Saturday, December 3, 2016

Canisius 77, Manhattan 76: 5 Observations

Jermaine Crumpton carved Manhattan for 26 points and nine rebounds as Golden Griffins came back from 15-point deficit to defeat Jaspers in their MAAC opener. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

RIVERDALE, NY -- For most of the evening at Draddy Gymnasium, Manhattan looked for all the world like a winner in its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference opener. That was before Canisius slowly chipped away at the Jasper advantage, not getting caught up in the moment and taking advantage of a Manhattan team whose shot making could not stay consistent.

Behind a career-high 26 points and career-high-tying nine rebounds from Jermaine Crumpton, the Golden Griffins erased a 15-point Jasper lead to defeat Manhattan by the final of 77-76, earning the win for head coach Reggie Witherspoon in his MAAC debut. As the Griffs head to Monmouth while Manhattan regroups and prepares for a challenge from Saint Peter's, we leave you with our latest handful of observations from this Friday night showdown:

1) Canisius may finally have its heir apparent to Billy Baron.
With all due respect to Phil Valenti, who may just be one of the most underrated players in the MAAC, the Griffs have themselves an efficient one-two punch in Crumpton and Kassius Robertson, the sharpshooting marksman who chipped in with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting and 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. Not only that, but the chemistry between the pair has proven to be undeniable, an intangible factor that serves Canisius well in what is; in essence, a retooling year for the program.

"We've been a brotherhood," said Crumpton of the tag team of sorts between he and Robertson. "We came in together, redshirted together. I know he can play at a high level, he knows he can play at a high level, and when he does that, we're a tough team to beat."

2) "Stay the course."
That simple message was what Witherspoon preached going into the game, hoping his young Griffs would not be overwhelmed by Manhattan's constant pressure. And although his intention came to fruition at the final buzzer, it was perhaps easier said than done for most of the night.

"Our guys were anxious," he recollected with regard to Canisius' game-opening 14-6 run, fueled by a pair of Robertson three-pointers. "Then when we got the lead, it was like putting gasoline on a fire. I think we got more anxious and we got in a hurry. At halftime, we talked about just staying calm, stay the course. Once we got ourselves calm, we had enough energy to give better effort on the defensive end."

3) Canisius' calmness tightened up their ball handling.
Brad Stevens famously stated a team's on-court demeanor is a reflection of the demeanor of their coach, which is why the Boston Celtics mentor would consistently project a calm and fearless image on the bench during his time at Butler. Witherspoon acted in a similar vein, and his coolness under pressure revealed itself in the Griffs committing only five turnovers in the second half after registering a dozen miscues against Manhattan's defense in the opening stanza.

"We've got to put together two halves," said Witherspoon in reference to ball control. "I think the key is just being calm enough and valuing the notion of completing passes enough. When we buy into that, the turnovers will go down and the shooting percentage will go up."

4) Manhattan's smaller lineup could be an intriguing look as the season goes on.
As the Jaspers closed the first half on a 14-3 run wherein they forced Canisius into missing seven of their last nine shots from the floor, they did so with an unorthodox lineup: Tyler Wilson at the point guard spot, freshmen Na'Quan Council and Aaron Walker alongside sophomore Tom Capuano in the backcourt, and 6-foot-7 Oliver Ehrnvall; a Swedish wing who is usually the tenth or eleventh man in the rotation, at the five. While Steve Masiello attributed this combination to foul trouble, as all of Manhattan's forwards had had two fouls each at that juncture, it actually proved to be a successful quintet that could create mismatches against smaller, less athletic teams both in and out of the MAAC. Whether or not Masiello employs this look again remains to be seen, but as Rich Williams is still unavailable, the Jaspers will be actively looking for any and all advantages they can get in the absence of their senior leader and all-MAAC honoree.

5) Not necessarily a must-win, but one Manhattan would have benefited more from having in their pocket.
Sunday's visit to the Yanitelli Center to avenge last season's sweep at the hands of Saint Peter's was an important game regardless, and that was based just on how enigmatic the Peacocks can be in the conference landscape. A win Friday would have done wonders for Manhattan's confidence on the heels of their one-sided defeat against West Virginia, but Masiello instead has to go back to the drawing board to instill confidence in his troops, who are evidently suffering from the growing pains of adjusting to Division I basketball. Such a learning curve becomes even steeper when eight players who had not seen action before this season learn the intricacies of a system as precise as Masiello's. While a winless opening weekend in MAAC play cannot absolutely make or break a season, there is no question it sets the tone for the rest of the year, and the onus on the Jaspers to atone for not one; but now, two defeats in the span of five days becomes greater against one of the conference's better defenses.

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