After lighting up the scoreboard shooting 55% from the field Friday, scoring 81 points in a win against the Marist Red Foxes, the Canisius Golden Griffins lost in a defensive battle 56-52 less than 24 hours later at the Koessler Athletic Center on Saturday.
A key to Friday night’s win according to head coach Reggie Witherspoon was limiting their turnovers to just eight over the entire game, something they had focused on in practice leading up to the series. Saturday, however, the Griffs came out of the gates slow, scoring a measly seven points while shooting 2-11 in the first 12 minutes of play. That correlation stems primarily from turning the ball over nine times during that stretch. “Limiting turnovers will continue to be a top priority leading into our preparation against Siena next week. A certain level of energy is required in our decision-making, being patient with the ball, not forcing shots, and boxing out on defense. I think our younger guys started to realize that after tonight,” Witherspoon said.
Even after an unideal start, Canisius stayed in the game instead of letting Marist run away with it because of their defensive intensity and resilience. Due to injuries, the Griffs were limited to just nine players in their rotation, making it especially tough for their second game in as many days.
“There is no doubt that these guys played hard tonight and tons of effort,” Witherspoon said. “The only aspect of our defense I would like to see improve is not letting up those offensive rebounds.”
Canisius held Marist to only 28 points on 42.3% shooting on a balanced scoring attack, but Marist dominated the offensive glass with eight offensive rebounds leading to easy opportunities that could have been prevented from better box outs on the defensive end.
One of the offensive sparks for the Blue and Gold was Senior guard Majesty Brandon, as he accounted for 11 of the team’s 23 first-half points. They faced a five-point deficit heading into halftime with both teams combining for 27 turnovers and Redshirt Senior Michael Cubbage out for the rest of the game with a right foot injury for Marist.
Junior Malek Green followed up his impressive first game with the Griffs and was a difference-maker that they needed to get back into the game in the second half. He cut the Marist lead to just two after an acrobatic converted and-1 layup attempt with 12:28. Fellow sophomore big man Jacco Fritz also had an and-1 opportunity after a great cross court pass from Ahamadou Fofana in transition as both teams went back and forth. Another sophomore, Armon Harried, tied the game at 42 with a corner three, and on the next possession, hit two free throws to give the Griffs their first lead of the game with 5:18 left to play.
Both teams had opportunities to run away with the game in the last 3 minutes, but after a made three-pointer by Majesty Brandon to put Canisius up one, junior guard Matt Herasme hit two free throws to give them a lead that resulted in two made free throws by Malek Green on the other end to go up 52-51 with 50 seconds left to play.
Freshman Hakiem Byrd drove into the lane for and-one and after a Brandon miss, Herasme made the dagger free throws that iced Marist’s first win in conference play this season.
Brandon led all scorers with 21 points along with five steals, and Green ended up with an 11 point and 13 rebound double-double. Witherspoon admired their effort in back-to-back heavy minute nights and tried to give them the most rest possible in their search for the right rotation with only nine players available.
“Those are two guys we can rely on and be difference makers for this team,” he said. Canisius as a team had 17 turnovers to Marists’ 22, and 19 personal fouls.
As Canisius looks to bounce back and get healthier, they will set their sights on the Siena Saints next Friday and Saturday, December 18 and 19 for their first road trip of the 20-21 campaign. Both games can be heard on WECK Radio Buffalo for a 5 p.m. tip-off in Loudonville.