Ahamadou Fofana pocketed the game-winning three with 1.1 seconds left to give the Griffs a 65-64 win over UB on Saturday. (Canisius Athletics/GoGriffs)
By Griffin Della Penna, Sports Reporter
“The team trusted in me with the ball in my hand,” said senior guard Ahamadou Fofana. “I got a good look, and I made the shot,” when referring to the contested game winning three-pointer with one second remaining in regulation. Sounds easy enough, right?
The Canisius Golden Griffins men’s basketball team squared off in a Big 4 matchup against the University at Buffalo Bulls for the final game of a tripleheader at KeyBank Center on Saturday. Canisius came into the day with a 2-9 record, desperately looking to snap their five-game losing streak while in the process shocking their
crosstown rival who had a 6-3 record. They did that, beating their rivals on Fofana’s late shot to secure a 65-64 win.
Heading into the game Canisius knew that it was going to be an uphill battle as they would be without leading scorer Malek Green and junior big man Jacco Fritz. With only eight players in the rotation, head coach Reggie Witherspoon looked to fifth-year player Scott Hitchon and freshman Xzavier Long to fill the void and play big minutes.
Long and Hitchon did just that as they sparked the Griffs defensively from the opening tip, making players like Buffalo’s Jeenathan Williams and Josh Mballa uncomfortable in the early going.
Buffalo would have their largest lead after a Maceo Jack free throw to go up 17-14. With 8:11 remaining in the first half, Canisius rattled off a 7-0 run in less than 90 seconds to secure a 26-19 lead on a Fofana tough layup. Fofana and fellow upperclassmen Armon Harried combined for 18 of Canisius’ first 26 points in what would be their most complete half of the season so far.
Heading into the halftime break, Canisius maintained a 37-25 lead where they shot 15-33 (45.5%) from the field while holding the Bulls to 11-36 (30.6%) shooting and 2-12 (16.7%) from beyond the arc.
It was a tale of two halves for both teams as UB started to regain more confidence and slowly started to chip away at the Griffs lead. With Mballa in foul trouble after a technical for getting into a verbal altercation with Scott Hitchon and Williams having an off shooting night, the Bulls looked to players like forward Tra’Von Fagan and guard Ronaldo Segu.
Fagan was pivotal in Buffalo’s 11-2 run, accounting for seven points and four rebounds along with Williams connecting on five free throws. In what was a 47-35 Canisius lead turned into a one point game with under 12 minutes remaining.
Canisius’ Armon Harried, who scored a game-high 20 points said to the team during a timeout that they had to “weather the storm and battle back to regain momentum.”
“We sometimes feel looked at as the lower-tier Buffalo D1 school and that we didn’t really have a chance in this game,” Harried said.
The Griffs did indeed weather the storm as both teams exchanged six leads in the final ten minutes of play. Buffalo gained a four point cushion with 50 seconds remaining on a bucket by David Skogman that looked to seal the comeback for the Bulls.
With time winding down Xzavier Long, who played all 40 minutes, grabbed the offensive rebound and made the second chance layup to make it a two point game with 13 seconds left.
“I was really happy with our effort as a whole tonight, but one guy that stood out was Xzavier,” said head coach Reggie Witherspoon. “He’s a guy that has been playing with knee tendonitis and is used to only playing 6-8 minute stretches at a time. There were two different points throughout the game that he looked at me to get subbed out, but I ignored him because we didn’t have anybody to fill his role.”
On the ensuing inbound, Buffalo got trapped in the corner and had to call a timeout. Jeenathan Williams was called for an offensive foul on Harried off the ball with 4.3 seconds on the clock to give Canisius a chance to tie the game.
Harried’s pass went right to Fofana where the ECC transfer took two dribbles and let the go-ahead three fly from the top of the key. Fofana sent the crowd of nearly 4,000 into a frenzy as Canisius regained the lead for the final time.
UB’s attempt down the court was swatted away, leaving the Canisius bench to swarm Fofana for his late game heroics, sending the Griffs home happy with a much-needed win.
“These types of rivalry games you can take teams’ records and throw them right out of the window,” said Bulls head coach Jim Whitesell.
Jeenethan Williams, who came into the day averaging 19.1 points per game finished with 13 points on 3-22 shooting and 1-5 from three. “They played a really hard physical style tonight, and our shots just weren’t falling. That’s basketball.”
Fofana finished with 16 points, four rebounds and three assists including a 3-5 clip from three. Long and Hitchon both finished with 10 points and over seven rebounds.
For Canisius, they grew their all-time series lead over Buffalo to 33-20 and 30-19 in the friendly confines of KeyBank Center. Witherspoon joked postgame that after the final buzzer he joked with athletic director Bill Maher that the team would “now be playing all home games here instead.”
The Blue and Gold now shift their focus to Florida Gulf Coast University, as they host the 9-3 Eagles Wednesday night at the Koessler Athletic Center. Tip-off will be at 7 p.m. and available to watch on ESPN3.