Canisius 86, Fairfield 72: Griffs Might Have Staying Power

Canisius could have been forgiven for being blown out by Iona. They weren’t the first, and surely aren’t the last – even if the Gaels do not quite look like their dominant selves this season – to be buried in a flurry of three-pointers at the Hynes Center.

First-year coach, team picked closer to the bottom of the MAAC than the top. Not that big a deal, right?
But Reggie Witherspoon and the Golden Griffins left New Rochelle Sunday night with a bad taste in their mouths. Despite the coaching change, they’re a largely veteran outfit and despite what the experts or anybody else thinks, feel they’re a contender for the MAAC title.

Tuesday night, they set out to prove it, and – despite digging an early 8-0 hole – were dominant in almost facet in rolling to a 86-72 victory at Webster Bank Arena.

“It’s early, but I think we have to look at ourselves and decide,” Witherspoon said. “Where do we see ourselves first? A lot of times athletes get wrapped up into respect they’re getting from somebody else, but you first have to start with yourself. This is a game that if we don’t play right they’ll blow you it, just like happened at Iona. No one’s going to give you anything. Everyone’s fighting to win. We have to decide what we’re willing to go through to win.”

As was stated Sunday, Canisius (11-6, 4-2) is not a great defensive team, but Witherspoon has worked on improving that, and Fairfield (8-6, 3-2) committed 16 turnovers in the first half as the Griffins assumed control. Sydney Johnson countered with a small lineup that paid dividends in a win against Iona last week, but Witherspoon and his staff were ready for it, and so was junior Jermaine Crumpton.

Crumpton immediately went to work in the paint, and had a career-high 32 points (and 10 rebounds) by the end. Crumpton did not start a game last season as a sophomore, but is now averaging 17.2 points per game, and has created matchup nightmares (although he was just 0-3 from behind the arc Tuesday) by shooting 47% from three-point range.

“This is a tough league, but we knew we didn’t play the way we’re capable against Iona,” Crumpton said. “We came out here an executed offensively and defensively, and it showed.”

It’s back to the drawing board for Fairfield, who just played a self-admittedly terrible first half. Sydney Johnson was so frustrated that he walked past half court to argue a goaltending call in the middle of the second half to pick up a rare technical. But there are several teams in the MAAC this season that are not going to be beaten with a poor effort, a lesson the Stags learned the hard way Tuesday.

“We’re not in the NBA,” Johnson said. “They have back-to-backs and all that. We have to soak this one up and understand it was a tale of two halves. They outplayed us in the first half. I thought we played well in the second, but we’re not going to be as successful as we want to be unless we can play two halves.”

What else did we learn in Bridgeport?:

1) Canisius is probably capable of a little better

Defensively, it was an extremely good effort for the Golden Griffins, especially coming off getting torched by Iona, holding Fairfield to 0.94 ppp. They not only contested plenty of three-pointers, they made it difficult for the likes of Tyler Nelson and Curtis Cobb to finish at the hoop, something that’s been missing at times for them this season (and in past seasons, to be honest).

And Canisius only shot 5-20 from behind the arc (they were at 38.6% coming in), so what might happen if they do start connecting on shots (although they were 25-38 on two-point shots, led by Crumpton’s 11-16)? They don’t have too much depth, but they do have plenty of options, like Phil Valenti, who was 8-10 shooting (7-9 inside the arc) for 20 points.

“I said to my staff coming in that they (Fairfield) play the way we want to play,” Witherspoon said. “I thought defensively we were locked up. We had some issues in transition on Sunday and I think our guys looked at it and saw it’s been an issue for us and we had to fix it.”

2) Off night for Fairfield

As I said before, it was just a miserable all-around first half, with 16 turnovers in 40 possessions. They led to a rattled offense, something that was seen plenty when Fairfield struggled a few years back, but not lately. They did show some fight in the second half and got as close as 8 with 6 minutes left, but it was too big a hole to climb out of.
Sydney Johnson didn’t want to make any excuses, especially with a team that has now been through this a few times.

“We threw the ball all over the place,” Johnson said. “It was very poor execution and I’m very disappointed in that. Jerome (Segura) has struggled with turnovers at times and he only had two tonight. Obviously, we had too many from the rest of the team.”

3) The non-shooting point guards

Neither Malik Johnson (7-24) nor Jerome Segura (7-21) is much of a threat from the outside, which makes in interesting to see how teams guard them. Segura has shown the ability to score when left completely alone by driving and scoring at the rim, while Johnson has found a way to be most effective when he’s not shooting at all. He had only 1 shot attempt Tuesday, which happens to be the same amount he did when Canisius put up 109 points in an overtime upset at St. Bonaventure.

Johnson is just a freshman, so it remains to be seen how MAAC teams will attack him the second time around. However, Witherspoon has shown to be a very good in-game coach so far, and – like his point guard – we’ll see if people have a little better gauge in the second meeting.