LEWISTON, N.Y. – Canisius senior Billy Baron scored a game-high 34 points and fellow senior Chris Perez chipped in 17 points, 10 of which came in the second half, as the Golden Griffins went on the road and defeated long-time rival Niagara by the score of 71-65 in the Gallagher Center. The win ends Canisius’ two-game losing skid and improves the Blue and Gold to 17-9 overall and 11-4 in the MAAC. The Purple Eagles have now dropped five straight and fell 6-20 overall and 3-12 in league play.
The win on Friday gives Canisius a sweep of the regular-season series between the two Western New York rivals, the Griffs’ first regular-season sweep of Niagara since 1994-95. Canisius has now won three-straight games over the Purple Eagles, the Blue and Gold’s first three-game winning streak over Niagara since Feb. 5, 1997 through Dec. 13, 1997.
Baron’s 38-point effort in the on Friday marks his sixth 30-point game of the season. He finished the night by going 10-for-16 from the field, 3-for-8 from 3-point land and 11-for-14 from the free-throw line to go with six rebounds and five assists. Perez’s 17 points came after he went 6-for-13 from the floor, 0-for-2 from 3-point range and 5-for-6 from the charity stripe. He also added two assists and two steals in the win, while spending most of the night guarding Niagara’s Antoine Mason, the nation’s leading scorer. Mason, who came into the game averaging 26.3 points per game, had 17 points and nine boards in the loss for the Purple Eagles.
“This one is for him,” Canisius head coach Jim Baron said of senior Chris Manhertz, who missed his second-straight game with a broken nose. “He’s a big part of this program and him being down, he said, ‘Coach, you have to go try and bring this one home.’ Our guys were really thinking about him and this is a great team victory.”
With Manhertz out and starters Jordan Heath and Phil Valenti in early foul trouble, Niagara controlled the glass in the game’s first 20 minutes and the Purple Eagles led at the break 37-32. In the second half, Niagara stretched its lead to as many as 11 points at 44-33 with 17:01 left in the game on the power of a made 3-pointer by Mason. Niagara led by nine at 52-43 with 12:30 left on the clock before the Griffs made a push and tied the game at 52-52 thanks to a 9-0 run over the span of 2:34, capped by a deep 3-pointer from Baron at the top of the key. Niagara answered with four-straight points to go up 56-52, but a jumper from Canisius redshirt sophomore Dominique Raney and a 3-pointer from Jordan Heath put the Griffs up 57-56 with 7:44 left to play.
After Heath’s trey, Niagara’s Marvin Jordan nailed a triple from the corner in front of his team’s bench and a jumper from Mason with 6:16 left in regulation time put the host Purple Eagles back up four at 61-57. The game would remain tight for the next five minutes before Perez scored on a driving lay-up with 57 seconds left to give Canisius a 65-63 lead with 57 seconds left. Out of Niagara timeout, Canisius forced Mason to miss a 3-pointer from the top of the key and the Griffs grabbed the rebound. In the game’s final 30 seconds, Baron drained six-straight free-throws to seal the victory, as the Griffs outscored Niagara 14-4 in the contest’s closing 5:56.
“I thought Perez did a heck of a job defensively on Mason,” Jim Baron said. “And when he had the ball, Perez went right at him. We had a number of guys step up tonight. Dominique Raney’s jumper was huge for us. And defensively as a team, I thought we really buckled down late and got stops when the game was on the line.”
Canisius ended the night shooting 42.4 percent from the floor, 20 percent from 3-point land and 77.3 percent from the free-throw line in the win. Jordan Heath had seven points, six rebounds and four blocks in the win for the Griffs, while Valenti added five points, six rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes. Raney scored six points off the bench for the Griffs as the team ended the night with 12 assists on 25 makes from the field and seven blocked shots.
Niagara had three players score in double-figures in the loss, led by Mason’s team-high 17 points. Redshirt senior Marcus Ware was good for 13 points and a game-high 12 boards for Niagara, which shot 37.1 percent from the field, 22.2 percent from 3-point land and 60 percent from the charity stripe.
With the win, Canisius keeps pace with Manhattan and Quinnipiac, as all three schools are tied for second in the MAAC’s standings. The Griffs will return to action Sunday, Feb. 16, when the team travels to play at Siena. Game time is set for 2 p.m., and the game will be broadcast live on the Time Warner Cable Sports Channel throughout New York state.Game Notes: This was the 174th all-time meeting between these two schools, with Niagara leading the series 96-78… The Griffs have won back-to-back games in Niagara’s Gallagher Center for the first time since Jan. 15, 1994 and Jan. 31, 1995… The win on Friday marks the third time this season Canisius trailed by 11 points in a game and came back to win – with the other occasions coming Nov. 19 against Elon and Dec. 11 at Buffalo… Canisius’ 11 MAAC wins this season matches last year’s conference victory total… In two career games in the Gallagher Center, Baron averaged 33.5 points per game… Baron’s 34 points on the road against Niagara are the most for a Canisius player since former Griff Larry Fogle had 41 points at Niagara Jan. 12, 1974… Baron’s five assists in the win gives him five or more assists in a game 14 times this season and 35 times in his career… Jordan Heath’s four blocks gives him 59 this season, which ranks fifth in school history for blocked shots in a season… Heath now ranks eighth in school history with his 112 career blocks… The Griffs are 10-4 this season when Perez scores 10-plus points in a game… Raney is averaging 9.6 points per game in the Griffs’ last five contests… Jim Baron is now 16-2 all-time against Niagara in his 27-year career as a Division I head coach.