By Paul Gotham
BUFFALO, NY – Billy Baron led five in double figures including six clutch points late in the game as the Canisius Golden Griffins avenged an earlier loss with a second-half rally to topple the Iona Gaels, 77-74 in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference action Saturday night at the Koessler Athletic Center.
Baron scored eight of the Golden Griffins’ last 12 points. His three free throws with 58 seconds remaining gave the Griffs a lead it never surrendered.
“Billy stepped up and made some big plays and some big shots,” said Canisius head coach Jim Baron. “This was a great team victory for us especially they’ve been hot.”
Billy Baron’s drive from outside the three-point arc and layup cut into a five-point Iona lead with 4:56 to go. The junior guard followed with a pull-up three in transition to tie the game at 70 and bring on a timeout from the Iona bench.
“I want to congratulate Canisius on a good win,” said Iona head coach Tim Cluess. “They’re a very good basketball team. They made the plays at the end, and we didn’t.”
The trey in transition set up the eventual game-winning free throws. Baron pulled up 28 feet from the basket when Iona’s Lamont “Momo” Jones stepped out to put a hand in Baron’s face. Baron drew contact for the three charity tosses.
“He has the uncanny ability to do that,” the elder Baron explained. “He’s a fierce competitor. He has a lot of confidence, so I wasn’t at all surprised.”
Baron scored 16 of his game-high 23 points in the second half going four-of-eight from the floor including three-of-four behind the arc and five-of-five at the free throw line.
“That’s how we’re going to win the MAAC championship,” Billy Baron said. “That’s how we’re going to get to the (NCAA) tournament, making stops like that. Good teams win close games.”
With the Canisius offense converting the Golden Griffin stymied the potent Iona attack. Baron forced Jones into a turnover with 35 seconds to go. After Jordan Heath hit one of two from the charity stripe, the Gaels had one more chance to tie or take the lead. DaShawn Gomez looked to get into the paint, but Chris Manhertz supplied the defense as Gomez dribbled the ball out-of-bounds.
“Coach just stressed to us in the timeout prior to that play to keep our man in front and have good help side,” Manhertz explained. “Thankfully, I contained him, and he knocked it off his feet.”
Iona defeated Canisius 97-87 on January 13th. Sean Armand scored 32 on nine-of-15 shooting behind the arc in the Gaels’ triumph. Saturday, with Harold Washington shadowing Armand for much of the contest, the junior guard managed just nine points on three-of-seven shooting from long range.
“Harold did a great job on him really limiting his shots,” Billy Baron said of his teammate. “He killed us in the first game, but that’s how we’ve changed as a team. We have character. We’ve really worked on it in practice, and we’re really coming together. We gave them 97 points, and you’re not going to win a game if you let up 97 points. He had a great day. We also let him have a great day. We came together, and that just shows how we’ve made improvements.”
Taaj Ridley paced the Gaels on a 16-5 run to close the first half. Ridley started the spurt with a basket at the rim, and Iona trailed 33-26. The senior forward connected on four straight free throws before grabbing a loose ball under the bucket and finishing.
The 6-7 Ridley fed Tre Bowman for a deuce. Then Bowman went airborne to corral a rebound and finish with a putback.
David Laury III found Ridley on the break for two before Laury III closed the half with a drive and bucket.
Iona led 40-38.
Washington sparked a barrage of threes to help the home squad grab an early double-digit advantage.
Billy Baron started the deluge with a pull-up trey from the top of the key. Washington secured a loose ball after his layup attempt was blocked and fed Jordan Heath for a catch-and-shoot trifecta. Alshwan Hymes connected from the left corner. Baron found Washington for his first of two in a row. Hymes found Washington on the next possession for an open three. Hymes stretched the lead to 10 with a three-ball on the next trip.
“Alshwan Hymes played a terrific game coming off the bench,” Jim Baron said. “We really needed him to step up. He was the first guy I congratulated coming into the locker room.”
Canisius led 36-26.
The first half saw seven lead changes and five ties.
Laury III gave Iona its largest lead of the first half at 21-18 with a rebound and putback.
Curtis Dennis converted a traditional three-point play with a rebound, putback and free throw giving Iona its largest of the game, 45-38 with 18:11 to go.
Billy Baron’s catch-and-shoot three gave Canisius its first lead of the second half 13:06 to go. Washington drove baseline and kicked the ball to an open Isaac Sosa at the top of the key. Sosa quickly moved the ball to Baron at foul line extended on the left wing for the 55-53 Golden Griffin edge.
Washington added 13 points on four-of-eight shooting from long range. Manhertz and Sosa chipped in 12 apiece. Jordan Heath scored 10 points.
Manhertz paced the Griffs with eight rebounds.
Billy Baron had a game-high six assists. The Griffs dished out 13 helpers on 22 field goals while committing just nine turnovers.
Ridley paced the Gaels with 18.
Laury III notched a double-double with 11 points and 16 boards. The 6-8 forward also handed out five dimes.
Jones added 13, and Dennis had 11.
Iona outrebounded Canisius 49-35 accounting for 21 second chance points. Iona outscored Canisius 40-10 in the paint.
The Griffs went 19-of-27 from the free throw line while Iona hit just nine-of-14 charity tosses.
The Canisius win coupled with Loyola’s victory over first-place Niagara creates a three-way tie for second in the MAAC between the Gaels, Greyhounds and Griffs.
Iona hosts Marist and Rider next weekend.
Canisius goes on the road to play at Manhattan Thursday before a rematch with first-place next Sunday at Niagara.