to experience it live. To their credit, [Boston University] fought back, but we did a good job handling the basketball, running offense and then making free-throws down the stretch.”
Prior to these three games, Coach Witherspoon stated that he was worried about the Griffs’ overall effort in games, along with their desire to rebound. In their first conference games, the Griffs were inconsistent in fixing these two nagging issues. In their game against the Jaspers, they rebounded well, but they won largely due to a strong performance in the second half. In their game against the Hawks, they were pounded on the boards, but played an overall high energy game. These incomplete performances culminated in their game against the Terriers – they rebounded well and played a full game.
The Griffs have two more match-ups before they play in the Big 4, a series of games where they will play the University of Buffalo Bulls and the St. Bonaventure Bonnies. In these two upcoming games, the Griffs have an opportunity to continue to focus on rebounding and energy before they play their biggest matches this season.