Sunday, January 21, 2018

Canisius sweeps Iona, takes sole possession of MAAC lead

Isaiah Reese led Canisius with 21 points as Golden Griffins wrapped up season sweep of Iona to move into sole possession of first place in MAAC standings. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Picked ninth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason poll, not much was expected of Canisius going into the year, even with a first team all-conference senior on their roster and a burgeoning sophomore guard destined to raise his game to the next level.

Since the ball was tipped for the first time in November, however, the Golden Griffins have made a living of beating their opponent at their own game, and Sunday afternoon was no exception.

Less than 48 hours removed from suffocating Manhattan in one of their finest defensive performances to date, Canisius revealed the latest piece of their chameleon attire, running with Iona and making a season-high 15 three-point field goals to outshoot the Gaels to win an 84-82 thriller at the Hynes Athletics Center.

"I think our guys handled it really well," head coach Reggie Witherspoon said as the Griffs (13-8, 7-1 MAAC) completed their first regular season sweep of Iona since the 2006-07 season to further the best start to conference play for the program since 1996-97, when John Beilein was at the helm in Buffalo. "The notion of embracing the challenge, I thought we handled that part of it pretty well, and I'm just proud of the effort."

Canisius, which opened up an 11-point lead midway through the first half after a 14-0 run, their second significant spurt against the Gaels after a similar outburst in the teams' first meeting on December 31, also moved the ball extremely well against the two-time defending MAAC champions, committing just six turnovers on an afternoon where five players scored 10 or more points, led by Isaiah Reese's 21.

"Against a team like this, those turnovers turn into touchdowns," said Witherspoon. "You have to really limit them, and we did a pretty good job of that today."

Iona (12-8, 6-2 MAAC) fought back, getting within two points at halftime and ultimately taking the lead on a Schadrac Casimir three with 14:55 remaining in regulation, putting the Gaels ahead 59-58. Canisius responded with an 11-2 run immediately thereafter to retake the lead for good, but after stretching their cushion to 10 points, at 81-71, Iona ripped off eight unanswered points to draw within two following TK Edogi's dunk with 2:36 to play.

Jibreel Faulkner, who scored 13 points off the bench for Canisius, picked up a dunk of his own on the ensuing possession to make it a four-point game again, but three free throws from Rickey McGill brought Iona to the doorstep with just one point to overcome, the last two shots coming after the Golden Griffins elected to foul with 12.9 seconds on the clock and an 83-80 lead at that juncture. Following McGill's last two attempts, the Gaels waited longer than usual to foul Reese, a 92 percent shooter at the charity stripe, and during their effort to stop the clock, Edogi was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul in a wild exchange that also saw a Canisius assistant coach run toward the Iona coaching box, normally grounds for a technical foul.

"I don't really know what happened with TK," Tim Cluess said when trying to summarize the chain of events in the final seconds before Canisius became just the second team to sweep Iona in his eight-year tenure; joining Monmouth, who accomplished the feat last season. "I don't know if TK lost balance and went into him (Reese), which is the story we're getting, or if he just wrapped him up in a bad way. I can't blame the referees if that's what they see. I guess they missed a guy running on the court at the same time, but that's something else."

The flagrant call gave Canisius two free throws and possession with 1.3 seconds left. Reese missed the first shot, but made the second to give the Griffs a two-point lead, which they held as Malik Johnson ran out the clock before Iona could foul one last time to extend the game, standing alone atop the conference heading into Saturday's Battle of the Bridge against Niagara.

"I think it's good, but I think we do have a pretty long way to go," said Witherspoon of Canisius' progress to this point. "It's pretty early, but obviously we'd rather be in this situation than any other spot. What it says is we have something to build on."

"It feels good," Jermaine Crumpton, who added 18 points in the victory, echoed. "It just shows that hard work pays off. We've got a great group of guys, We come in and we work, and to see that hard work pays off is unbelievable, and me being a senior and just trying to be the leader that this team needs, I'm just trying to be the guy that the freshmen and some of the younger guys can look up to."

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