By Matt Parrino email@example.com
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — With 10 minutes to play Wednesday night in its final “Big 4” battle of the season, the University at Buffalo basketball team had a 10-point lead over rival Canisius and what seemed like complete control of the game.
Then the Bulls’ shooters went cold.
UB missed its final seven 3-point attempts after starting 6-for-10 from long range, and Canisius closed out the game on a 26-4 run to beat the Bulls, 69-55, in front of 4,703 at First Niagara Center.
“I thought we played pretty well for about 30 minutes of the game and throughout large stretches we had pretty good control of the game,” said UB coach Bobby Hurley. “Then it slipped away from us. We stopped playing defense the way we needed to, and give Canisius credit for having players step up for them.”
The Bulls dominated the game in the first half, holding the Golden Griffins to 33 percent shooting from the field. Canisius had 10 offensive rebounds in the opening 20 minutes and scored 15 second chance points, but trailed 35-26 at halftime.
UB continued to put the pressure on Canisius in the second half and held a 49-40 lead with just over 12 minutes to go. Little by little Canisius chipped away at the lead as the Bulls kept missing from beyond the arc.
Phil Valenti fueled the Canisius comeback with his toughness on the glass and in the paint. Griffs point guard Billy Baron called Valenti the x-factor in the game, as the redshirt freshman scored nine of his career-high 11 points in the second half.
“Valenti — his offensive rebounding,” said Canisius coach Jim Baron. “He’s a high energy guy and I love the way he plays. I love his intensity. He’s just a live body and he keeps fighting. Even when he had blood coming out of his face (when he was fouled in the final minutes) he said, ‘stitch me up, I want to finish this game.’”
Bulls standout Javon McCrea finished with 13 points and six rebounds, but was silenced in the second half because of Canisius’ zone defense. Baron said that going into the game the game plan was to frustrate McCrea and make things difficult for him on the offensive end.
Baron liked the way his team fought back after a slow start.
“Guys shots weren’t falling, we gave up easy layups and turned it over a couple times, but it’s about handling adversity,” Baron said. “I told our guys we had a lot of fight. They put their heads down and they played to win the game.”
Billy Baron scored a game-high 23 points to lead the way for Canisius, while senior Chris Perez chipped in with 16.