With one more home game looming later this week against Siena, Quinnipiac used their weekend game against Canisius as an opportunity to honor their 10 senior players and staff.
However, redshirt freshman Kassius Robertson ruined that celebration with a deep jumper in the final minutes to give the Golden Griffins the 65-63 victory and the season sweep over the Bobcats. Here are three thoughts from Canisius’ victory:
Canisius’ win clinches the final bye for the Griffs in next month’s conference tournament. One of the unsolved questions coming into Saturday was who would jump up and claim the fifth seed and final bye to the second day of play come conference tournament time. Quinnipiac had the opportunity to draw even with the Griffs in the standings with a victory, but squandered that opportunity with the loss.
Canisius entered the game 9-8 in MAAC play, leading Quinnipiac by a game and Siena and Saint Peter’s each by a pair. Jim Baron came into the day holding a pair of aces and left with a full house. His Griffs were already in prime position to grab the final bye since they hosted MAAC basement occupants Fairfield and Niagara in the final two games of the season.
“I thought Siena was our biggest win this year, but this might be,” Baron said after the game.
However, those cards won’t even have to come into play since the win locked up all the tiebreakers in the Griffs’ favor. Baron’s squad already earned sweeps over Siena and Saint Peter’s, so all that was left was to take care of business at Quinnipiac.
Speaking of Jim Baron, he’s a top candidate for MAAC Coach of the Year. Sure Tim Cluess has had another tremendous year at Iona, but no one expected a year like this from Canisius. Coming into the season after losing Baron’s son, Billy, and forward Chris Manhertz, the Griffs were picked 10th in the preseason coaches’ poll.
“They picked us 10th and I’m telling you what, these kids have been resilient, Baron said. We’re like the ‘Bad News Bears’. We held our head up, we were focused and we did what we needed to do to beat another very good basketball team on their home court.”
Baron has successfully transitioned his team from a one man show, headlined by his son Billy, to a versatile group capable of attacking from a number of directions. Not only has Baron transformed the makeup of his team, he has guided them to success despite losing two of their top four scorers.
They lost Phil Valenti (10.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg) to a right ankle injury in the Griffs’ win over Quinnipiac earlier in the year. Meanwhile, Jermaine Crumpton accounted for 7.3 ppg before being lost to a broken bone in his right foot earlier this month. In the meantime, those injuries have opened up more opportunities for players like redshirt freshman Kassius Robertson, who knocked down the game winning shot for the Griffs Saturday afternoon.
This loss continues what has been a disappointing year for Quinnipiac. There are two games remaining in the regular season as well as the conference tournament to be played, but the Bobcats did not come into this season expecting to be playing on Thursday night come tournament time.
Typically, Tom Moore’s teams peak in the month of February, winning over 70% of their games during the second month of the year. This season has been a clear departure from the norm. The Bobcats kicked off the month with a double overtime loss at Niagara on Super Bowl Sunday and have now dropped their last three games to fall to 4-3 in the month.
“Seasons are funny, they take different twists and turns,” Moore said. “Just because it’s a balanced schedule, people say ‘well you play everybody twice’ but so much of it is when you play certain teams. Are they injured, are there suspensions, are they playing well, hurt, tired, or whatever. We were on a decent roll and then Iona and Rider come up. For 70 of those 80 minutes I thought we were equal to those teams and really laid it out there but came up 0-2. Today was a big step backwards.”
The issues for Quinnipiac began when JUCO transfer Giovanni McLean was ruled ineligible prior to the start of the season. McLean was expected to be the main 3-point threat for the Bobcats, who have struggled from beyond the arc all season.
There is still time to right the ship, but Moore’s squad will have to take the long way and win an extra game if they hope to win the MAAC’s bid to the NCAA tournament.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.