The final chapter in Reggie Witherspoon’s first year as head coach of the Canisius College Golden Griffins may not yet be written, but their run toward a MAAC title is.
Canisius fell to second-seeded Saint Peter’s in a 61-58 slugfest Friday evening in the conference tournament quarterfinals, but the Golden Griffins could find themselves in the mix of another tournament this March.
“I think we’ll get an invitation to play in the postseason,” Witherspoon said after Friday’s loss. “I think it’ll be good for us. I think it’ll be good for our seniors too, to put the uniform back on. It’ll be good for our younger guys to get some more practices and as many more games as we can possibly get. I just think it’s a good situation when you can keep the group together and keep them moving forward.”
The Griffs finished the regular season 17-14 with a 10-10 record in league play. In the hunt for a first-round bye most of the year, they dropped their final three games of the regular season and finished in a sixth-place tie with Rider.
Canisius picked up a 77-73 win over Marist in Thursday’s opening round before falling to Saint Peter’s. With a 1-1 showing in the MAAC tournament, their overall 18-15 record is on par with their standing when last appearing in a postseason tournament.
Two years ago, the Golden Griffins competed in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. More eloquently known as the CIT, Canisius earned an invitation to that event with a 16-14 (11-9 MAAC) record following the 2014-15 season.
At the time guided by previous head coach Jim Baron, the Griffs won their opening two games of that tournament over Dartmouth and Bowling Green before falling to NJIT in the quarterfinal round. The program has appeared in the CIT on two other occasions, with a combined 4-3 record in all appearances.
Three current Griffs gained experience playing in that CIT. Current fourth-year players Kassius Robertson, Jermaine Crumpton, and Phil Valenti all made an impact off the bench for Baron’s team, but it was Robertson who shone brightest.
A member of the 2017 All-MAAC Second Team with a 16.3 ppg average, Robertson averaged 13.3 ppg during the team’s 2015 CIT run. He scored double figures in all three games, and shot a combined 59% from the field.
That trio – with Valenti a senior and Robertson & Crumpton redshirt juniors – have been the cornerstone of Witherspoon’s first year at the helm in Buffalo and helped ease the transition since the coach’s June introduction to the program.
“They had a tremendous impact,” Witherspoon said of his group of elders. “You walk in a building and they were more familiar with the building than anybody, coaches included. They were more familiar with the opponents and just where we’re going and what we’re doing all the way up to the tournament. I think they had a tremendous impact on the whole season, and we’re grateful for that.”
If the CIT or another tournament like the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) come calling in the next coming weeks, the Griffs will take the call.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.