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Griffs’ tournament run, season ends in loss to Manhattan

Freshman Athina Lexa had 14 points, but the Griffs’ tournament run in Atlantic City, N.J. came to an end in a 61-49 loss to Manhattan on Thursday. Aidan Joly/The Griffin By Adam Gorski

Canisius pulled off the upset of the MAAC Women’s Basketball Championship over Monmouth on Tuesday, but the Griffs couldn’t write another chapter in their Cinderella story.

The 11-seeded Griffs fell to No. 3 Manhattan 61-49, ending their improbable run in the MAAC tournament on Thursday afternoon at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.

“I’m just extremely proud of these young women and their fight,” Griffs head coach Sahar Nusseibeh said. “All season long I think we’ve battled a lot of adversity throughout the year and I think we have one of the most resilient groups you could ask for.”

The first quarter belonged to Canisius freshmen Athina Lexa (9) and Rhay Porter (5), as the duo combined for all 14 Griff points in the stanza. A Porter 3-point play followed by a Lexa 3-pointer cut the Manhattan lead to just one, 15-14, with 2:54 left in the first. Entering the second, the Jaspers held a 19-14 advantage.

The Jaspers (20-10) came into the game with a massive size advantage, and it was on display early as Manhattan grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the opening frame and 20 on the game.

Despite the mismatch, Canisius (6-25) still battled defensively to hold their opponent to 61 points, in contrast with the 80-plus Manhattan scored in the two teams’ regular season matchups.

“Something I told our team was, ‘we might have a size disadvantage, but we don’t have a heart disadvantage,’” Nusseibeh said. “It was a matter of executing the game plan which I thought we did a really strong job of, which allowed us to hold them to 61.”

It appeared that the game was getting away from Canisius in the second quarter, as a 3-pointer from Brazil Harvey-Carr extended the Jasper lead to 30-20 with 2:05 left in the stanza. However, the Griffs did not go away, embarking on an 11-2 run sparked by a 3-point play from Erika Joseph to cut their halftime deficit to just one, 32-31.

Joseph, a senior, led her team with 15 points in her final game as a Griff.

“No matter how many points we were down, I think that our team never gave up,” Joseph said. “We fought the whole entire game, all the way to the last second … I honestly wouldn’t trade my last year for anything, for nothing.”

The game-defining run came in the third quarter, as the Jaspers came out of halftime and embarked on a 16-0 run that put them up 48-31 with 2:36 remaining in the stanza. A Joseph 3-pointer ended the 9:04 Canisius scoreless drought, but the damage had been done.

“I think we started that quarter, it was back-to-back-to-back possessions where we didn’t finish,” Nusseibeh said. “They were able to have second chance opportunities and that kind of stole the wind from our sail a little bit … Not finishing possessions has been our Achilles heel.”

Canisius would make a resilient run to get themselves back into the game with a 10-0 spurt, which Nusseibeh credited to Joseph getting the team right during a timeout. That cut their deficit to seven, 48-41, with 8:47 to play, but that was as close as they would get.

Manhattan’s Dee Dee Davis led all scorers with 18 points, as the junior surpassed 1,000 career points in the fourth quarter.

The freshmen duo of Lexa (14 points) and Porter (seven points, 11 rebounds) chipped in mightily for the Griffs.

With the season coming to a close for Canisius, they lose three players to graduation in Joseph, Ella Vaatanen and Kayla Jackson, but return nine underclassmen and add two transfers in Jane McCauley and Giana Hernandez-Boulden.

Nusseibeh had a goal of laying a foundation for years to come in her first year at the helm, and she had a concrete verdict on how that went this past season

“Foundation laid,” she said. “(Joseph) cemented it, Kayla cemented it, Ella cemented it. Foundation laid, now we build. We’ve got excited freshmen and excited sophomores and an excited junior who are going to give everything they have, postseason and on, so that the run we make next year is longer.”

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