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Canisius ends three-game skid

By Budd Bailey

With about nine minutes left in Canisius’ basketball game with Manhattan, Siem Uijtendaal of the Golden Griffins had just taken a three-point shot that was way off target … except that it bounced off the backboard and into the net for an unlikely three-pointer. Running back down the court, Uijtendaal put his palms up and shrugged his shoulders in the traditional “I don’t know what happened either” gesture.

The basket put Canisius up by a score of 70-53, its biggest lead of the night. From there it was a matter of running out the clock, as the Griffins took a 82-70 win over the Jaspers before 899 in the Koessler Athletic Center.

Just like that, Canisius’ three-game losing streak was history. This win was particularly appreciated by all those associated with Blue and Gold.

“We had some really good moments against teams that were having really good years, and we needed a video display of what that looks like,” coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “Today we got a little glimpse of it so that we could get a little better.”

“That was nice,” Canisius’ Frank Mitchell said. “It feels nice to get a win. Now we have to keep stacking them up. … I think sometimes our heads get away from the fundamentals, and Coach does a great job of keeping us centered. Tonight we really bought in, and we built on the small things to help us.”

The list of heroes was lengthy for the Golden Griffins (8-11, 3-6 MAAC), but Mitchell was at the top of the list. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward/center had a season-high 21 points and added 14 rebounds in 31 minutes.

“We talked to Frank early in the year, and he hasn’t been playing basketball for that long,” Witherspoon said. “He’s very talented. People have spoked to him about double-doubles. He’s been so hell-bent on getting double-doubles that he looked like he’d be in double figures in fouls. What we talked to him about getting lost in the fight. Everything will add up on its own. He’s bought into that. He’s played more minutes because he’s fouling less, and he’s been more productive.”

Tre Dinkins and Uijtendaal added 18 points each and TJ Gadsden added 12 for Canisius.

The Griffins probably figured this game represented a chance to get back on track.

Manhattan had lost nine straight games, with six of them in double digits. Then again, the Jaspers probably had similar thoughts, since Canisius was 1-7 in the last eight. It might have been a surprise, then, that the first half was so well played … and so even. Both teams shot better than 50 percent in the opening 20 minutes, and both teams only had six turnovers. The biggest lead by either side was a mere four points.

“At halftime our discussion was about our defense,” Witherspoon said. “I think they shot about 59 percent from the field. I asked our guys to do better. They looked like the ’96 Bulls. They only missed 12 shots. We had to affect them a little bit better than that.”

In the first three-plus minutes of the second half, it looked like the even matchup would continue indefinitely. But instead, a three-pointer by Dinkins launched Canisius to a 20-4 run that turned the game permanently in its direction. Five players scored during that eight-minute turning point.

“I said we can clean up some turnovers and get back to doing some of the things that we did,” Witherspoon said.

“Credit to the team,” Mitchell said. “They’re a great team, very gritty but we came out with a different kind of swag (in the second half). We bought into the little things, and we did what we had to do.”

Manhattan closed in a bit in the final minutes, cutting the margin to nine with 4:15 left. But the Jaspers only scored three points the rest of the way, allowing Canisius to clean things up and claim the much-needed victory.

“It’s always a nervous time, and you don’t have the guy that closed every game in that situation last year (the injured Tahj Staveskie) – even the guy in-bounding the ball in those situations is new – but I thought overall we were fine with it,” Witherspoon said. “We just got a little anxious. We’d talked about being more aggressive with that, you can be over-aggressive and turn the ball over. But the guys were receptive to what we told them.”

The win was Witherspoon’s 300th as a Division I coach. The best part of milestone victories like this is that you get to celebrate the team’s win as well as enjoy the personal side of it.

“It’s a tribute to all the players, their families, the staff, their families, and my family,” Witherspoon said. “There have been a lot of sacrifices. Lot of good memories, a lot of people who were committed to basketball being as good as good as it can be in Western New York.”

Witherspoon starts on the next hundred wins on Sunday afternoon, when Marist comes to the KAC at 1 p.m.

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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