SPRINGFIELD, MASS. - The Canisius men’s basketball saw its run toward a MAAC Championship come to an end Sunday night in the MassMutual Center as the Golden Griffins fell to top-seeded Iona 75-72. The Griffs (21-12) trailed by 10 points with 4:00 left on the clock and made a furious comeback effort late, but the Gaels (22-9) were able to hold off the Blue and Gold’s charge to advance to Monday’s conference title game where they will meet Manhattan.
Senior Billy Baron led Canisius with 23 points as four Golden Griffins reached double figures. Senior Chris Manhertz recorded his second consecutive double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Freshman Zach Lewis scored 13 points while senior Chris Perez added 12 points.
“We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game. Iona got off to a good start but we made a great comeback and really wanted to be more aggressive in the second half, Canisius coach Jim Baron said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our guys, especially the four seniors. They have showed tremendous character, heart and determination.
“Iona just beat us today. They hit the shots. I told our guys to be proud and not hang their heads.”
Iona made eight of its first 10 shots from the floor, including 4-of-5 from behind the arc to take a 20-13 lead six and a half minutes into the game. The Griffs were able to fight back into the game by slowing down the tempo and using the hot shooting of Lewis in the early going. Lewis had 11 of those first 13 points for the Griffs.
Canisius tied the game at 26-26 on two free throws after an offensive rebound from redshirt freshman Phil Valenti. Iona scored five quick points before a 10-4 run from the Griffs gave them their first lead of the game at 36-35. A three-point play from Manhertz followed by a layup in transition from Baron put the Griffs ahead by one with just over four minutes left. Iona would make 3-pointers on three straight possessions, closing the half on a 10-2 run, and take a 48-41 lead into the locker room.
Iona extended its lead to as many as 12 points, going up 59-47 on a 3-pointer from Sean Armand with 14:15 remaining. Baron scored seven straight points, including three layups, to get Canisius within seven at 61-54 and turn the momentum in favor of the Griffs. Senior Jordan Heath gathered a loose ball near the free-throw line and tomahawked a dunk to make it a five-point game and force an Iona timeout with 8:41 left.
The Gaels extended their lead to 10 at 70-60 with 4:18 left before Canisius made its final push. Baron connected on the first 3-pointer of the second half for the Griffs to start a 10-0 Canisius run. The senior scored nine of the 10 points during that run, with his two free throws with 1:28 remaining evening the score at 70-70.
On the next trip down the court, Canisius forced a missed shot, David Laury gathered the offense rebound, and he finished with a layup to give Iona a two-point lead. After Baron missed a 3-pointer, Armand split two free throws to put Iona up 73-70. A dunk from Manhertz with 9.7 seconds left made it a one-point game. Tre Bowman made two free throws with five seconds left to extend the lead back to three. Baron’s running 35-footer fell short at the buzzer.
Armand led Iona with 21 points while Laury gathered 12 rebounds. Iona shot 51.8 percent from the floor on the day. The Griffs finished the night shooting 43.3 percent from the field and ended the contest by out rebounding the Gaels by a 37-31 clip.
GAME NOTES: Canisius in semifinals for first time since 2002… Canisius and Iona have now played seven times in the MAAC Tournament, with the Gaels holding a 4-3 advantage… The three-point loss in the MAAC Tournament makes Canisius 8-7 all-time in the conference postseason in games decided by five points or less… Baron’s 23-point effort in the loss gives him 20-plus points scored in 25 games this season and 40 times in his Canisius career… The 23 points for Baron gives him 1,381 points in a Canisius uniform, which ranks 11th in program history… The double-double for Manhertz is the 14th of his career… Manhertz now has pulled down 10 or more rebounds in six games this year and 27 times in his career… Manhertz now has 786 career rebounds, which allows him to move past former Griff Craig Wise for fourth all-time in career boards… Lewis’ 13 points gives him 303 for his rookie season, which ranks sixth all-time among Canisius freshmen for total points scored.