Isaiah Reese turned in a tremendous second half to push Canisius past Manhattan 68-59 Friday night. With the win, the Golden Griffins improved to 6-1 in MAAC play for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
Reese was held scoreless through the first half, but exploded for a career-high six three-pointers and 22 points after intermission. The sophomore also added six assists and a career-high six steals to a stat line that encompasses exactly why he has become one of the league’s premier guards in just his second season.
“He’s really worked on his game, but I think he’s healthy this year,” head coach Reggie Witherspoon said of Reese. Last year he had a wrist injury – didn’t say anything about it, didn’t tell anybody about it, we didn’t talk about it. He did a lot of things last year even with that. I think he’s just getting going, really. The sky is the limit and he’s really in a position where he can just play a lot of skills.”
“When shots go in, you feel good,” Reese added. “I started off slow, but watching them drop and then seeing the reaction from the bench makes you feel good as a person and a player, so I give a lot of credit to my teammates for always being there.”
Manhattan’s high-intensity defense held Canisius in check for most of the first half. The Griffs were held to 31.3% shooting in the frame, but Manhattan was only able to carry a one point lead into halftime. Canisius turned the tables in the second half, shooting 51.9% for the period including an 11-0 run in the opening minutes which gave it the lead for good.
“I thought our guys did a great job of persevering through a rather difficult first half and playing with poise and confidence in the second half,” Witherspoon said.
Witherspoon’s offensive scheme emphasizes sharing the basketball, and under the second-year head coach the Golden Griffins have become one of the best in the nation in that area. Last season, Canisius ranked sixth in the nation with 17.7 assists per game.
Against Manhattan, the Griffs amassed 22 assists on 24 made field goals, raising this season’s average to 16.7 apg. According to Kenpom.com, Canisius has converted an assist on 64.2% of all made field goals this season, good for seventh-best in all of Division I.
“I don’t know what happened on those other two baskets, but we’ll try to do better,” Witherspoon quipped. “We always talk about each other and these guys did a great job of staying in rhythm. It helps us as shooters when the ball has rhythm when we catch it.”
Friday marked the fifth time this season Canisius has compiled at least 20 assists in a single game. Sophomore Malik Johnson accounted for seven of them, but more impressively went without a single turnover against Manhattan’s high-pressure defense.
“He can have an impact on the game without taking a shot,” Witherspoon said of Johnson, who went 0-1 from the field and finished with just two points. “Most people come watch a game and watch his impact, you’d never guess that he only took one shot…We have several guys that can do that, where you can’t just draw up a plan and stop them from scoring and think that you’re having a good night.”
Canisius in essence beat Manhattan at its own game. The Griffs came up with 12 steals while allowing Manhattan just two, and turned it over 10 times to the Jaspers’ 19.
Turnovers have caused trouble for Manhattan all season long. The Jaspers are among the worst teams in the nation in terms of ball security, and have coughed it up at least 18 times in seven different games this season.
“I think it’s lack of focus at times,” Masiello said of the turnover problem. “I always believe turnovers are a lack of urgency. I just think when you’re not urgent, that’s normally when you turn the basketball over. Sometimes we get in the habit of thinking the defense is going to just let us run the play or let us bring the ball up. It’s a combination I think of urgency and discipline.”
Pauly Paulicap led the way for Manhattan with 17 points on 7-8 shooting with six blocked shots. Rich Williams checked in with 12 points, seven rebounds, and four assists.
Freshman Takal Molson bolstered Reese’s electric game with 14 points of his own. The potential league Rookie of the Year is averaging 12.7 ppg and has reached double-figures in six of his last seven games. Jermaine Crumpton added 12 points and six rebounds.
Canisius’ win sets up a monumental meeting Sunday afternoon when the Golden Griffins travel to New Rochelle to take on Iona, which also sits at 6-1 in league play. Witherspoon’s squad got the better of the Gaels 85-78 earlier in the year, but with first place on the line, it promises to be a great event.
“It’s early yet, because there’s some people we haven’t played yet,” Witherspoon said of the team’s progress thus far. “We have a lot of road games left. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re not where we were. We’re making strides and we’re getting better, and we’ve got to keep making strides.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.