By Griffin Della Penna, Sports Reporter
The Canisius Golden Griffins defeated the Saint Peter’s Peacocks 63-60 Saturday afternoon at the Koessler Athletic Center in a hard-fought MAAC matchup.
Today’s win for the Griffs was their second over Saint Peter’s (6-5, 3-3) in 24 hours, after a 70-58 victory on Friday, bringing their overall and conference record to 3-3.
As the game came down to the wire, JUCO transfer Ahamadou Fofana stepped to the free-throw line four times in the last 25 seconds of play and converted on seven of his eight attempts to maintain the slim lead. Fofana, a 2019-2020 (NJCAA) Division II All-American at Erie Community College, set career-highs with 17 points, four assists, two steals, 33 minutes played, and shooting 9-for-10 from the free-throw line.
Postgame, he credited his recent success and transition from JUCO basketball to the Division I level to, “Adjusting to the speed of the game because everybody at this level can play, so I just have to come in and play my role.
“For my team, I just have to go out there, control the team, and be a leader.”
Head Coach Reggie Witherspoon praised Fofana, saying his free throws down the stretch were, “…crucial to us winning that game. Saint Peter’s will make you play down to the last second and put the pressure on you to make the free throws and make it a two-point game. Ahamadou didn’t let that happen.”
After controlling the offensive glass early and creating second-chance point opportunities, Canisius maintained a five-point lead late into the first half in a low-scoring affair. Contributions off the bench from seniors Majesty Brandon and Scott Hitchon, as well as junior Malek Green, accounted for 24 of 32 first-half points for the Griffs. They outscored the Saint Peter’s bench 24-8.
Peacock KC Ndefo, a preseason All-MAAC first team selection, had a limited role in what was only a three-point deficit at the half for the Peacocks. Coming off Friday’s contest where he led all scorers with 17 points, seven rebounds, and five blocks, Witherspoon’s game plan was to do everything they could to make it difficult for his presence to be felt.
“He’s a tremendous player with an extreme amount of intensity and passion,” Whitherspoon said. “We wanted to make it as difficult as possible for him. You can’t completely shut him down, but you can limit all the things that he does well because if you let it get too easy he can take over a game.”
With a little under 13 minutes left in the second half, Ndefo made his presence felt after a blocked shot and an offensive rebound on the other end led to a converted and-1, tying the game up at 44 apiece. Ndefo, a former AAU teammate of Ahamadou Fofana during high school in the Bronx, N.Y., would finish the game with 15 points, shooting 46% from the field, and six turnovers. Preseason All-MAAC third team members Daryl Banks III and Doug Edert were also held in check, combining for 22 points for Saint Peter’s.
In what appeared to be a much more balanced attack for Canisius, getting players back from injury meant that Coach Witherspoon could tinker with their rotation and game plan for their back-to-back series accordingly. With a team like Saint Peter’s that is deep, plays very hard, and unselfishly, it was crucial to keep guys fresh while also having the flexibility to bring certain guys in situationally.
“Playing back-to-back games is definitely challenging, especially against a team like that it just takes a team effort. It can’t just be one guy; we need everyone to come in and contribute,” Fofana said.
Green had a solid day with 11 points and five rebounds in just 18 minutes of play before landing awkwardly on his right leg after a rebound with only 26 seconds left to play. The severity of the injury is still up in the air and will be further evaluated on Monday.
Canisius looks to use these wins as motivation as they look ahead to an away series against Siena, which was postponed in December because of COVID-19.
“We (need to) continue to use this team mindset and guys start putting aside the individual thoughts for the greater good of the team,” Witherspoon said. “It takes a tremendous effort to play as a collective unit and I hope that we can use that to propel us moving forward (into next week.)”
Both games against the Saints are set to tip at 5 p.m. on Jan. 8 and 9, respectively.