Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Malik Johnson's game-winner gives Canisius last-second win over Saint Peter's

Malik Johnson's floater with 0.1 seconds left pushed Canisius into dramatic 72-70 victory over Saint Peter's, moving Golden Griffins into third place in MAAC standings. (Photo by The Buffalo News)

JERSEY CITY, NJ -- Malik Johnson has spent his rookie season preparing for the scenario, but had just not been faced with it in a live game situation until Monday night.

Tied at 70 in a pivotal road game, and having to go the length of the floor with only 5.5 seconds of regulation in which to do it, the freshman finally had a chance to put his education to the test.

Sure enough, practice made perfect in this instance.

Johnson's teardrop in the lane swished its way through the net with one-tenth of a second remaining to put Canisius ahead of Saint Peter's one last time in a battle for third place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the twelfth lead change of a contest neither side led by more than nine points. A deflection of the ensuing inbounds pass by Kiefer Douse, the last desperate chance for Saint Peter's to conjure a miracle, sealed the Golden Griffins' epic 72-70 victory at the Yanitelli Center.

WATCH: Malik Johnson's game-winning basket for Canisius at Saint Peter's (video footage courtesy of Jaden Daly, Daly Dose Of Hoops)

"We usually do that late-game situation with about five seconds left," said Johnson as he revealed the practice drill that proved triumphant for the Griffs, (15-10, 8-6 MAAC) who surpassed last season's win total in the process. "It was the perfect situation to do it, so I set it up quickly and I got a layup."

Oddly enough, it was actually the second clutch spot the young point guard found himself in, as just seconds earlier, he had made a pair of free throws to put Canisius up three following a foul drawn against Saint Peter's Quadir Welton. But on the ensuing possession, Douse fouled Trevis Wyche in the act of shooting behind the three-point line, sending the senior to the free throw line for three shots. Wyche converted each attempt to pull the game into a 70-all tie, providing the launch pad for Johnson's masterful final act.

In a game that was evenly matched for the most part, Saint Peter's (12-12, 8-6 MAAC) attempted to use their gritty defense to pull away, building a nine-point lead late in the first half that would soon evaporate thanks to a 9-0 Canisius run that was broken on a dunk by Cavon Baker shortly before the halftime buzzer, a play that allowed the Peacocks to take a 34-32 advantage into the locker room.

The second half was essentially a seesaw battle before the hosts again created separation in the form of a seven-point cushion. That, too, was short-lived, as a stretch of eight unanswered points; the last five of which coming from the hands of Douse as part of a career-high 22-point evening, tipped the scales in the visitors' favor with 5:36 to play.

"I think it's a great X-factor," said Douse; an underrated fourth scoring option behind Kassius Robertson, Jermaine Crumpton and Phil Valenti, of his efficiency, which peaked again on Monday as the Canadian shot 9-of-14 from the floor. "If I come out with energy, just playing hard and picking up guys, we have a great chance of winning usually."

Together, it was Douse and Johnson who were most integral to the Griffs' production on both ends of the court. Not only did the two combine for 33 points and 11 assists without committing a single turnover between them against Saint Peter's suffocating pressure, they also registered five steals to bolster a transition defense that turned 21 Peacock miscues into 32 points while leading the charge for a collective 21 helpers on 29 made field goals.

"We pride ourselves on taking care of the basketball," Johnson confidently stated. "In practice, as soon as you get a turnover, there's a punishment. The team with the least amount of turnovers usually has the better chance of winning."

Douse and Johnson were joined in double figures by Robertson, who posted a quiet 15 points in the winning cause. Saint Peter's was paced by Wyche's 17, with Nick Griffin and Sam Idowu contributing 11 markers apiece for a Peacocks team who suffered its third straight loss, with those defeats coming by a grand total of six points.

"At the end of the day, the story of this game is the 21 turnovers," John Dunne lamented after seeing his team come up on the short end of a one-possession game for the fifth time in MAAC play this season. "We gave them way too many layups in the last few minutes of the game to win a close game. We didn't have our best focus, we didn't have our best energy. We weren't ready to play."

With the win, Canisius' 11th when trailing by five or more points at any juncture in a game this season, the Griffs now move closer to the top of a MAAC leaderboard that has begun to take shape as league heavyweights Monmouth and Iona continue to assert their dominance. However, the optimism in Buffalo remains tangible; yet tempered, heading into a stretch run that grows in importance with each passing result.

"We know we have a long way to go," said head coach Reggie Witherspoon of the six remaining games in the regular season, a gauntlet that kicks off Friday against crosstown rival Niagara in the Battle of the Bridge. "We have to be prepared for a distance run, a fight that goes 12 rounds. That means you take them one at a time, and we're going to lock in and play hard."

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