Men’s basketball looking for late-season wins against rival Niagara

Jacco Fritz is one player looking to have a strong weekend for the Griffs. (Canisius Athletics/GoGriffs)

After a midweek schedule change, the Griffs are now prepared to make the quick trip up to Niagara this weekend for a two-game set against the Purple Eagles, the only meetings between the rivals this season.

The Purple Eagles are coming off a home split against Siena this past weekend after a COVID-19-related pause, winning 64-62 on Saturday before falling to the Saints on Sunday, 68-66. That split put them at 7-9 in MAAC play and 8-10 overall.

The Griffs are coming off a weekend split against Fairfield which put them at 6-4 on the year.

In the first of those two games Malek Green had the best game of his collegiate career, pouring on 29 points to go along with nine rebounds in an 80-69 win in the first game of the series last Friday. He scored 14 points in Saturday’s 66-53 loss but the weekend elevated him past Majesty Brandon to become the team’s new leading scorer at 12.6 points per game. Brandon averages 12.1 per game, now second.

Jacco Fritz had an all-around solid weekend for the Griffs and is now averaging 8.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, certainly respectable for the sophomore.

The Purple Eagles are led by a pair of double-digit scorers in Kobi Nwandu, who averages 14.5 points per game as well as Marcus Hammond, checking in at 13.2 points per contest. Hammond is one of the better overall players in the MAAC, also averaging 5.7 rebounds per game. He plays in just over 85% of the team’s minutes, the highest percentage on the squad.

A major key to the game for the Griffs will be limiting Niagara’s three-point opportunities. The Purple Eagles have six players that make over 30% of their three-point attempts. The highest percentage is Justin Roberts, who hits them at a clip of 39.3%. As a team, they hit them at 32.3%. However, Niagara struggles to defend the arc, allowing opponents to hit threes 33.5% of the time. Canisius’ three-point percentage this season is an even 30%.

Another thing to keep in mind is how cleanly the Purple Eagles play with the basketball, something that has been preached by second-year head coach Greg Paulus. They turn the ball over at just 15.1% of the time, good for eighth in the entire country and the best in the MAAC by a considerable margin. Canisius, however, is third in the league at 17.2%, tied for 75th in the country.

With the two-game series that have taken place all season, depth has been important for all teams. Niagara is no exception, nine players deep. Two of their top five scorers come off the bench in grad transfer Jordan Cintron at 7.5 PPG and Raheem Solomon at 7.2 PPG. Three-point specialist Nick MacDonald and Shandon Brown are other important depth pieces for the Purple Eagles.

With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Griffs are looking for wins to move them up into the standings as they look ahead to the conference tournament in early March. The games up at Niagara’s Gallagher Center will both begin at 12 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

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