Basketball falls to Canisius 87-72

by Ray Lu | 3/29/15 6:01pm

The men’s basketball team played its first postseason game in 56 years on March 18 in Buffalo, New York. The Big Green (14-15, 7-7 Ivy) fell to Canisius College (17-14) by a score of 87-72 in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.

“We were a little too slow in our defensive rotations to effectively contain Canisius tonight,” head coach Paul Cormier said during the postgame press conference. “Their athleticism gave us problems, and they were simply the better team tonight. This was a lesson for our players as we continue to build the program. While playing in the postseason was a terrific step for us, we still have a ways to go to get where we want to be.”​

In the final game of his collegiate career, co-captain Gabas Maldunas ’15 shot a perfect six-for-six from the field, finishing tied for team’s leading scorer with 15 points. Co-captain Alex Mitola ’16 matched Maldunas’ output with five three-pointers, joining Maldunas alongside the 27 Big Green athletes who have earned a place in the 1,000 point club in the process. Malik Gill ’16 was the third player in double-digits with 13.

“We drove on a Tuesday, seven hours or so, to the game. Then we had the game the next day, so we came out kind of tired and stuff like that,” Maldunas said. “We weren’t really ready. The mentality wasn’t there to play the game.”

A hotly contested match in the first half fell apart for the Big Green in the final three minutes of the first period. Mitola hit his third triple of the game — the basket that gave him the coveted 1,000-point milestone — to draw the game to a two-point Big Green deficit at 28-26 with 2:36 left in the first. After five lead changes in the first period, the Golden Griffins got hot just before the half and went on a 10-0 run off of 5-for-7 shooting to extend their lead to 38-26.

Canisius took the momentum and double-digit lead into halftime and came out just as strong in the second, leading by double-digits for the majority of the remaining playtime. After falling behind 54-33 just over five minutes into the period — the largest deficit of the night — the Big Green rattled off an 11-0 spurt, led by threes from Miles Wright ’18 and Taylor Johnson ’18. Both players played a significant amount of time and finished with nine points each.

After the Big Green cut the lead to 10 points at 56-46, Canisius responded with a seven-point run of its own, bringing the score to 63-46. Redshirt Canisius freshman Kassius Robertson finished the run of seven unanswered points with his second three pointer of the night.

Characteristic of the team’s shooting streaks, the Big Green hit back-to-back-to-back three pointers in response, two from Mitola and one from Gill. Again, Robertson came up big for the Golden Griffins in the late game, swiping the ball before being fouled on the breakaway. He knocked down both his free throws, and the lead ballooned to 75-57 on another Robertson layup.

Trying to capture some of the magic from its come-from-behind victories earlier in the season, the Big Green cut the deficit to single digits at 81-72 on a Johnson three with about a minute remaining in the game. This time, however, it was too little too late. Canisius junior Jamal Reynolds, who led all teams with 22 points, sealed the game with a pair of free throws, as the Big Green couldn’t connect from deep again.

The Golden Griffins had five scorers in double-digits. Reynolds had a dominating game overall, finishing with an additional 10 rebounds and six assists, while shooting a near-perfect 12-for-13 from the line.

The Big Green sought to live and die by the deep ball in the opening round playoff game, attempting 33 shots from downtown and making nine of them. The team shot 42.2 percent overall, just below their season average of 43.5 percent, but the Golden Griffins had a hot shooting night with 52.7 percent from the field and 84 percent from the line, where they went 21-for-25.

The Golden Griffins advanced to the quarterfinals of the tournament, beating Bowling Green State University in the second round before falling to the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The tournament featured an experimental 30-second shot clock, leading to a high volume of shots.

The playoff experience, however, will prove invaluable to the Big Green in the future. While the team will sorely miss both Maldunas and John Golden ’15, five juniors are currently on the roster playing significant minutes and show promise for the team to carry on its success next year.

Several games from the team’s season this year, Golden said, made for a memorable experience playing for the College.

“Coming back and beating Yale [University] at home, that was great. Senior night to cap off a five-game win streak and finish at 0.500, that was great,” he said. “But even that whole end of the season stretch from coming back against Brown [University] to coming back against Yale was great. I thought we were a lot better than our record was, and at the end of the year we showed that a little bit.”

In addition to the upperclassmen who are currently getting significant playing time on the roster, several underclassmen have made key contributions, including Ivy League Rookie of the Year Wright. The critical need will be to replenish the depth in the post to step up in Maldunas’s place.

“[Wright] was Rookie of the Year, so that’s an easy thing to say. He’s a really good player,” he said. “The sophomores and freshmen, we played a lot of people down the stretch end of this year, so I think they got a lot of experience and should be able to build off of this year into next year.”

The improvement of the men’s basketball team can be seen not only in its record, but also in its overall team cohesion. The team improved its overall record and brought its Ivy League record from 5-9 last year to 7-7 this year.

The team aspect of the game, however, has really driven the men’s team forward. Previous squads have either found immense struggles on offense — no player averaged double-digit scoring from 2009-2011 before both Maldunas and Mitola did it in 2012 — or focused too heavily on one player — Alex Barnett ’09 averaged 19.4 points-per-game with no other player in the double digits.

Cormier, who took over in 2010 after spending most of 12 years working in the NBA, is seeing his long rebuilding process pay off, recapturing some of the success he had during his first tenure at the College from 1984-1991. Two of those squads finished 10-4 in Ivy League play and just shy of the title both times.

“Just the improvement of every year was a big highlight for me and the whole team,” Maldunas said. “All the improvement was a big highlight of my career, and to see the program get back on track was a great feeling.”