By Budd Bailey
Call it a tale of two halves – even if it was the first half that essentially decided the game.
Canisius must have thought it was living something of a nightmare during the first half of its game with Monmouth on Sunday afternoon at the Koessler Athletic Center. The Golden Griffins woke up and showed a little life in the second half, but couldn’t sustain it. The end result was a 79-65 loss to the Wolves.
Just about everything went badly for Canisius in the opening 20 minutes, and the scoresheet gave some clues. The Griffs shot 27 percent from the field, and 50 percent from the line (after starting 2 of 8). They hit a three-pointer in the first minute, and then didn’t sink another one for about 18 minutes. Meanwhile, Monmouth capitalized on good shots to hit about 55 percent of its attempts, and was 11 for 12 from the line.
That added up to a 47-26 lead for the Hawks, most of which came during a 19-0 run in the middle of the half.
“I thought the first half, their pressure was outstanding,” coach Reggie Witherspoon of Canisius said. “It took us out of things. … We couldn’t get good looks at the basket. And when we did, we got fouled and couldn’t make free throws. As a result of that, maybe our effort went down and we got discouraged.”
Luckily, there were still 20 minutes left, and the Golden Griffins showed they had a pulse – particularly at the start. They came out and scored the first 10 points of the half to cut the margin to 47-36. That’s not an overwhelming margin with more than 14 minutes left to play, and Canisius closed to within 49-41 a couple of minutes later.
“Our energy was a lot different than in the first half,” guard Akrum Ahemed said. “We came out harder and didn’t worry about mistakes. We just wanted it more than them in the second half, and we have to continue that so that the outcome is different.”
“We came out with a lot of determination and tried to dig ourselves out of a hole,” Witherspoon said. “We were better in a lot of areas. We have to learn from this and figure this out.”
But that was as close as the game ever became. A flurry of threes (and a shooting foul that resulted in three made free throws) gave Canisius a spark and cut the lead to 69-61 with four minutes to go. But Monmouth took care of business from there. It’s just not easy to keep a burst going for 20 minutes against a good team.
“We played eight guys, I think, in the second half,” Witherspoon said. “When you are trying to make a comeback like that, they don’t have any margin for error. That’s the case a lot of times when you come off the bench. That’s why coming off the bench is so much harder than starting. You’re trying to dig yourself out of hold, trying to get it under 10. … Then you try to get enough pressure on them where they’ll miss some shots. The only thing that happened differently was that they missed some free throws that they don’t normally miss.”
The Hawks have a lot of experience on their roster. Their three top scorers on Sunday – Walker Miller (24) George Papas (19) and Shavar Reynolds (18) are all listed as graduate students. That’s rather unusual.
“That’s one thing about older teams – they know how to persevere in different situations,” Ahemed said.
“They’ve got some older guys that aren’t just older,” Witherspoon said. “They are skilled, talented. They play hard. Credit to them.”
Miller in particular was outstanding. At 6-foot-11, he’s got a nice touch from inside and out and he can cause problems for opponents who try to visit the paint. Monmouth had a 44-18 edge in points in that part of the floor. A big man who is that fluid can make a big difference for a team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, because most teams don’t have anyone who can match up against someone like that.
“Nowadays, I don’t know how many 6-11 guys like that you see anywhere in college basketball, especially that are that skilled,” Witherspoon said. “He was shooting runners and threes, but he’s also posting up and shooting with the right hand. You really have to play as hard as you can every minute you are playing him. The minute you relax, he takes advantage of you.”
It’s far too early to start crowning contenders in the conference race after only two games played in December. The MAAC tournament is light-years away. Still, Monmouth looked like a team that is going to be dangerous.
It’s a little harder to get a read on the Golden Griffins. That’s in part because they are a bit banged up, including top scorer Malek Grene (16 points per game). As the saying goes, it’s next man up under the circumstances.
Armon Harried had 20 points to lead Canisius, while Ahemed had 16 and Jordan Henderson added 13.
It was the fifth straight home game for the Golden Griffins, and they finished the homestand 2-3. Now it’s back on the road for two, starting on Wednesday at Northern Kentucky (which is located across the Ohio River from Cincinnati).
“Consistent effort is what we’ve been talking about,” Witherspoon said. “Once you arrive at that consistency, you’ve got to be poised in going after it too. We’ll see where we are with everything. Whether we won or we lost, let’s see how we are tomorrow at practice.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)