Canisius prevails over Big 4 rival

By Marshall Haim

Assistant Sports Editor

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – – The Canisius Golden Griffins knew coming into their Big 4 matchup with the St. Bonaventure Bonnies that the crowd would end up being loud and electric and a win would be extremely hard to come by.

Those odds were defied on Thursday night at the Reilly Center in front of 3,433 spectators. Canisius’ ability to shoot the 3-point ball, their toughness and confidence that has aided the entire team lately, was able to push the Griffs to a fifth straight victory with a 106-101 overtime win over St. Bonaventure.

“Obviously it was a great game. St. Bonaventure has a great team and they fought hard,” Reggie Witherspoon, Canisius’ head coach who earned his first victory over St. Bonaventure in four meetings, said. “We got ahead early and I thought we played very well in the first half. We couldn’t pull away from them, but if you’re watching this game and you’re not coming back to see more college basketball, you should. If you live in Olean, you should see the Bonnies, it was a great game.”

The Griffs came out of the gate shooting lights out, but struggled to find offense in the second half once St. Bonaventure applied a zone defense. The Bonnies, like Canisius, had offensive success in the opening half, but struggled mightily on the defensive end, which has been their achilles heel all year long. However, the struggles and the successes offset each other as the game needed overtime to determine the victor.

Canisius proved to be the team that was more hungry in the latter stages of the half and in overtime. The win gives the Griffs five consecutive games and an impressive seven wins in  over their last eight games. The win was even worthy of dancing about in the locker room:

Celebrating wins never gets old. #Griffs

A post shared by Canisius Men's Basketball (@griffs_mbb) on


The Griffs leaned on a usual suspect to help the Griffs to victory, while also earning a handful of points from a rising player. Senior forward Phil Valenti led the Griffs in scoring with 27 points, going 8-for-14 from the field (8-for-8 from the free throw line, too). 17 of his 27 points came in the 2nd half and overtime.

“I haven’t won here my whole career,” Valenti said. “It feels good to win, it’s a great environment for college basketball. It was a great up and down game and we’ve had two games like this, against UB too. We fight to the end, go into overtime and keep fighting.”

Freshman guard Isaiah Reese had the Griffs’ second highest scoring output scoring a
career-high 22 points. His point total shatters his previous career-high which was set just 12 days ago against St. Francis of Brooklyn (15).

The Reilly Center is synonymous with loud. It was exactly that on Thursday night, but Reese said that the noise level of the crowd did not effect him or his teammates at all.

“To be honest, it wasn’t difficult at all. We all stayed composed and kept fighting through it,” Reese said. “I feel like when you’re on the court you try and block it out. That’s why we kept coming back at them. They answered and we’d answer right back. We just stayed composed and fought through it.”

Kassius Robertson (16), Jermaine Crumpton (14) and Spencer Foley (14) were the other Griffs who scored in double-figures. This is the third time in the last five games that the Blue and Gold were able to have five players score at least 10 points.

St. Bonaventure leaned on the crowd noise to play a pivotal role in the second half and for the opening portions of overtime. The Bonnies chipped away after being down 50-43 at halftime being able to secure the lead for a sliver of time in the second half. The Bonnies got most of their offensive success from junior guard Matt Mobley. A transfer from Central Connecticut State, Mobley was the Bonnies’ crutch offensively scoring a career-high 33 points, breaking his previous best (32) which came at Central Connecticut State in his freshman year. Forward David Andoh also had a career day, scoring a career-best 18 points.

The Bonnies’ leading scorer, Jaylen Adams would have been a player the Griffs really would have needed to keep a focus on in the latter stages of the game, but Adams fouled out with 4:03 left in the second half. Adams finished the night with 17 points and eight assists. Before the game, Adams was awarded a game ball by head coach Mark Schmidt for reaching the 1,000-point plateau. He successfully surpassed the milestone in the Bonnies’ previous game, a win over Army on Monday.

Interesting Facts:

This marked the 165th meeting between the two Western New York foes. The Griffs win snaps a modest three-game losing skid against the Bonnies. It’s the first win for the Griffs over St. Bonaventure since Nov. 17, 2012 (Canisius won 72-69). However, it’s the first Canisius win at the Reilly Center since Dec. 6, 2003.

With this meeting going to overtime, it marked only the eighth such game to be settled in overtime, the first since January 25, 1994 — Canisius won, 65-61. It’s also the Griffs’ second consecutive game playing in overtime (Canisius defeated the University at Buffalo on Saturday at the KeyBank Center, 94-87).

The back-to-back overtime games is just the sixth time it has occurred in the Griffs’ 113-year history. The last instance happened during the 1998-99 season under the head coaching of Mike MacDonald, who was the color commentator for Time Warner Cable Sports Channel for last night’s game. The Griffs won both games, defeating Saint Peter’s on the road  (Feb. 1), then beating Siena at home on three days later. It’s the fourth time that the Griffs were able to win both overtime games.

With the Griffs scoring 106 points, it’s the first time the Blue and Gold have surpassed the century mark since the thrilling triple overtime Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) 1st round playoff game over bitter rival Niagara that occurred last season on March 3. The Griffs defeated the Purple Eagles 102-97 to advance in the MAAC playoffs.

On top of scoring over the century mark, the 106 points by Canisius is the most ever against St. Bonaventure. The previous record was set during the February 24, 1979 meeting between the Big 4 teams. Canisius lost that matchup 97-90. The 97 points for St. Bonaventure in that game was also the team’s highest point total ever against the Griffs, before being broken tonight, also.

This is the first time that the Canisius men and Canisius women’s team defeated St. Bonaventure in the same season since the 1994-95 season. The women beat St. Bonaventure in both meetings that year (91-83 at home, 93-92 at the Reilly Center). The men beat the Bonnies 74-72 at the Reilly Center before losing their home game a month later.

Next Up:

Canisius (8-5) will look to continue their winning ways following a Christmas and New Year’s break when the Griffs will welcome fellow New York State school, Siena, to the Koessler Athletic Center in the New Year on January 2 for a 7 p.m. tipoff.

St. Bonaventure (8-4) will play their first game in the Atlantic 10 Conference at Massachusetts a week from Friday (Dec. 30) for a 4 p.m tipoff in Amherst, Mass.


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