By Marshall Haim
Assistant Sports Editor
The men’s basketball program did not do themselves any favors within the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) standings on Monday with their tough six-point loss to the Rider Broncs. The loss forced the Golden Griffins to a 6-6 record in the MAAC, which now has the Griffs tied for fifth in the standings. The Griffs, since starting the conference schedule on a high note, have lost four of their last five games.
Canisius has been mustering enough offense to win their games; it has ultimately come down to their defense. Going into Thursday’s games, the Griffs ranked 318th nationally in scoring defense, out of 347 Division I programs. Canisius’ 79.4 points allowed per game ranks ninth in the MAAC. The Griffs’ opponents also average to shoot 47.4 percent from the field, the worst mark in the MAAC and ranking 324th nationally.
Needless to say, the Griffs need to find a solution to their defensive problem, not offense.
“We have to find a way to protect the basket better,” said Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon. “That’s the first issue, that includes rebounding so that’s a global heading for what the issue is. We don’t have access to a lot of minutes for your traditional shot blocker. Collectively, as a team, defending the three-point shooting, is not as bad as what happens around the basket.”
Even though the defense has been lackluster for the majority of the season, the Griffs offense was not able to get the job done against Rider. The Broncs, owning the same record as Canisius, shot 50 percent in the win. The Griffs shot only 38.2 percent. Canisius allowed four Rider players to score at least 12 points. Jimmie Taylor led the Broncs with 19 points.
Canisius will go on the road for a crucial two-game road trip facing off against the Siena Saints tomorrow evening and against the Saint Peter’s Peacocks on Monday night.
Siena (10-13, 7-5) has been practically unbeatable at home. The Saints hold a 7-2 record at home (4-1 in MAAC games). However, they have struggled immensely on the road, going only 3-11. Siena’s lone loss at home in conference play came last Friday to the Iona Gaels.
Canisius has already played the Saints, besting them at home by three points on Jan. 2, 82-79.
In the Griffs’ first win of the 2017 portion of the season, Kassius Robertson led the Griffs’ balanced scoring attack with a game-high 21 points. Crumpton added 16 points, while freshman Spencer Foley scored a career-high 15 points. Phil Valenti contributed 10 points.
One issue Siena poses for the Griffs is their versatile players that can contribute offensively. The Saints boast a forward tandem that can exploit the Griffs’ lack of size on defense, one of the weaknesses. Javion Ogunyemi (6-foot-10, 243 pounds) and Brett Bisping (6-foot-8, 234 pounds) have been arguably the best players for Siena this year.
Both players, who were members of the Pre-season All-MAAC First Team, combined to score 36 points and bring down 17 rebounds in the first meeting between the New York MAAC rivals.
The Griffs need to keep the paint on lockdown, as the Saints were able to capitalize on the lack of size, scoring 52 points in the paint when both teams met in Buffalo earlier this season.
“That’s a challenge,” said Witherspoon, about guarding Ogunyemi and Bisping. “We’re going to have to do that collectively as a team and do it a couple different ways. Some of that is putting enough pressure on the perimeter so the ball doesn’t go [in the paint] so easily.”
Marquis Wright, one of the Saints’ better guards, is one of five players that average at least 12 points per game (ppg) this season. Four of the five players are currently active. Wright leads the team with 14.4 ppg, while Ogunyemi is right behind him with a total of 13.6 ppg, Bisping is just shy of averaging a double-double per game (13.0 ppg and 9.7 rebounds).
Lavon Long averages 12.4 ppg for the Saints, while Nico Clareth also averages 12.4 ppg. Clareth “is currently inactive as he takes an indefinite leave of absence from the team,” per Siena’s game notes.
Saint Peter’s has started the season off very well this year, honing a 12-10 record overall, 8-4 in the conference. The Peacocks are currently tied with Iona for second place in the MAAC standings. Saint Peter’s is currently two games behind the top seeded Monmouth Hawks, who are currently on an eight-game win streak.
Despite being the worst scoring team in the MAAC this season (65.2 ppg), the Peacocks are the best defensive team in the conference, limiting their opponents to 63.2 ppg. As well as owning the best scoring defense in the MAAC, Saint Peter’s is 23rd in the nation in the same category.
“They’re a really good defensive team and pretty physical,” said Witherspoon about Saint Peter’s. “They execute well and they’re comfortable in the low scoring game and those are some challenges for us. … They put a lot of pressure on you offensively because they are pretty good defensively.
“Typically, a team that scores a lot of points, they can put pressure on your offense to keep up. With Saint Peter’s you have to make sure you take care of the basketball. You can’t give up a lot points because they don’t give up a lot of points. The first part is you can’t help their offense and the second part is you have to be patient, but you have to score when you have a chance.”
Quadir Welton, a 6-foot-8 forward, is the Peacocks’ leading scorer (12.1 ppg) and top rebounder (7.8 rpg). Welton was named as a Second-Team Preseason All-MAAC selection. Senior guard Trevis Wyche, a Pre-season All-MAAC Third Team member is second in scoring for Saint Peter’s, scoring an average of 11.3 points per game.
The Peacocks have won six of their last eight contests, including pivotal wins over Rider (twice) and Siena.
This will be the first meeting between the Griffs and Peacocks. Both teams will conclude their seasons on Sunday, Feb. 26 at the Koessler Athletic Center for a 2 p.m. tipoff on Canisius’ Athletic Hall of Fame Day before heading to Albany, N.Y. for the MAAC Championships that will be held at the Times Union Center from March 2-6.