Canisius College senior guard Billy Baron scored a game-high 27 points, highlighted by a key 3-pointer that put the Golden Griffins ahead for good, as the Blue and Gold defeated South Dakota 71-66 Monday night in the Koessler Athletic Center. The win gives Canisius a victory in the season-opener in each of the last two seasons, while the Coyotes fell to 0-2 on the year with the loss.
Senior center Jordan Heath had 12 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two blocks in the win for Canisius, while redshirt freshman Phil Valenti came off the bench to pull down a game-high 10 boards to go along with six points and two assists. Freshman Zach Lewis added nine points off the bench for the Griffs, which ended the night shooting 36.4 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point land.
“In the second half, I felt like we did a much better job defending and getting rebounds,” Canisius head coach Jim Baron said. “When we had to dig in and bear down, we did. We’re still learning to play together as a group. This is on-the-job training for some of these guys. You win with game-experienced players. We need to be better with the little things, but this was a gritty win tonight against a well-coached team.”
Canisius led by two at the break at 35-33 and the game remained tight through a better part of the second half. With the score tied at 52-52, Jordan Heath posted his first highlight dunk of the season off a miss by junior Jeremiah Williams. Heath was able to grab the high rebound off the back-iron and slammed the ball home with one hand to give Canisius a 54-52 lead with 7:11 left in the contest. South Dakota took the lead back with four-straight points, but back-to-back 3-pointers from Lewis and Williams gave the Griffs a 60-56 lead with 5:44 left to play.
The Coyotes took a 64-62 lead with 1:54 left in the game on a basket by senior forward Trevor Gruis, but moments later, senior Chris Manhertz knocked down a pair of free-throws to knot the score at 64-64 with 1:33 left. Manhertz was credited with a steal on the next South Dakota possession, setting up Baron’s deep 3-pointer from the top of the key that put Canisius ahead for good at 67-64 with 57 seconds left on the clock. South Dakota made it a one-point game with 20 ticks left at 67-66, but a basket from senior Chris Perez and a pair of free-throws by Baron with five seconds left to play sealed the win for the Blue and Gold.
Gruis had a team-high 18 points for South Dakota, while guard Brando Bos added 13 points to the losing effort. The Coyotes shot 37.3 percent from the floor, 27.8 percent from 3-point land and 85 percent (17-for-20) from the charity stripe.
Valenti led all players with his game-high 10 rebounds in his first college game, as Canisius ended the night with a 43-40 advantage on the glass. Canisius scored 10 points off 12 South Dakota turnovers and ended the night with 19-second chance points against the Coyotes’ four.
Canisius will return to action Saturday, Nov. 16, when the team travels to play at St. Bonaventure. Game time in Olean, N.Y., is set for 7 p.m. The game can be heard live on the Golden Griffin Broadcast Network at GoGriffs.com and AM-1400 in Buffalo.Game Notes: Canisius is now 3-1 all-time against South Dakota… Tonight’s win by the Griffs marks the first time in this series the home team has scored a victory… This marks the first time Canisius won the season opener in back-to-back seasons since 2002-03 and 2003-04… Canisius has now hit 10-or more 3-point field goals in 15 of the team’s last 35 contests, dating back to last season… Baron has scored 20-or more points in 11 games as a Griff and 16 times in his college career… Valenti’s 10 rebounds are the most for a Canisius player in his first game in a Griff uniform since Rigoberto Sargeant had 11 rebounds in the 2004-05 season opener against Howard… Five Canisius players played in their first career game on Monday and redshirt sophomore Dominique Raney made his first career start... The win was the 410th career victory for Jim Baron as a Division I head coach.