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Griffins fall a shot short

By Budd Bailey

It was one of those games when it simply felt like the last shot would decide the game.

The last missed shot, that is.

Sure enough, Canisius had one last chance to win or tie on Sunday afternoon with seconds to go. But the Golden Griffins couldn’t convert in those final moments. The result was a disappointing 54-52 loss at the Koessler Athletic Center.

“We didn’t play our game,” center Frank Mitchell said. “That’s just it. We didn’t play our style of basketball. We were rushing stuff. We just didn’t play well. … We weren’t as locked in as we should and we’ll just have to fix it for the next game.”

The defensive struggle wasn’t a surprise to Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon.

“We knew we were going to have to fight our way through some stuff,” he said. “We didn’t do a good job of it.”

It didn’t take very long for both teams to know that there would be few easy baskets on the afternoon. Canisius had a 7-4 lead with more than six minutes gone in the first half. By that standard, a couple of three-pointers represented an offensive explosion, and Siern Ujtendaal did exactly that to put the Golden Griffins up by 19-10 after 14 minutes of play. Canisius maintained the lead through the end of the first half (25-18).

But the Griffins’ offensive problems were only beginning. After a couple of lay-ups in the first minute or so, the Canisius offense came to a crashing halt. They didn’t score another field goal until 12:46 was left in the second half, and the team was 2 for 6 from the line during that time. Still, the Peacocks didn’t light up the scoreboard either. So when Canisius scored eight points in about a minute, the lead went back up to 39-30 and it seemed the Griffs had dodged a major bullet.

Alas, Saint Peter’s maintained the defensive intensity, and Canisius again couldn’t score. It had another drought of more than six minutes without a field goal, and the Golden Griffins were down by 47-42 after they finally scored from the field again with 5:08 left. Even worse, there were some shot-clock violations to go with some forced shots caused by time running out.

“You don’t get a shot at the basket, those are particularly painful,” Witherspoon said.

The game looked a bit hopeless at 50-43 with two minutes to go, but at least Canisius cut the margin to 54-52 and had the ball. But the Griffins’ shots didn’t find the net, and the buzzer marked a particularly disappointing loss. Perhaps the season’s new lineup needs a little more experience at how to handle those situations; practicing them can only do so much.

“(It’s true) especially when you’ve got guys in new roles,” Witherspoon said. “You’re trying to get them through some things. That’s a challenge, until the guys go through some of that.”

Frank Mitchell had another strong game for the Golden Griffins. The transfer from Toronto had 16 points – including two big hoops in the late comeback – and nine rebounds. He has the size at 6-foot-8, 240 pounds to create some room around the rim. Mitchell had to sit out a year as a transfer, and he’s enjoying the chance to play games again.

“My team motivates me every day to come out and put it on the floor,” he said. “My team is shaping the way I play. It’s great basketball, a great environment. “

Ujjtendaal added 12 points for Canisius. Nine players scored for Saint Peter’s, although none had more than Latrell Reid’s 10 points. The Peacocks shot less than 40 percent from the field, and were 2 of 12 on threes, but still won.

This was a disappointing loss for the Griffs, who had a chance to build up some more momentum from what has been a promising start. Canisius’ record fell to 5-4 on the young season after a nice win in the conference opener against Quinnipiac on Friday night.

“We’ve got to get used to following up and playing Friday/Sunday,” Witherspoon said. “That’s how the schedule is in this conference. We’ve got a big challenge.”

It’s never easy for teams like the Golden Griffins to start well, since usually they have to travel a lot for games in an attempt to pick up some paychecks to fund the programs.

“We’ve seen a lot of arenas, a lot of countries (there was a trip to Quebec earlier), and I’m blessed to be given this opportunity,” Mitchell said.

Last season, they started off 2-10. A win here would have put Canisius at 2-0 in conference play, which resumes in earnest in January. But even at 1-1 in the MAAC, there are some good signs.

“Our guys have pulled together,” Witherspoon said. “We’re obviously playing extremely short-handed, and we’re working our way through that. We’ve had some good performances against some good teams. But this was a completely different style of play, and one that we haven’t encountered. We’ve just got to keep fighting.”

Happily for the Griffins, they will spend a little more time at home this week. Robert Morris comes to the KAC on Wednesday night before Canisius plays at Pittsburgh on Saturday.

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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