SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - With all five starters scoring in double figures, the No. 4 Canisius men’s basketball team advanced to the semifinals of the MAAC Championship for the first time since the 2002 season with a hard-fought, 71-65 win over the No. 5 seed Siena Saints in the MassMutual Center on Saturday afternoon.
Canisius will face No. 1 seed Iona College at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. That game will be shown live on ESPN3.
Senior Billy Baron led Canisius with 17 points to go along with six assists and five steals. Senior Chris Manhertz posted his 13th career double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Senior Chris Perez scored 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting while freshman Zach Lewis had 10 points, four assists and four steals. Senior Jordan Heath scored 11 points, including 3-for-6 on 3-pointers.
“This was a real battle today, a true conference tournament game,” Canisius head coach Jim Baron said. “Give Siena credit. They played hard and they played with a lot of confidence. I think the difference was our ability to get the ball inside, especially in the second half. Chris Manhertz has been a leader for us for the last two years and he showed again today why he’s a true leader. He stepped up when we needed him to, but we got a lot of great effort from everyone at both ends of the floor.”
Siena showed a variety of defenses in the first half to try and take the ball out of Baron’s hands and the Canisius offense out of its rhythm. Canisius shot 8-for-13 from behind the arc in the opening 20 minutes to overcome 12 first-half turnovers. Siena jumped out to a 9-3 lead four minutes into the game. The Griffs responded by scoring 13 of the next 17 points during the next four-minute stretch to go up 16-13 after two free throws from Baron.
Siena came right back with a 7-0 run and led 23-19 after a jumper from Rob Poole.
A 9-3 run, including a 3-pointer from Heath and a 3-pointer and three-point play from redshirt freshman Phil Valenti, put the Griffs up 28-26. Neither team led by more than two points the rest of the half as Siena led 35-34 at the half.
The Griffs came out of the locker room with a 6-0 run but Siena answered with a five-point spurt to knot the score at 39-39. Siena appeared to force a big momentum change with a 3-pointer from Brett Bisping following a block brought the crowd to its feet and put Siena up 44-41 with 13:47 left.
Canisius would score the next nine points and hold the Saints scoreless for more than three minutes. Lewis drained a 3-pointer and six free throws put Canisius ahead 50-44. The Saints didn’t go away quietly, using a 14-2 run to take a 56-52 lead and force a Canisius timeout.
Canisius scored the next six points – a putback dunk from Heath, two free throws from Baron and a reverse layup from Perez – to regain the lead at 58-56 with 4:54 left. Siena took the lead back with 4:02 left to play at 61-60 after Poole hit a deep trey from the top of the key. That lead would be the Saints’ last of the contest, as Manhertz grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed 3-point attempt and he was fouled going back up to the basket. Out of the game’s final media timeout, the Bronx, N.Y. native hit both of his tosses from the stripe to give the Blue and Gold a 62-61 lead with 3:42 left to play.
Canisius was able to stretch its lead to four points moments later as Baron stole a Siena pass and raced to the other end of the floor, where he knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 3:01 left to play that put the Griffs up 65-61. After Siena scored to make it a two-point game with 2:23 left, Perez pushed the Blue and Gold’s cushion back to four at 67-63 with 2:23 on a lay-up in transition. After a Siena putback made the score 67-65 with 1:36 left, Baron was able to drive down the lane and find Manhertz on the left block. Manhertz was able to lay one in the hoop left-handed to give Canisius a 69-65 lead and after the Griffs forced another Siena turnover, Baron drove to the bucket with 16 seconds left for a lay-up that put Canisius ahead for good at 71-65.
The win ended Canisius’ three-game losing streak in the MAAC Tournament, which dated back to the 2010 event in Albany. The meeting with Iona on Sunday will mark the seventh all-time MAAC Tournament meeting between the Griffs and the Gaels, with each team winning three games. The two schools most recently met in the 2013 MAAC Quarterfinal round.Game Notes: This was the 82nd all-time meeting between Canisius and Siena, with the Saints leading the series 51-31… Canisius has beaten Siena four-straight times for the first time since a stretch where the Griffs won seven in a row from 1954 through 1960… The win on Saturday also evened Canisius’ all-time MAAC Tournament record to 23-23… Saturday’s game featured 21 lead changes and 11 ties… This was Manhertz’s second career double-double against Siena – he also had one against the Saints Jan. 19, 2013… Baron’s six assists gives him five or more assists in eight of the team’s last nine games… Baron’s 17 points gives him 1,358 in his career as a Griff, which ranks him 11th all-time in school history… The five steals for Baron makes him the fourth Canisius player to record five steals in a MAAC Tournament game – former Griff Craig Wise was the last Griff to have five... Canisius improved to 15-6 this season when Perez scores in double figures.