The Canisius-Niagara rivalry again showed its best on Wednesday night at the Gallagher Center, but the Griffs did not do enough in the final minutes to get the win, falling to the Purple Eagles 69-66.
It was a tale of two halves for both sides as Canisius struggled to really get anything going for the majority of the first half, but an 8-0 Griffs run in the final 90 seconds of the first only put them down two at the break.
The game was much closer in the second, with both teams getting offensive opportunities and keeping the game within four points for the entirety of the second half. This was headlined by a strong second-half performance from Jacco Fritz, who had missed the team’s three previous games with an upper-body injury, and Niagara’s James Towns and later Marcus Hammond, who did nearly all of the scoring down the stretch.
“As a player we just want to win. It might be a back-and-forth game, we just got to keep playing on offense and especially on defense,” Fritz said.
The Griffs took the lead with 1:01 to go after Scott Hitchon missed the back end of a free throw, but Jordan Henderson put the ball back up to give the Griffs a 66-65 lead.
However, Niagara’s Raheem Soloman was fouled by Fritz with 31 seconds to play, Soloman hit both free throws, and following a steal and bucket by Justin Roberts made it 69-66 with 20 seconds left, Canisius had an unsuccessful final possession, despite getting a pair of threes off.
“We got two completely uncontested, not even close out, threes. They were wide open threes,” Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon said.
Despite the foul, Fritz had a career night in his first matchup against Niagara, posting a career-high 18 points on 6-7 shooting, most of that coming in the second half after Brandon was the Griffs’ go-to guy in the first half.
“I like these kinds of games. A lot of people cheering, a lot of noise. I like this,” Fritz said.
He was one of four in double figures for the Griffs, as Brandon finished with 14, and Henderson and Hitchon finished with 10 each. However, inconsistent shooting, particularly from three, where they shot 4-24, 0-12 in the second, caused them to be inconsistent.
“We missed way too many easy shots. We made a lot of mistakes. Credit to (Niagara),” Witherspoon said.
Niagara’s lack of turnovers, six, and their shooting, 45% overall and 43.8% from three, allowed them to stay in the game. Hammond ended up leading the charge with 17, Towns had 16, and Greg Kuakumensah had 12.
“We know we can score the ball, we just got to get stops. The main part is playing defense and getting a rebound, but once we get a rebound, we have a pretty good chance,” Towns said.
This win was particularly big for the Purple Eagles as they draw ever closer to .500 in league play at 6-7. Niagara has also won six of the past seven games against Canisius, and this was first year Niagara coach Greg Paulus’ first taste of the rivalry.
“Unbelievable atmosphere for college basketball,” Paulus said. “Growing up in Syracuse, you heard about the Niagara and Canisius rivalry. To be a part of it is special. This is a special place and it’s been going on since 1905. That’s a long time. There’s been a lot of great coaches, a lot of great players, a lot of great moments over that span.”
Canisius drops to 4-9 in the league, still in last place. The Griffs will look to turn it around with seven games to play until the conference tournament, starting with a matchup against Monmouth tonight at the Koessler Athletic Center.