By Paul Casey Gotham
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Tom Parrotta and the Canisius Golden Griffins know all too well the discomforts that come with the quest for self-awareness.
In the past twelve days, Parrotta and his Golden Griffins have had the chance to learn how they measure up with the top of the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference. After three close losses the Griffs know what is within their reach.
Derek Needham scored a game-high 19 points, and the Fairfield Stags won the war on the boards defeating the Griffs 67-60 in MAAC action Friday night at the Koessler Athletic Center.
Chris Manhertz gave the Griffs a 47-44 edge with 11:37 remaining. The freshman took a pass from Alshwan Hymes and muscled through Fairfield’s Ryan Olander and Keith Matthews. After trailing for much of the first half, the Griffs looked poised to knock off the first-place Stags. The Blue and Gold had sustained an early surge, and Hymes exposed the Fairfield defense with his drive into the paint and dish to Manhertz.
The Stags responded with a 12-0 run over the next nine minutes.
“We got good shots around the basket. Just couldn’t get one to fall,” Parrotta commented. “I thought our defense was good at the other end. They didn’t score either. I think their first point in that stretch was a free throw. The one stat that we talked about over and over again is the rebounding. We gave up 18 offensive rebounds and got out-rebounded on the whole by 15, and you lose to the first-place team by seven.”
Fairfield used the advantage on the boards to score seven second-chance points in the first half to none for the Griffs. Canisius responded after the break with a 15-4 edge in second opportunities. But the Stags’ tenacity on the offensive glass resulted in a 15-11 difference at the free throw line.
“You can’t give a team 18 offensive rebounds. It’s totally unacceptable.”
Despite the drought, the Griffs made a late charge.
Tomas Vazaquez-Simmons rebounded his own miss for two of his nine points and Canisius trailed 56-49.
Needham stretched the lead with his fourth three of the night. Vazquez-Simmons grabbed another offensive rebound and was fouled in the process hitting his two from the charity stripe.
Trailing late, the Griffs were forced to foul, and the teams exchanged points for the next forty seconds.
Needham knocked down a pair from the charity stripe. Hymes responded with a lay up. Olander hit two from the line. Gaby Belardo broke free and tipped in a Hymes miss from behind the arc.
Then came a pair of misses by Needham. Vazquez-Simmons corralled the board. Belardo got in the lane, but his shot rimmed out. Again, Vazquez-Simmons was there for the rebound. This time he kicked it to Robert Goldsberry for the open three and Canisius trailed 63-58.
Full court pressure resulted in a turnover, and Canisius had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but the Fairfield defense was equal to the task.
“This has been the toughest opponent in the league that we’ve played,” Fairfield coach, Ed Cooley commented. “They’ve had some very close games in our league and just haven’t been fortunate to get over the hump in some of them,” Cooley noted of the Griffs’s recent loss at the buzzer to second-place Rider and the four-point defeat at reigning conference champ, Siena. “This is a dangerous team, this Canisius team. Very-well coached. Physical as all giddy out.”
Needham staked the Stags to an early lead. The Bob Cousy Award list candidate nailed a trio of threes in the game’s first six minutes as Fairfeld jumped to an 11-to-5 lead.
Belardo paced the Griffs with 15, and Greg Logins added 12.
Fairfield’s Yorel Hawkins grabbed a game-high 10 boards to go with 11 points. Olander finished with 15 points and nine rebounds. Lyndon Jordan added 10 for the Stags.
Vazquez-Simmons led the Griffs with seven rebounds. Elton Frazier blocked three shots. Vazquez-Simmons had two rejections.
Canisius hosts Iona on Sunday. The Gaels come into the game tied with Fairfield atop the MAAC. Iona defeated the Griffs 94-85 in the conference opener for both teams.