ALBANY, NY -- On paper, Canisius should have had this game handled. But the Marist Red Foxes came out with high-level defensive intensity and came close to pulling off a first-round MAAC Tournament upset.
But the Golden Griffins held on against a tiring Marist team - and 16 second half points from Brian Parker - to sneak out with a 77-73 first round tournament win. The Golden Griffins move on to play Saint Peter's Friday at 9:30 p.m.
The Griffins were led by Phil Valenti's 23 points and seven assists; Kiefer Douse added 16, and Malik Johnson chipped in seven assists. Kassius Robertson chipped in 12 and Jermaine Crumpton added 10. Brian Parker scored 22 on 10/15 shooting for Marist and added nine rebounds; and senior Khallid Hart added 16 points and Kentrall Brooks, the other senior, chipped in 11. Sophomore Ryan Funk added nine.
Let's not forget that Marist defeated Canisius on February 19. Armed with the same game plan, Mike Maker's Red Foxes came ready to play in the sandwich game of the MAAC Tournament's opening round.
"When you get to this time of year there aren't a lot of teams that are better than other teams," Canisius' head coach Reggie Witherspoon said. "Our opponent fought us hard. We were fortunate to come out on top."
From the outset, the Red Foxes made ball movement into the paint difficult with their tall lineup. Passes were deflected. Canisius hurried shots at the [unkind] rim. Big men Phil Valenti and Jermaine Crumpton had some first half struggles in particular, combining to go 5/16 in the half, including a blown wide open baseline dunk by Crumpton to end the half.
Marist, for their part, drove into the lane well in the first half, scoring 20 points in the paint through the first 13 or so minutes of the half. As time wound down, Canisius buckled down in the paint, but also committed touch fouls while trying to apply pressure, sending Marist's Isaiah Lamb to the line seven times, where he was serenaded by the Canisius band to the tune of "Mary Had A Little Lamb."
Still, the Griffs seemed to be applying pressure well, forcing eight steals in the first half and 11 turnovers overall. And Marist couldn't capitalize on opportunities outside the arc, which was fortunate for Canisius, as they would later learn.
In the second half, after a Marist bucket, the Golden Griffins found their rhythm with an 8-0 run from a layup from Valenti, a three from Kassius Robertson and a layup from Crumpton. Their lead expanded to 11 points, but Marist mounted a comeback in the middle of the second half behind Brian Parker's penetration. The slashing guard got to the rim at will as Marist defended against the outside shot. And slowly, slowly, they took advantage behind a Ryan Funk baseline throwdown (as Canisius parted the waters) and then another Parker layup and free throw drawn to take a two-point lead.
The teams went back and forth, but a fatigued Parker threw a pass with just under two minutes left into the waiting hands of Canisius freshman guard Malik Johnson. On the other end, Kassius Robertson hit a three from the wing to give Canisius the 72-69 lead with 1:57 left, capping a 5-0 run.
It was close, but between the 3/22 shooting from outside the arc and that pass - along with some missed opportunities down the stretch - Marist didn't have enough.
"When we get fatigued," lamented Marist head coach Mike Maker, "we can make poor decisions. I didn't get to rest Ryan [Funk] or Khallid [Hart] tonight.
A minute later of back-and-forth play, and Canisius found a cutting Phil Valenti for two consecutive layups to spread the lead to four and salted away the hard-fought victory.
"I thought our execution was pretty good in the last few minutes," Witherspoon said. "We tried to keep them off balance."
"We only had five turnovers in the second half," said Maker. "I thought we got clean looks. For the way we play, we have to make threes. We were fatigued and [Canisius'] style wore us down a little bit. But in an elimination game, you go down with your best guys. There was no quit in our guys and put ourselves in great position."
Canisius continues tomorrow against a Saint Peter's team they split with in two regular season meetings.
"We just have to keep it locked in for forty minutes [against Saint Peter's]," Witherspoon added.
But for Marist, the year is over - and so are the careers of Khallid Hart and Kentrall Brooks.
"I just can't thank them enough for their loyalty to our basketball program and our institution," said Maker about the two seniors. "We've had a lot of instability. I'm their third coach."
"I know we only won eight games," Maker continued. "We could never get over that hump. [But] when we turn [the program around], [Hart and Brooks can] take pride in the fact that they did the heavy lifting."