Men’s basketball looking to overcome obstacles

Despite all their COVID-19 complications, coach Reggie Witherspoon's team will very likely play in next week's MAAC Tournament in Atlantic City, N.J. (Canisius Athletics/GoGriffs)

After a season of pauses and not a lot of opportunities to play, men’s basketball is finally looking to buckle down and overcome the obstacles to compete in next week’s MAAC Tournament.

The team is in a position where they need a sweep against Siena this weekend to receive a first-round bye, but for them, just getting to the tournament is a win. They’ve only played 10 games this season and have a record of 6–5 and have had to deal with multiple quarantines due to positive COVID-19 tests within the team. Considering everything the team has been through, the Griffs are among the hardest-hit teams in the country.

The team was supposed to play a pair of games at Niagara on Friday and Saturday last weekend, but the series was canceled late Thursday night due to COVID-19 issues in Niagara’s program.

Head coach Reggie Witherspoon said Tuesday that he has had some players that have spent over 140 days in quarantine since the season began. 

“It’s an extreme challenge,” Witherspoon said Tuesday. “You can’t control it. Coaches I’ve talked to around the country, one of the biggest struggles is that you’re used to being able to solve some of the problems and issues that arise during the course of the season. COVID does not fit in that category.”

He said that this season has been a challenge trying to get the team to stay healthy.

“Not just our program obviously but our entire sport, what we’re asking them to do is do things that the CDC has said we shouldn’t do,” he said. “It just speaks to the challenge that we’re faced with to try to do this and stay healthy.”

With all of their pauses, the MAAC filed a waiver with the NCAA to retain the Griffs’ eligibility for the NCAA Tournament in the event they do not get to the 13-game minimum to be eligible. It was filed on Feb. 23 and is currently being evaluated by the NCAA. However, the waiver is expected to be approved, according to league commissioner Rich Ensor. As of Thursday afternoon, the Griffs are scheduled to play 12 league games on top of at least one more game in the conference tournament, which is being played in Atlantic City, N.J. next week.

“It was just as a protective device because we didn’t know if games would get canceled this weekend,” Ensor said.

As for basketball, the team is looking to use its depth to succeed and make a run in the conference tournament. It speaks to the depth of the team that its two leading scorers both come off the bench, Malek Green and Majesty Brandon.

“Not in college, but in high school, you can win a game in the first couple minutes if there’s a certain level of inferiority. In college, when the game starts, there’s 40 minutes left. It’s not like it’s a pitcher or a quarterback. You’re going to make substitutions,” he said. 

After this weekend’s series against Siena, the MAAC tournament begins next week

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