After an 0-2 start to the season, men’s basketball earned its first win of the season in a thrilling home opening-win as Jacco Fritz’s layup with 0.8 seconds left gave the Griffs an 83-81 win over Bucknell last Saturday.
The Griffs trailed by two with 33 seconds to go, until Malik Johnson hit a jumper from the top of the key to tie the game at 81. With 5.6 seconds left, Johnson drove the ball down the lane and made a quick pass to Fritz, who laid the ball in with less than a second to go. On the ensuing inbound, Johnson tipped the Bucknell pass, giving the Griffs their first win of the season.
Johnson had a great game, scoring a career-high 27 points on 11-17 shooting, including the game-tying score with less than a minute to play. He was one of three players who play in the normal rotation that had their career-high, as the freshman Fritz finished with 12, and Jordan Henderson had 17. Overall, the Griffs shot 59.6% from the field and 42.9% from three.
“(Bucknell) challenged us everywhere, especially in transition. If we didn’t get back on defense, we knew they were going to score, and we knew they were going to hit threes. I think we moved the ball better and we took care of the basketball better,” head coach Reggie Witherspoon said.
The week got even better for the Griffs on Monday as Johnson was named the MAAC Player of the Week and Fritz was named the Rookie of the Week.
Johnson has been one of the best players in the conference this season, averaging 20 points and 5.7 rebounds and five assists per game so far this season. Also, he is one of eight players in the conference that has a three-point percentage of above 40% so far this season.
Meanwhile, the analytics love him. The advanced analytics website kenpom.com ranks him first in the conference in offensive rating among all players in the league that have been used in at least 24% of their team’s possessions. He also ranks third in the conference in effective field goal percentage, which is a total field goal percentage adjusted to the fact that two-point shots count for two points and three-pointers count for three, behind Siena’s Elijah Burns and Iona’s Tajuan Agee. Johnson is also a workhorse for the Griffs, having played 93.3% of possible minutes placing him second in the conference and tied for 27th nationally.
Fritz, meanwhile, has been one of the league’s top freshmen so far. He has averaged 8.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game this year. His percentage of possessions used (16.7%) is relatively low, but out of all players he ranks 16th in the conference in offensive rating, and second among freshmen, trailing St. Peter’s Matthew Lee. In terms of his effective field goal percentage, he ties for fourth in the league with Niagara’s Raheem Solomon, just 0.2% behind Johnson.
Now 1-2 on the season, the Griffs will take on St. Bonaventure on Saturday at KeyBank Center downtown before beginning play in the Boca Raton Beach Classic on Tuesday with a road game at Illinois-Chicago and three games in Florida which will be against Mercer on Dec. 1, either Hofstra or Holy Cross on Dec. 2, and then a final game against Florida Atlantic on Dec. 4.