Canisius senior guard Billy Baron led three players in double figures with his game-high 31 points and the Golden Griffins ended the night shooting 50 percent from the field en route to an 87-74 victory over long-time rival Niagara in a sold out Koessler Athletic Center. The win improves Canisius to 13-7 overall and 7-2 in MAAC play, while the Purple Eagles slipped to 5-15 overall and 2-7 in conference action.
The win marks the first time Canisius has beaten Niagara in back-to-back games since Feb. 21 and March 3, 2001. The Griffs went on the road and defeated Niagara 77-70 in the previous meeting between the two schools, which was played Feb. 10, 2013 in Lewiston, N.Y. The Griffs scored 80-plus points for the fifth straight game and the team shot 50 percent from the field for the third consecutive contest.
Baron, who entered the game ranked third nationally in points per game average, scored his 31 points after going 10-for-17 from the field, 4-for-8 from 3-point land and 7-for-8 from the free-throw line. He also had three rebounds, three assists and a steal in 36 minutes. Senior guard Chris Perez added 19 points in the victory for Canisius, while fellow senior Chris Manhertz posted his second double-double of the season and the 11th in his career with 14 points and a game-high 11 boards. Manhertz also matched a career-high with four assists.
For Niagara, junior guard Antoine Mason scored a team-high 29 points for the Purple Eagles, who have now dropped two straight and six of their last seven. Senior Marvin Jordan had 19 points, four assists and three steals for Niagara, while sophomore Rayvon Harris chipped in 10 points and six rebounds off the bench. For the game, Niagara shot 46.8 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from 3-point range.
“That was a very physical rivalry game. It was a real battle,” Canisius head coach Jim Baron said. “I thought in the first half, we played a really good defensive 20 minutes. When we’re at our best, it is because we’re getting stops and moving the ball up the floor in transition. The last few weeks have been a grind for us, but the crowd tonight really helped push us. They were tremendous from start to finish. A crowd like that at home brings so much energy to the guys on the floor. It was fun to be a part of. This was a great night for college basketball here in the city of Buffalo and in the Big 4.”
In a game where Canisius never trailed, the Blue and Gold jumped out to an early 9-2 lead just 3:14 into the contest, capped by a 3-pointer from Baron. A baseline jumper by junior Josiah Heath pushed the Griffs’ margin to 10 at 19-9 with 12:59 left in the first half, and Canisius would stretch that lead to as many as 19 in the first half at 39-20 on a pair of makes from the free-throw line by Manhertz with 3:50 left before intermission. Manhertz gave Canisius its largest lead of the night at 53-33 with 17:28 left in the game on two more made free-throws, but Niagara got back in the game with a scoring run of its own that cut the Blue and Gold’s cushion to eight points with 8:26 left on the clock.
A pair of made free-throws by Baron with 11:57 left to play put Canisius up 16 points at 66-50. From there, Mason, the leading scorer in the country, scored five-straight points for Niagara to trim the Blue and Gold’s lead to 66-55. Baron answered with a jumper in the lane on Canisius’ next trip down the floor, but a tip-in by Ramone Snowden and a 3-pointer from Mason with 8:26 left on the clock made the score 68-60 in favor of Canisius. The Griffs answered Niagara’s push and quickly lifted the margin back to 15 points with four straight from Perez and a deep 3-pointer by Baron with 6:24 left in the contest that made the score 75-60.
Canisius ended the night by shooting 27.8 percent (5-for-18) from 3-point land, but the Griffs secured the win thanks to a 26-for-29 effort (89.7 percent) from the charity stripe. Senior Jordan Heath had seven points, four rebounds and four blocks in the win for Canisius, while his younger brother Josiah Heath added six points and four boards in 10 minutes off the bench. Redshirt freshman Phil Valenti chipped in four points and five rebounds as well for Canisius, which improved to 7-0 at home this season with the victory.
Canisius will close out its brief two-game homestand on Sunday at 2 p.m., when the team plays host to Marist in the Koessler Athletic Center. The Red Foxes defeated Canisius 65-62 when the two teams met in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Jan. 6.
Game Notes: This was the 173rd all-time meeting between Canisius and Niagara, with the Purple Eagles leading the series 96-77… Wednesday’s game marked the 18th time Canisius and Niagara played in the Koessler Athletic Center, where Niagara leads that portion of the series 11-7… The sellout was the first of the season and it marked the fifth-straight Canisius-Niagara game in the KAC to be sold out… The Griffs were charged with a season-low five turnovers in the win… Canisius has now scored 80-plus points in five-straight games for the first time since Jan. 6-20, 1979… The Blue and Gold is averaging 85.9 points per game at home this season and 82.1 points per game in MAAC action… Baron now has 30-plus points in four games this year and seven games in his career, two of those contests being against Niagara… Manhertz’s 11 rebounds gives him 698 for his career which ranks ninth in school history… Manhertz was not charged with a personal foul in the game – the first that that has happened since Jan. 28, 2011 when he played three minutes against Niagara at home… Perez’s 19 points gives him 13.4 points per game in the team’s last five outings, where the Griffs are 4-1.