The scoreboard tells the story after three overtimes. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)
First half: After two minutes, Niagara opened the scoring on a penetration to the basket. Canisius spread the floor and answered with 11 straight points, nine courtesy of shots beyond the arc. Niagara settles down, getting a few stops and guard penetration to the basket. Niagara uses the three to their advantage and grabs a two-point lead with just under six minutes remaining. The Griffs regroup and look more inside with guard penetration to close the half on a positive note.
Score: Canisius 40, Niagara 36
Second half: First five possessions see Niagara gain a slight 5-4 edge. One thing is certain regarding adjustments, Chris Casey’s club is making an effort to get out and run on a Canisius miss. Easy baskets are the objective. The under-16 timeout sees Canisius ahead by four. The Griffs cannot achieve the desired separation. Niagara keeps hanging around. Niagara gets a short lead and gets deliberate on offense. With eight minutes left, the score is tied at 59. With the game in the balance and the clock winding down, both teams are conservative on offense. Niagara finishes lane penetration on a few late trips. With ninety seconds left, the Purple Eagles lead by three, but Canisius ties it before Kevin Bleeker’s game-winning perimeter shot misses to force overtime.
End of regulation: 71-71
Overtime: First possession, Canisius goes right to the basket and gets a traditional three-
point play. Again, Canisius appears to build some distance, only to see Niagara come back. Late game, free-flowing tempo has been replaced by a choppy, almost a foul a trip, pace of interruptions. With Canisius ahead by two and 22 seconds left, the Griffs' Phil Valenti comes up with a crucial steal. With 1.1 seconds on the clock, Niagara’s Emile Blackman is fouled beyond the arc. He cans all three to bring on a second overtime.
End of overtime: 86-86
Second Overtime: Blackman opens the scoring for Niagara with a two-point jumper. This overtime session has a better flow than that last one. Niagara staying with their zone, even with Canisius’ willingness to fire from beyond the arc. Just under a minute left, Canisius holds a 93-91 lead. On the line, the Griffs, in a tie situation, have a chance to go ahead. Phil Valenti misses both free throws. Blackman misses a jumper at the other end, signaling five more minutes.
End of second overtime: 93-93
Third Overtime: Canisius draws first blood, as Valenti converts in the lane on a nice zone offense set. Clinging to a one-point lead with two minutes left, Niagara is content on walking it up the floor. Tied at 97 with just over a minute left, now Canisius is passing up the three to look inside. Two Canisius free throws give the Griffs a four-point lead with 20.5 seconds to play. Niagara misses a three-point attempt, Canisius rebounds. Valenti, interestingly, ices it.
Final score: Canisius 102, Niagara 97
Possessions: Niagara 83, Canisius 82
Offensive efficiency: Canisius 124, Niagara 117
eFG: Canisius 51, Niagara 57
FT rate: Canisius 66, Niagara 22
OREB pct: Canisius 34, Niagara 31
TO rate: Canisius 10, Niagara 13
Leading scorers and EF:
Canisius: Phil Valenti 33 points, EF 44
Niagara: Emile Blackman 26 points, EF 31
What Canisius did well: Get to the line and persevere. Canisius shot 44 free throws, hitting 34. In a game with 12 ties and 13 lead changes, Jim Baron’s club epitomized ‘survive and advance.’
What Niagara did well: Run efficient offense. The 117 efficiency, 57 percent eFG mark (9-of-21 from three) and a 13 percent turnover rate were highlights for a team that played well offensively as of late.
Niagara led 50-34 in points in the paint. As noted, the Purple Eagles had a good turnover rate. Those miscues were damaging, as Canisius enjoyed an 18-8 edge in points off turnovers. Phil Valenti shot 14-of-18 for the line for Canisius. Teammate Malcolm McMillan was 12-of-15. The pair combined for 33 of Canisius’ 44 free throw attempts. Valenti also led all rebounders with nine.
Niagara finishes 7-25. Canisius is now 14-18.
“Knew it would be a dog fight. Beat a team twice and they are a good team. Our guys showed great intensity and resiliency. These guys play hard and we got quality minutes off the bench. Great win for us. Knew they had to step up and they did. Tradition makes it a rivalry, but our guys just stood the test. We know we play against a real good Iona team that beat us twice, but we’re looking to the challenge. Defensively, we buckled down tonight when we had to.” - Canisius coach Jim Baron
“Coach does a great job of conditioning in practice. It wasn’t difficult for us.” - Phil Valenti of Canisius
“If you are a college basketball fan, you love that game. Extremely proud of the way our guys fought. Unfortunately, we came up short. Anytime you give young guys experience is a positive. Our young guys developed well. Two games in a row with three freshmen in double figures is something to build on for next season.” - Niagara coach Chris Casey
“Great atmosphere, a lot of scoring. Think we played well, incredible atmosphere but unfortunately we came up short. We scored a lot today, we finally jelled near the end of the season. That’s a great thing to look forward to next year in the MAAC.” - Niagara’s Emile Blackman