SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - The Canisius College men's basketball team saw its 2011-12 season come to an end with a 80-70 loss to Niagara University in the first round of the MAAC Championship in the MassMutual Center on Friday night.
Junior Harold Washington led Canisius with 24 points in the game, going 8-for-14 from the floor. Junior Alshwan Hymes scored 16 points, with 15 of those points coming in the second half. Junior Gaby Belardo had 18 points in a team-high 39 minutes.
"I said to the guys in the locker room that some people would look at this year as a tough, long year, but I truly enjoyed working with them and seeing them getting better because they came to work each and every day," Canisius head coach Tom Parrotta said. "These guys stayed together and kept battling until the very end. Now we need to take what we learned from this season and keep getting better in the offseason. The difference tonight was Niagara getting 18 offensive rebounds and they turned our turnovers into points, especially in the first half. We tried to get it rolling, but every time it felt like the momentum was swinging our way, to their credit, they came down and hit a shot on us."
Niagara jumped out to a 9-1 lead, but the Griffs used a 13-0 run to open up a 14-9 lead. The Griffs got a 3-pointer from sophomore Reggie Groves and a put-back dunk from freshman Kevin Bleeker during the spurt. Canisius held Niagara without a field goal for nearly eight minutes. After a layup from sophomore Chris Manhertz gave the Griffs the five-point lead, the Purple Eagles held Canisius scoreless for more than five and a half minutes as Niagara scored eight straight points to go up 17-14.
Niagara was up 20-15 when Washington went coast-to-coast and converted a three-point play to end a field goal drought of more than seven minutes and cut the Purple Eagles' lead to two (20-18) with 4:42 left in the half. Niagara went up by double digits (31-21) by on three straight possessions late in the half, but a deep 3-pointer in the final seconds from Washington, who had the final 12 points of the half for the Griffs, sent the Blue and Gold into the locker room down 33-26.
Canisius scored on three of its first four possessions to open the second half, but Niagara scored on five consecutive possessions - including 3-pointers from Ameen Tanksley and Juan'ya Green - as the Purple Eagles built a 44-32 lead. Canisius made six of its opening nine shots in the second half, but the Purple Eagles made four of their first five 3-pointers in the second half to maintain a double-digit lead. The Griffs would get the deficit to single digits at 59-50 after a 3-pointer from Hymes with 7:34 left.
Niagara made two free throws to lift its lead back to double digits, but Hymes converted a three-point play and Groves split two free throws to cut the deficit to seven points. Niagara came down and got a 3-pointer from Marvin Jordan to push it back to 10, but the Griffs came right back and got a layup from Manhertz to make the score 64-56. Niagara used a 9-2 run to build its biggest lead of the game - 73-58 with 3:10 left. The Griffs cut it to seven with just over a minute remaining but could get no closer.
Green led Niagara with 20 points, one of five Purple Eagles to reach double figures. Tanksley had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Notes: This was the 170th all-time meeting between these two Western New York rivals and it marked the sixth time the teams have played in the MAAC Championship... The Griffs and the Purple Eagles last met in the MAAC Championship on March 3, 2002 in the semifinal round... Canisius is now 11-4 all-time in the first round of the MAAC Championship... As a team, Canisius shot 46.9 percent from the field in the last four games of the season, dating back to the team's home win over UMBC Feb. 18... Washington's 24 points was one shy of the school's record for points scored in a MAAC Tournament game - Craig Wise scored 25 against Saint Peter's March 6, 1992, and Darren Fenn had 25 against Saint Peter's on Feb. 27, 1999... Washington finished the year with 17.0 points per game, which stands as the most for a Canisius player since Fenn averaged 17.6 points per contest during the 1999-00 campaign... Hymes ended the year with a program record 84 3-point field goals, and he will start his senior season needing just 25 treys to become the second player in school history to hit 200 3-point field goals in his career... Five Canisius players made their first appearance in the MAAC Tournament, with Washington, Manhertz and freshman Josiah Heath all making their first career starts in the conference's postseason event.