By: Adam Gorski
It was a high energy and high-scoring affair in this edition of the Battle of the Bridge, but it resulted in the Griffs falling just short.
Canisius was downed on the road by rival Niagara, 82–78, on Saturday, despite two 20-point outpours from Dani Haskell and Athina Lexa.
Both teams exchanged blows all night, but with 1:13 to play, a Lexa free throw knotted the game at 76 apiece. Down the stretch, the Purple Eagles (14-14, 11-9) hauled in three critical offensive rebounds that gave them second chances, and eventually the points they needed to close out the game.
Canisius (4-24, 2-17) had an opportunity to tie or take the lead with 11 seconds to play, down 80–78, but Haskell lost her dribble, resulting in a jump ball that favored Niagara.
"It was a heartbreaking loss for us tonight,” Griffs head coach Sahar Nusseibeh told GoGriffs.com. “I know how much our team wanted this one. We had a great few days leading up in terms of prep. It comes down to the same issue we've had, which is finishing positions on the defensive end.”
The Griffs narrowly led for the majority of the first half, taking a 42–37 advantage into the locker room at halftime and followed that with a quick start in the third quarter to take their largest lead of the game, 49–39, just under two minutes into the frame off a Shaunae Brown 3-pointer.
The Purple Eagles fought back though, embarking on a 12–0 run over the next four minutes to retake the lead. Both sides continued to exchange blows until the game’s final minute, where Niagara managed to close it out.
“We lost our composure a little bit,” Nusseibeh told GoGriffs.com. “The energy was great. A lot of fun offense, fast paced, kind of what you would want in a game if you're a fan. Again, I wish the outcome was different. It comes down to one more finished possession.”
Lexa finished with 23 points while Haskell tacked on 20, marking the first time the Griffs had two 20-point scorers in a game since 2019.
Sisters Angel and Aaliyah Parker finished with 22 and 21 points, respectively, to lead the Purple Eagles.
With the Griffs’ only regular season game left being senior day, which is slated for 1 p.m. on Saturday against Iona, a quicker-than-normal turnaround will send them to Atlantic City, N.J. on Tuesday for the MAAC conference tournament.
Canisius enters the tournament locked in as the No. 11 seed, and they are slated to play at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday against the No. 6 seed. Who that opponent will be, though, is yet to be decided.
The standings currently reflect a bit of a log jam, with St. Peter’s, Monmouth, Iona and Siena all still in contention to land that No. 6 seed.
If there was one opponent the Griffs would want to see of that bunch, however, it would likely be the Siena Saints.
In the two matchups with Siena this season, Canisius won 81–78 on Jan. 29 and narrowly fell on the road 56–54 on Feb. 24. They are the only foe the Griffs have a positive point differential against.
The Griffs lost by double digits in both of their matchups against Monmouth and St. Peter’s, and fell to Iona 66–55 on Feb. 3.
The Saints have an undersized roster, similar to that of Canisius, which ensures there aren’t many mismatches in the paint or on the boards that could hinder the Griffs. The rebounding battle was tight in both of their matchups, and with both sides averaging almost identical points per game, it very well may come down to who steps up on the defensive end.
Realistically, the Griffs will be an underdog against whatever opponent they faceoff with, and it seems extremely unlikely a title run — even multiple wins — are in the cards.
However, to pull an upset or two and score their first conference tournament win since 2017, a big key will be if they can limit their turnovers and lock in defensively, as they rank last in the MAAC by a large margin in turnover differential at -3.86.
If that happens and they’re efficient enough on the offensive end, particularly from beyond the arc, maybe — just maybe! — Canisius could be the chaotic wrench in the works so often seen in March college basketball.