BUFFALO, NY - On his 23rd birthday, Billy Baron treated himself.
Baron and his Canisius Golden Griffins unwrapped a defensive look in the second half that stymied the Buffalo Bulls in all facets of their offense, and led to a half in which the Griffs outscored their Big 4 rival, 43-20, and erased a 11-point deficit to win 69-55 in front of 4,703 at the First Niagara Center Wednesday evening.
Despite shooting just 33 percent in the first half, Canisius upped their second half percentage to nearly 56, and dropped UB’s by nearly 20 percent.
“I thought our defense was terrific in the second half,” said Canisius head coach Jim Baron. ”We had seven steals by being real active with our hands.”
Buffalo was four of seven from three in the first half, but the perimeter defense was much tighter by Canisius in the second half which proved to pay dividends. UB was just 2 of 16 from beyond the arch in the second half, and finished under 30 percent for the game.
“We wanted to be real active,” said Baron of his team’s second half defensive mindset. ”We got long bodies… I love guys that have long arms because it makes it very difficult.”
The Griffs played a lot of 2-3 zone in the second half which forced UB to try and beat them from the perimeter which they could not do. It also made life very difficult for UB’s big man Javon McCrea to receive the ball in the post.
“I think what happened too was we took McCrea a little out of the game; well, a lot out of the game in the second half,” said Baron. ”He didn’t score in the second half against Bonaventure, and we knew that. I think a lot of it was switching defenses and also packing in on the zone and forcing them to have to shoot from the perimeter and I think our guys gravitated to that, and it really helped elevate us.”
Buffalo led 35-26 at the break and seemed to have an answer to every Canisius attempted run throughout the first half. Only once throughout the first half, did the Griffs score more than one basket in a row without Buffalo scoring in between.
Baron screamed to his unit on the floor before the second half, “the first four minutes.” Canisius was able to win the first four minutes, and ultimately the last four minutes as well.
Buffalo led by 10 with 13:04 left before Canisius tied the game at 51 less than six minutes later. After UB regained the lead on a Jarod Oldham layup, Canisius scored 18 of the game’s final 20 points, including the final 12.
“We struggled late in the game,” said Bulls head coach Bobby Hurley. ”We struggled hitting perimeter shots. We made those our last games and tonight, we didn’t connect from deep. Teams are going to continue to zone us if we’re not able to make them pay making perimeter shots.”
Baron scored a game-high 23 points while Chris Perez, who did most of his damage as a 6-3 forward on the block versus Josh Freelove, added 16. Phil Valenti came off the bench for Canisius and netted 11 second-half points and made the effort plays when needed.
“Perez was tough to deal with,” said Hurley. ”He had some real determined drives to the basket and gave them a real physical presence outside and Valenti came in and gave them a spark I thought in how hard he played and really out-hustled us at times to get to the basketball.”
“The coaches told me to keep attacking because we had an advantage,” said Perez. ” We have bigger guards and Coach Baron just told me to keep attacking the ball and that’s what I did.”
Canisius was much more patient on the offensive end in the second half and weren’t forcing as many shots as they had in the first half. Perez scored 10 of his 16 in the second half, and did so without any jump shot outside of a 8-10 foot floater.
“We were more patient,” said Billy Baron. ”We utilized (Perez’s) size, and his strength down low. He did a great job of imposing his will down there. He was extremely patient.”
UB seemed to have their grasp on the game even into the second half, but the defensive pressure, and inability to connect on long shots were ultimately their demise.
“I thought we played well for about 30 minutes of game,” said Hurley. ”Throughout large stretches, were able to secure a pretty good lead in the game and had pretty good control in the game. And then it slipped away from us probably around the ten minute mark. We stopped playing defense the way we needed to.”
McCrea finished with 13 points and six rebounds to lead UB while Freelove and Will Regan finished with 11 and 10 points respectively.
Freshman Shannon Evans and Jarryn Skeete, who had career-days in their win over St. Bonaventure last week, combined to go 2 of 16 from the floor and 0 for 10 from three. They were able to combine for 10 assists and seven rebounds, but not enough scoring to get UB over the top.
Canisius was able to out-rebound the Bulls 37-33 and win nearly every effort statistical category. They outscored UB in the paint 32-24, had 15 points off of turnovers, and scored 19 second-chance points. Canisius also did a great job of securing the ball, committing just six turnovers.
The Griffs have committed just 21 total turnovers in their last three games.
Canisius will travel to St. Francis Brooklyn on Saturday Dec. 14 while UB won’t play again until Saturday Dec. 21 against Manhattan at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn