Canisius erased a 15 point second half deficit to edge Manhattan 77-76 Friday night at Draddy Gymnasium in Riverdale, NY.
Redshirt junior Jermaine Crumpton posted a career high 26 points, single-handedly keeping the Griffs in contention through stretches of the evening. However, the road home was driven by his teammates, as Crumpton’s final points came with just under 10 minutes remaining in the game and the Griffs down by four.
“I’ve been playing against Manhattan for a while now, so I’ve had an opportunity to see the defense multiple times,” Crumpton said following the win. “I was just trying to pick my spots and pick and choose when I can go and make a play for one of my teammates.”
Kassius Robertson was chief among those who stepped up in the final minutes. The Toronto native knocked down a 3-pointer with 4:04 remaining to cap off Canisius’ second-half comeback and knot the game at 67. Less than 90 seconds later, Robertson came through with another 3-point play, this one the old-fashioned way, to cap a 9-0 Canisius run and push the Griffs’ lead to six.
“Me and Kassius, we’ve built a brotherhood,” Crumpton added. “We came in together, redshirted together, so I know Kassius can play at a high level and he knows he can play at a high level. When he does that, we’re a tough team to beat.”
Although he came through with huge baskets down the stretch, Robertson’s most important contribution came on the game’s last possession. Out of a Manhattan timeout with just eight seconds remaining, the Jaspers’ Zavier Turner drove right along the arc, but was cut off by the Golden Griffins’ Phil Valenti.
With Turner stalled, Robertson swooped in from the corner and stripped the ball away, securing it in his arms as the final buzzer sounded.
“Kassius is really working hard defensively to improve his game,” head coach Reggie Witherspoon said of Robertson. “One of the areas that he’s really putting a lot of energy into is his defense, and it’s improving rapidly. As that happens, I think he’s becoming more of a complete player. I think we’re seeing Kassius evolve.”
The win marks the first MAAC victory in the coaching tenure of Witherspoon at Canisius. The Buffalo native took over the Golden Griffins late in the offseason following the retirement of previous head coach Jim Baron.
One of the issues Witherspoon had to overcome entering his new position was assessing his roster and defining roles within his system. Although he inherited a veteran core including Valenti, Crumpton and Robertson, specific rotations continue to vary.
In the same vein, production from the bench must improve if the Griffins are to continue to enjoy success this season. 73 of Canisius’ 77 points came from the starting lineup, and depth may prove to be an issue over the course of a 20-game conference slate.
“We’re going to need more from them,” Witherspoon said of his reserves. “Before we get into the talk about points, it’s the effort. It’s them being able to depend on themselves to be in the right places and communicate. When those things happen, they can relax enough to score some more.”
Turner led Manhattan with 19 points on the evening while Calvin Crawford added 12 and Zavier Peart rounded out the Jaspers’ scoring with 10.
Robertson supported Crumpton’s career effort with 20 points of his own, his second consecutive 20-point game. Senior Kiefer Douse added 10.
Manhattan gets a chance to rebound Sunday afternoon when they travel to Jersey City to take on Saint Peter’s while Canisius travels down the Jersey shore to face off against Monmouth. Both games are scheduled to tip at 2 p.m.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.