Canisius battles back to beat Fairfield

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Canisius used an 8-0 run to open the second half to turn a two-point deficit into a five-point lead, and the Golden Griffins made six free-throws in the game’s final 3:00 to secure a 72-68 home win over Fairfield Friday night in the Koessler Athletic Center. The win, Canisius’ seventh in its last nine games, improved the Blue and Gold to 12-13 overall and 9-4 in MAAC play, while the Stags slipped to 7-19 overall and 4-10 in conference action.

Canisius trailed by nine with 2:52 left in the first half, but used a 12-4 run in the closing 2:37 of the opening period to get within three at halftime, trailing 35-32 at intermission. Out of the halftime break, Canisius scored eight-straight points to take a 40-35 lead over the Stags, with junior Malik Johnson scoring three of those points for the Blue and Gold. Midway through the second half, Fairfield battled back and knotted the game at 51-51 with 10:10 left in the contest, but an 11-2 Canisius run over the game’s next 3:11 put the home team up eight at 62-54 with 5:43 left to play.

“This was a tough night for us,” Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “Thankfully, our guys persevered and did enough good things for us to come out with the win. When you have underclassmen bigs, particularly at this level, you need to keep grinding with them as they get better. Sometimes, you’re going to take some bumps and bruises, but you’ve gotta to push them back into the ring and encourage them to fight, and fortunately those guys had enough fight in them to have some success.”

In that decisive run, which was capped by a dunk from freshman Jordan Henderson, sophomores Scott Hitchon and Jalanni White combined to score nine points for Canisius, with Hitchon banging down a pair of 3-point field goals and White posting a bucket and a made free-throw. A pair of late free-throw makes by Fairfield with 20.3 seconds left cut Canisius’ cushion to two at 70-68, but Johnson iced the game for the Griffs with a pair of makes from the charity stripe with 12.4 seconds left to play. The win gives Canisius a sweep of Fairfield in the regular-season for the first time since the 2014-15 campaign.

Hitchon scored a career-high 21 points in the win for the Griffs after he went 7-for-11 from the field, 5-for-7 from 3-point land and 2-for-2 from the free-throw line. He also added three assists. The five makes for Hitchon stand as a career-high. White also scored a career-high as he posted 16 points to go with a team-high seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Johnson recorded nine points, seven assists and two steals in the win, as Canisius shot 46.3 percent from the floor and hit 10 3-point field goals as a team.

“Scott [Hitchon] has been shooting it really well in practice, and he has a lot of confidence in himself,” Witherspoon added. “I’m pleased with how well he shot it here tonight. But our guys know, there is no 24-hour rule for us. We need to get right back in the gym and start to prepare for Manhattan who comes in here on Sunday.”

For Fairfield, Jesus Cruz scored a team-high 18 points in the loss, while teammate Jonathan Kasibabu scored 16 points to go with five boards and two steals. Neftali Alvarez chipped in 14 points and a team-high four assists in the loss, as the Stags shot 45.6 percent from the field, 31.3 percent from 3-point land and 84.6 percent from the free-throw line. Fairfield also won the rebounding battle, out-rebounding the Griffs by a 36-27 count.

Canisius sophomore Takal Molson and Henderson each had nine points in the win for the Griffs, who matched a season-high with eight blocked shots on the night. Senior Jibreel Faulkner came off the bench and scored eight points and fellow senior Jonathan Sanks matched a career-high with three steals in the victory. On the night, Canisius was credited with 18 assists on 25-made field goals, and the team recorded 10 steals, turning 17 Fairfield turnovers into 19 points en route to the victory.

This was the 86th all-time meeting between Canisius and Fairfield, with the Stags leading the series 47-39. Canisius is 7-3 in its last 10 games against Fairfield, with wins coming in four of the last six meetings, dating back to the 2015-16 season. The four-point win moves Canisius to 9-1 this year in games decided by five-points or less. Those nine wins lead the nation in games decided by five-points or fewer.

Johnson, who moved past former Griffs guard Kevin Downey for fifth on the school’s career assist list, has been credited with seven-or more assists in six-straight games. Hitchon is third Griff this season to make five 3-point field goals in a game. He also set a new career-high with three blocked shots. White now has at least one blocked shot in 12 of the Griffs’ 13 MAAC games to date. Freshman Sam Rautins came off the bench in the first half and played a career-high 12 minutes when the team faced early foul trouble. His two rebounds in the game are the first in his career.

Up Next
Canisius will close out its weekend homestand Sunday when the team plays host to Manhattan in the Koessler Athletic Center. Game time is set for 2 p.m., and the contest will be broadcast live on ESPN+. The radio call will be available on WECK-Radio Buffalo, and the TuneIn app.

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