By Kevin Sweeney
The MAAC western road trip is always a difficult stretch, no matter how well the Buffalo teams are playing at the time. For whatever reason, it is nearly impossible to sweep Niagara and Canisius on the road.
That makes it that much more impressive that Monmouth, preseason favorites in the MAAC, were able to sweep the trip, beating fellow contender Canisius 76-72 in a wild, back-and-forth affair Monday night at Koessler Center.
While the Hawks typically ride the play of their guards, they looked inside tonight, feeding center Chris Brady with regularity. Once Brady got it, he was nearly unstoppable, making his first 11 field goal attempts en route to a 22 point outburst. Brady also contributed 10 rebounds and 3 blocks for the Hawks.
While Monmouth never trailed, it certainly wasn’t easy for the Hawks tonight. Every time it appeared that they were ready to run away with the game, the Golden Griffins responded with a run of their own.
After a Canisius run cut what was once a 9 point first half lead down to just 2, Monmouth went on a huge 14-0 run bridging the two halves to take a 46-32 lead 2 minutes into the second half. The Griffins appeared to be losing their composure as calls repeatedly didn’t go their way, with head coach Reggie Witherspoon flinging his jacket in disgust after one call and Jermaine Crumpton was T’d up after being called for an offensive foul.
The upstart Griffs recovered nicely though, using a 13-2 run to get back within 3 with 13 minutes to play. Backup center Selvedin Planinic gave the Golden Griffins a nice boost during the run, scoring 7 points.
Just as it appeared that Canisius was ready to seize control, the Hawks made a huge run highlighted by a 4-point play by MAAC preseason Player of the Year Justin Robinson to take a 64-49 lead with 8:28 to play. But once again, Canisius refused to quit, roaring back behind the play of senior guard Keifer Douse. He set the tone the defensive end and that translated to the offensive end, draining a pair of threes and scoring on a strong drive with an up-and-under move. Douse led the Griffs with 16 points. A pull-up jumper by Isaiah Reese cut the deficit to 72-70 with 2 minutes to play.
However, down the stretch Robinson and the Hawks made enough plays to pull out the win. Robinson drove the lane fearlessly and finished in traffic to give the Hawks a 5 point lead.
After everything, Canisius still had a chance to tie it the closing seconds, as Phil Valenti got a great look from beyond the arc with 12 seconds left. The shot fell short though, and a free throw by Robinson sealed the deal for the Hawks.
Robinson’s 21 points and 8 assists were huge for the Hawks, who now stand alone at the top of the MAAC with a 6-2 record. Austin Tilghman added 11 points off the bench.
In addition to Douse’s 16 points, the Griffins got strong contributions from Phil Valenti (14 points, 12 rebounds), and Kassius Robertson (13 points). The Griffins fall to 5-3 in MAAC play with the loss.