Courtesy of GoGriffs.com
Canisius senior Jonathan Sanks connected on a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 7.9 seconds left to play and capped a furious comeback as the Golden Griffins overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to earn an 81-80 win over Rider Friday night at Alumni Gymnasium in Lawrenceville, N.J. The win improves the Blue and Gold to 10-13 overall and 7-4 in MAAC play, while Rider fell to 12-11 overall and 7-4 in league action with its third-straight loss.
With Rider leading 80-78 with 20 seconds left to play, the Broncs had a chance to put a strangle-hold on the game, as redshirt-sophomore Dimencio Vaughn stepped to the free-throw line to shoot a pair of charity tosses. However, Vaughn missed both and Canisius sophomore Scott Hitchon grabbed the rebound. Canisius came up the floor, where junior Malik Johnson found Sanks open at the top of the key for a 3-point shot. Sanks’ shot banged off the backboard and down through the bucket with 7.9 seconds left. The game-winning field goal gave Sanks a career-high 17 points on the night, and the assist by Johnson was his game-high eighth of the contest.
“Coming into tonight, we talked about how we were going to need a collective effort, we were going to have to play with poise, and when things didn’t go our way, we needed to take a “next-play” mentality,” Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “That was for the players and the coaches, because Rider is the kind of team, with the style that they play, where you can go from being up 10 to down 18 real fast. I thought the guys did a great job really focusing on that tonight and really locking in on being ready for the next play, no matter what happened before.”
After a Canisius called its final timeout, Rider needed to go the length of the floor with 7.9 seconds remaining, but the Broncs turned the ball over, and Canisius was able to run the clock out to secure the win, the team’s seventh road win of the season, which is the most in the conference.
“The play we ran late to get Sanks the ball is something that we haven’t really worked on in practice,” Witherspoon noted. “We drew it up in the huddle when we were going back on defense. Then they got the shot and the offensive rebound that led to their two late free-throws. There was a lot of things that happened between that that timeout and when we actually came back down on offense. That’s a credit to the guys for being focused and being mentally locked in at a crucial late-game situation.”
Rider led Canisius 69-58 with 8:39 left to play before the Blue and Gold mounted their comeback effort. A 7-0 run by the Griffs over the span of 2:06 got Canisius within four points at 69-65 with 6:15 left to play in regulation time. In that run, sophomore Takal Molson scored four points and Hitchon, who scored all 15 of his points in the second half, drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key. The contest remained a two-possession game down the stretch before Vaughn made a pair of free-throws for Rider with 3:16 to give the home team a seven-point advantage at 77-70.
Four points by Molson and a pair of free-throw makes by Hitchon helped Canisius cut Rider’s lead to two at 78-76 with 1:27 showing on the clock, but Rider added to its lead moments later with a pair of free-throws to make the score 80-76 with 1:19 to play. On Canisius’ next trip down the floor, Johnson hit a jumper from just inside the top of the key to put Canisius down two at 80-78 with 1:01 remaining. Out of a Canisius timeout, Rider was able to get a shot and grab an offensive rebound, forcing the Blue and Gold to foul the Broncs with 20 seconds left in an effort to extend the game. However, Rider ended up missing both of those charity tosses, allowing Canisius to go to the other end of the floor and win the contest.
Sanks was one of four Canisius players to score in double-figures with his career-high 17 points. Molson added 17 points and eight rebounds, while Hitchon pulled down four boards and dished out two assists to go along with his 15-point performance. Johnson added 13 points, four rebounds and three steals to his eight assists on the night, as the Griffs shot 50.0 percent from the field, made 10 3-point field goals and connected on 88.2 percent (15-for-17) of their attempts at the free-throw line for the game.
“In college basketball, you know that you only have three timeouts in the second half, so you essentially have to work your way backwards,” Witherspoon explained. “Some people might look at us calling our last timeout after we took the lead [with 7.9 seconds left] and ask why do that. But Rider is so good in transition, we wanted to make sure we were matched up in a five-on-five situation. After we took the lead, I thought our guys did a terrific job executing what we talked about and we forced them to turn the ball over.”
For Rider, Stevie Jordan scored a season-high 22 points in the loss, while teammate Frederick Scott chipped in 14 points. Vaughn was good for 13 points and Tyere Marshall posted 10 points and five rebounds for the Broncs, who shot 52.6 percent from the field, but made just three 3-point field goals and finished the night by hitting on 17-of-29 chances from the free-throw line.
This was the 50th all-time meeting between the two programs, with Rider leading the series 34-16. Friday marks just the fifth Canisius win in 23 tries in Rider’s Alumni Gymnasium. Canisius’s win in Rider’s Alumni Gymnasium snapped the Broncs’ 17-game home win streak. The last MAAC team to defeat Rider in its home building – Canisius in 2016-17.
Five of Canisius’ seven road wins this year have been in league play, and all five victories have come by five-points or less. Johnson has now recorded seven or more assists in four-straight games, and he’s scored in double-figures in four-straight contests as well. Sanks is averaging 10.3 points per game since joining the starting line-up, and his five 3-point field goals Friday are a new career-high. Molson is averaging 6.0 rebounds per game in the team’s last five contests. Junior Dantai St. Louis came off the bench and scored eight points to go with three rebounds.
Canisius will close out its road trip in New Jersey on Sunday, when the Griffs travel to play at Saint Peter’s. Game time in Jersey City, N.J., is set for 1 p.m That contest will be broadcast live on MAAC.tv, with the radio call available on WECK-Radio Buffalo, GoGriffs.com and the TuneIn app.