By Paul Gotham
BUFFALO, NY – A gash to the head can’t stop Billy Baron. His number 12 uniform? It is not a cape which he dons in a phone booth to give him super-human powers.
This much was learned Wednesday night.
Billy Baron led three in double figures, and Chris Manhertz notched a double-double as the Canisius Golden Griffins (13-7/7-2) downed their long-time rival the Niagara Purple Eagles (5-15/2-7), 87-74 in Big 4 action at a soldout Koessler Athletic Center, Wednesday night.
Despite taking six stitches to the head, Baron eclipsed the 30-point mark for the fourth time this season on 10-of-17 shooting from the floor including 4-of-8 behind the arc.
The senior point guard tallied seven as the Golden Griffins jumped to an early double-digit advantage.
Baron used a screen off the ball to free himself for a 3-pointer from the top of the key for his first points of the night. He followed with a pull-up jumper from the baseline on the next possession. His floater in the lane gave Canisius a 17-9 advantage, and Josiah Heath, off the bench, connected from just inside the free throw line on the next trip for a 10-point Canisius lead with 12:59 left in the first half.
“It’s just great to get this win,” Billy Baron said. “We were just attacking them one-on-one and being very aggressive.”
Heath’s bucket was the first of ten straight for the Canisius bench as he combined with frontcourt mate Phil Valenti to give Canisius a 27-13 lead. The Griffs led by as much as 19 before the break holding the Niagara offense to 2-of-8 behind the three-point arc.
“I thought we did a good job of defending in the first half as well as rebounding,” Canisius head coach Jim Baron commented. “We got to put that together. We got to have two halves like that. We got to play smart.”
As has been their way this season, the Griffs allowed Niagara back in the game.
Antoine Mason, the nation’s leading scorer, tallied eight as the Purple Eagles crept within eight midway through the second half.
The 6-3 guard nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing. Then he delivered a thunderous dunk after Marvin Jordan led him into the open floor. Following a Ramone Snowden rebound and putback, Mason dropped a deep three, and NU trailed 68-60.
Chris Perez responded for the Blue and Gold.
The senior guard used a spin move along the baseline to get to the rim for a bucket. On the next possession, he scored on a turnaround jumper in the lane.
“He’s an uncanny type of player with a big body,” Jim Baron said of Perez. “He’s very strong attacking the bucket…He’s a smart player and a strong player.”
Billy Baron added to the run with a pull-up trey in transition forcing a Niagara timeout.
The timeout couldn’t slow the Griffs.
Zach Lewis finished in the lane, and Manhertz converted a pair from the free throw line for a 79-62 Canisius advantage.
Niagara refused to surrender. In a game pitting two of the nation’s leading scorers, it was Mason and Baron who continually led the charge for their clubs. The two combined to go 21-of-36 on the night hitting 8-of-15 behind the arc.
Mason fed Marvin Jordan for a catch-and-shoot three. After a rebound and outlet at the other end, the Niagara guards combined on an advantage situation which Mason capped with a layup. Niagara trailed 80-70 with 2:48 remaining.
“We fought extremely hard throughout the entire game,” Niagara coach Chris Casey stated. “I was proud of our fight in the game.”
Despite holding a distinct advantage with their current, it was Canisius who ultimately played like they had something to prove. With the taste of defeat in their mouth from their most recent game and the thought of letting a late lead slip away like last year when Niagara won at the KAC, the Griffs weren’t about to fall.
“We knew we had to pay them back for the whole thing that happened last year,” senior center Jordan Heath said. “We kinda had a chip on our shoulder going into this game.”
Canisius put together back-to-back victories over Niagara for the first time since the 2001 season. The Purple Eagles lead the all-time series 96-77. Niagara is 4-2 in the last six meetings between the rivals.
Canisius let double-digit leads slip away in their most recent outings. Last Friday, the Griffs led Iona by 20 and needed to rally late for a road win. The denizens of Main Street in Buffalo had a 14-point edge on Monmouth before losing to a buzzer-beater on Sunday.
“We locked in and paid attention to the task at hand,” Manhertz said.
“It’s kind of been like the same story every game,” Perez noted. “In one of the timeouts I mentioned to the guys ‘we’ve been doing the same thing every second half.’ It happened to us at Iona. We were up 20 at one point, and they came back and were up six. If we want to become a championship team, we have to play a lot better in the second half.”
Baron came in averaging 23.1 a game, and Mason scores 27.6. The two bumped heads early in the second half when Mason went off the dribble, and Baron looked to step in and help.
Baron went to locker room bleeding from his forehead. He returned three minutes later after getting six stitches in head. He also replaced his blood-stained uniform. He tallied 13 points after his return.
Baron led all scorers with 31. It was his seventh game in a Canisius uniform topping the 30-point mark. Baron has 1,054 points in his Canisius career consisting of 53 games.
Mason scored 29.
Manhertz added 14 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and the senior also took two charges in the game. It was the 11th double-double of his career.
Perez scored 19. The Griffs are 8-3 when Perez scores in double figures.
Jordan chipped in 19 for the Purple Eagles, and Rayvon Harris had 10.
Marcus Ware grabbed 10 boards for Niagara.
As a team, Canisius shot 28-of-56 from the floor and 26-of-29 from the free throw line.
Niagara was 7-of-16 from the charity stripe.
With the win, Canisius moves a half game in front of Iona and Manhattan for first place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Canisius hosts Marist (6-12/3-5) on Sunday. A 2 p.m. tip time is scheduled at the KAC.
Niagara hosts Marist Friday night. A 7 p.m. tipoff is slated at the Gallagher Center.