By Adam Gorski, Sports Layout Editor
It had been a school record 276 days since the Canisius men’s basketball team last did battle on the hardwood, and their long-awaited return ended in triumph.
Thanks in part to a balanced scoring attack, Canisius held on late for an 81-72 season-opening victory over Marist on Friday night at the Koessler Athletic Center.
“(The game) was pretty hard fought … I didn’t think that it got overly sloppy,” Griffs head coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “We haven’t had as many practices and it’s our first game, so you always have a tendency to be concerned in that situation … I think our guys fought through a lot and fought through it tonight.”
Despite a tight, back-and-forth game through much of the first half, a 12-5 run in the dying minutes gave the Griffs (1-0, 1-0) some separation as they took a 36-30 lead into the half with nine players tallying at least a point.
Not only was it a balanced attack doing much of the work for Canisius, but a good portion of it came from newcomers to the program. Erie Community College transfer Ahamadou Fofana, Dutch freshman Siem Uijtelaand, freshman Asa Beyah and JUCO transfer George Maslennikov all contributed in their first game with the Blue and Gold.
“We have a very competitive group,” Witherspoon said. “If we do a drill (in practice) and we keep score, they want to win that drill. When we’ve been able to have ten guys in practice, it’s very competitive and I think you can see that in we played nine guys, and all of them played at least ten minutes, and all of them scored.”
However, no newcomer, nor player, had as big of an impact on the outcome than Morehead State transfer Malek Green.
After just four first half points, the 6-foot-7 junior came up big in the second half, including a crucial sequence in the final minutes. After Marist (2-1, 0-1) cut their deficit to just three, 71-68, with 3:57 to play, Green nailed a 3-pointer to answer. He then snatched a rebound on the defensive end and followed it with a layup to keep the lead out of the Red Foxes’ reach.
The forward filled the stat sheet in his debut, tallying 18 points, seven rebounds, one assist, two steals and a block.
“(My teammates) were just very supportive with me on that my time was going to come, and it seems like it’s here now,” Green said. “Basketball is a game of runs. We knew they were going to make a run in the second half. We knew we had to get a stop, secure the rebounds and value possessions, and that’s what we did.”
Two familiar faces in junior Jordan Henderson and senior Majesty Brandon both had strong games, putting up 15 and 16 points, respectively. For Marist, it was 5-foot-10 freshman Hakim Byrd leading the way with 17.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the MAAC basketball schedule features teams playing on back-to-back days in the same arena to limit travel, meaning the Griffs and Red Foxes will be back at it again at 7 p.m. on Saturday night. It presents a unique challenge from a coaching perspective, but Witherspoon is confident his side will be ready.
“This will be a challenge, that’s for certain, to have to turn around and not only play the next day, but play the same team the next day,” he said. “We just have to learn from it. Learn from tonight, and learn from our approach to tomorrow.”