by Adam Duke
The Griffs finished off their 2016 portion of the season on top with two overtime wins in rivalry games.
On Dec. 17, the Griffs battled the University at Buffalo (UB) Bulls in the Big 4 Basketball Classic at the KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo. Junior Jermaine Crumpton had a personal-best 31 points in the contest. Crumpton was the first player to score 30 or more points in the arena since the 2007 NCAA Tournament, in which 2015 NBA Champion Stephen Curry put up 30 against Maryland.
“It feels pretty good, but the more important thing is that we got the win. I like to credit my teammates. They were able to get me the ball in spots where they knew I could score,” said Crumpton. It’s just great to be in a sentence with Steph Curry, so that’s remarkable.”
At one point in the first half, the Bulls led by nine, but by the end of the half, the Griffs cut their lead to three. The game was back-and-forth throughout the second half, with several lead changes. With about a minute left, the game was tied at 81-81. The contest then went to overtime, where the Griffs ended up securing the victory, 94-87.
Freshman Spencer Foley was 3-for-4 from beyond the three-point arc and junior Selvedin Planincic led in rebounds with nine.
“We went into the game as a team. We didn’t want to make it about me or my journey,” said head coach Reggie Witherspoon, who coached the Bulls from 1999-2013. “It was certainly great to be able to be successful in that situation and I’m thankful for the effort the guys gave, but really, it allowed for our guys to realize that we could get it done as a team.”
The Griffs then moved on to their final matchup of 2016, which was their final non-conference matchup of the season, as they traveled to Olean, N.Y. to face the St. Bonaventure Bonnies on Dec. 22.
Two players scored over 20 points in the game, as senior Phil Valenti scored 27 and freshman Isaiah Reese recorded 22. Valenti was also the Griffs’ rebound leader, grabbing seven boards throughout the game. Once again, the contest went into overtime with the Griffs pulling ahead in the final seconds, walking away with a 106-103 win.
“I think I put a little more emphasis on that game, coming out and playing good and making sure I play smart, efficient offense,” said Valenti. “If you do that, you’re going to get open shots and it comes down to making them. And that night, they went in.”
Valenti said that he enjoys being a sparkplug for the team and keeping games at high energy, as he tries to motivate his teammates.
The consecutive overtime wins are the first back-to-back overtime victories for the Griffs since 1983. The 106-point scoring output by the Griffs against the Bonnies marks the most points scored against St. Bonaventure ever. The 106 points is also the most points scored since the Griffs’ thrilling 108-96 triple overtime win over Louisiana-Monroe last year in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic in Las Vegas.
On Jan. 2, the Griffs rang in the New Year with a return to the Koessler Athletic Center to face off against the Siena Saints in their first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference matchup of the new year.
Kassius Robertson scored 21 points in the Griffs’ 82-79 win of the Saints, including the first 14 points put on the board for the Griffs. Foley hit five three-pointers to tie a personal best with 15 points, while Valenti grabbed five rebounds.
Two days later, the Quinnipiac Bobcats entered the Koessler with hopes of snapping Canisius’ longest win streak since the 1998-99 season. The Bobcats were unsuccessful, though they led by one at halftime, as the Griffs prevailed, 83-77. Senior Kiefer Douse earned his first career double-double, scoring 18 points and getting 10 rebounds.
The seven-game win streak came to a halt when the Griffs headed to New Rochelle, NY for a matchup against the defending MAAC champion, Iona Gaels. The Griffs started the game shooting very well from the field, before cooling off as Iona’s offense got more hot leading at halftime, 53-40. Iona’s offense proved to be too hard to defend for Canisius as the Griffs lost 98-75, despite a 21-point performance by Crumpton.
The Griffs got back on track with an 86-72 win at Fairfield in which Crumpton scored a his first career double-double, once again surpassing a personal best in the points category set against UB, sinking 11 two-pointers and 10 free-throws for a total of 32 points. On top of Crumpton’s totals, Valenti also scored 20 points. At halftime, the Griffs led the Stags by 15, although the Stags fought back in the second half, the unrelenting Griffs pulled away with a solid 14-point victory.
Crumpton said that in order to continue success, the Griffs must stay aggressive and look to get easy points on offense and lock in on their opponents defensively.
“The more we share the ball, the more guys can be open,” he said. “Anybody on this team is capable of scoring 30 or more points. We’ve just got to execute.”
On Jan. 14, the Griffs once again returned to the Koessler Athletic Center to face the struggling Marist Red Foxes. Robertson scored a career-high 30 points, making nine three-pointers, as the Griffs trounced the Red Foxes, 91-58. With the win over Marist, the Griffs had won nine of its last 10 games.
“Many of those games were on the road,” Witherspoon said. “We were able to win some games on the road and I think our guys felt good about that.”
The Griffs then lost consecutive games to preseason MAAC favorite, Monmouth and Quinnipiac by margins of four and five, respectively, with no Griff scoring more than 20 points in both contests.
They Griffs then traveled to rival Niagara, where the Purple Eagles presented a tough challenge. The Griffs got off to a slow start, trailing by 17 at halftime.
“The way we started the game, we weren’t aggressive enough. We certainly got more aggressive as the game went on, but we dug ourselves a hole,” said Witherspoon. “Niagara played great. We’ve had that and it’s been a theme that we have to overcome, how we start the game.”
Witherspoon added that a slow start was also a factor in the two games prior and that the team must get better in not allowing the circumstances of the games to affect their confidence.
Crumpton scored 22 points in the loss, while Valenti contributed 20. The Griffs rallied in the second half, but could not manage to top the Purple Eagles, losing 91-84 for the team’s third straight defeat.
“We gave them confidence and we didn’t come out strong,” said Valenti. “We’ve got to work on that. It’s a 40 minute game, not a 20 minute game.”
Valenti said that the effort of the team should’ve been better at the start and that the Griffs began the game flat, unable to recover from the first half deficit.
Currently, the Griffs stand fifth in the MAAC, with a conference record of 5-5 and an overall record of 12-9.
Tomorrow, the Griffs will host the Manhattan Jaspers, whom they beat on the road in early December, 77-76. On Monday, the Rider Broncs will set foot in the Koessler Center. Currently, the Broncs are tied with the Griffs in the conference standings.
“We’re at this time of year where your opponent is going to be determined, and they realize how hard they have to work to get any success,” said Witherspoon. “They have to take you out of what you’re good at or what you’re comfortable at, or whatever it might be.”
He continued, stating that the Griffs must be determined and that they can’t just be hopeful, they must be aggressive.