Canisius finished the regular season 21-10 overall with a 15-3 league record and will enter the MAAC tournament as the #2 overall seed. The Golden Griffins will square off against #7 seed Quinnipiac in the quarterfinal round Friday night at 9:30.
The Griffs swept the season series from the Bobcats, first taking an 82-74 decision in Connecticut on Jan. 5 behind 20 points from Isaiah Reese, then winning 71-64 at home on Feb. 10 with Jermaine Crumpton leading the team with 14 points.
Player to Watch: #13 Isaiah Reese, So. G
The reason for Canisius’ success this season is evident from a quick glance at its roster. The Golden Griffins boast one of the most powerful duos in the league in Crumpton and Reese.
A fifth year senior, Crumpton saw classmate Kassius Robertson transfer to Missouri this past offseason, where he has led the Tigers with 16.6 ppg. Crumpton did not have the option to transfer as a graduate, but instead has taken on a leadership role on this young Griffs squad. He led the Griffs in scoring at 16.9 ppg while adding 5.2 rebounds per game, and was named MAAC Co-Player of the Year along with Niagara’s Kahlil Dukes.
“I don’t think that he saw himself necessarily as a leader, but he’s evolved in that category and understands how important that role is to our team,” head coach Reggie Witherspoon said of Crumpton. “That comes with great responsibility and again he’s evolved in that, but he’s been a very important part of that…It’s great that he was able to stay and be a part of something historic.”
Meanwhile, Reese has transformed from a useful freshman into one of the league’s premier guards during his sophomore season. The Miami native was under-recruited coming out of high school, but has been phenomenal this season, sitting just behind Crumpton with 16.8 ppg while leading the squad in both rebounding (5.7 rpg) and assists (4.8 apg) and pacing the league with 2.3 steals per game.
Thanks to their hefty contributions to Canisius’ most successful season in over 20 years, both Crumpton and Reese were named to the All-MAAC First Team earlier this week.
“You’re always happy when guys are receiving that kind of recognition,” Witherspoon said of his honorees. “What makes it really nice is that they’ve received this recognition while winning games. Sometimes it isn’t always that way. Sometimes guys that get recognition are not able to be on winning teams. It’s not easy to do, when you’re in that situation, when you’re in a situation where you have to adhere to the things that cause your team to win. You have to put that first, and they did that and were still able to get that recognition, so I’m happy for them.”
Completing the Golden Griffins’ dangerous trio is freshman Takal Molson, who himself was honored as a unanimous selection to this season’s All-Rookie team before taking home the mantle of MAAC Rookie of the Year. Molson averaged 12.6 ppg with 4.9 rpg and 2.6 apg while connecting on 38.6% of his attempts from behind the arc.
Last season’s team representative on the All-MAAC Rookie Team, Malik Johnson has taken great strides to lock down the point guard position in his sophomore season. Although Reese is capable of handling the ball as well, Johnson is a legitimate pass-first point guard, averaging 4.6 apg along with his 7.6 ppg this season.
The Griffs lead the MAAC in offensive efficiency this season, and have been one of the most active on the defensive front as well. In addition to limiting opponents to a league low 32.8% behind the arc, Canisius leads the league in defensive turnover percentage and ranks among the top two in steal percentage and overall defensive efficiency.
Two shortcomings which could potentially limit Canisius are its Free Throw Rate and two-point defense. The Griffs get to the free throw line less often than any other squad outside of Saint Peter’s, and have allowed a league-worst 53.3% field goal percentage inside the arc.
Overall, Canisius is enjoying one of its most successful seasons in school history, and will hope to keep the ride going a while longer. Due to Rider’s win of the first-place tiebreaker, only the Broncs are assured of an NIT berth should they falter in the MAAC tournament. If the Golden Griffins want to guarantee themselves a spot in postseason play, they must come out on top in Albany.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.