By Norman Rose (@ECoastBias)
ALBANY, NY -- The cold world of March Sadness comes to Albany, where the MAAC Tournament's second top seed fell in a thrilling game between #2 seed Canisius and #7 seed Quinnipiac. The Quinnipiac Bobcats won, 72-69, in a game where Canisius dominated for stretches, but could not pull away.
Canisius falls to 21-11, and without the golden parachute of the NIT, the Griffs' season may be over, despite going 15-3 in the MAAC.
Quinnipiac moves on to the Sunday semifinal game against the winner of Niagara/ Fairfield at 9:30 PM.
The Griffins were shellshocked after the game, hoarse, quiet.
"I don't know what to say to be honest," said Isaiah Reese.
"I don't know... I don't know," said Jermaine Crumpton, searching for the words to explain what happened.
Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon said, "I didn't think there was energy, I don't think that's how we normally play - 3 guys getting assists. It was a hard fought game, I thought Qunnipiac deserved to win, I thought we didn't deserve to win.""
The Golden Griffins led by as many as eight points in the first half. A three-minute drought, including three turnovers and four missed shots started an 8-0 run for the Bobcats. Cameron Young joined the party and the last five minutes of the half went back and forth.
A 6-0 run gave Canisius a six-point lead at the half, and looked to be the beginning of order returning to the game, despite nine first-half turnovers. After all, the Griffins had nine offensive rebounds and seemed to be owning the interior.
"The intensity on the glass wasn't there at the beginning of the game," Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy said.
But the Canisius turnovers continued, and three minutes into the second half, the game was locked up at 38.
"We challenged our guys at half time," Dunleavy said "They took it personally. The will to compete took off."
The Griffins managed to bulge a lead up to ten points with 12 minutes left. A 12-2 run from the Bobcats tied the game with nine minutes left, as the Griffins tried to get to the rim and tried to get the ball inside to star senior Jermaine Crumpton.
But nothing was quite in sync. Freshman forward Jacob Rigoni held ground well, and Canisius found getting layups and back-to-basket plays going difficult. Some of the Canisius offense was forced, rushed outside shots.
"We wanted to make [Crumpton] uncomfortable," Dunleavy said. "We knew he might get some twos but we wanted to limit their threes. You can do a good job on a good player and he can do 22 and 11 on you."
The Bobcats got the lead to six, but the Griffins forced a turnover with just under a minute left, made a shot, and brought the game within a single point.
Quinnipiac was hanging on, and they needed a score, with the shot clock just a little short of the game clock. Freshman guard Rich Kelly composed his swagger and drove at the rim, dropping in a smooth reverse layup.
"I saw [Isaiah Washington's man] had a little indecision and I went at him," Kelly said. "I had a layup and I just took it."
Canisius' Takal Molson had a chance from the corner, but missed long as the seconds counted down.
"What happens sometimes in games like this," Witherspoon said, "guys play not to lose. If you're going into it with a mindset to not lose, other guys will feel they need to assert themself more. And that was our problem tonight.
"As much as our sports is a team sport, the individual element always tries to rear its ugly head. I can tell you that from our perspective, we will have to do a better jo of clearing out anything individual."
Asked about the future, Witherspoon said he didn't know what they would be thinking about other postseason tournaments. "We'll see what opportunities we have and move from there."
Quinnipiac got 17 from Cameron Young (8/10 at the line) with 11 rebounds and 16 from Rich Kelly; Jacob Rigoni added 12. Abdulai Bundu had 10 rebounds.