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Keys to a men's basketball first round win

Canisius will play a first-round game against Fairfield on Tuesday night. (Aidan Joly/The Griffin)

After 31 regular season games, the postseason is here for Canisius men’s basketball.

It heads into the MAAC Tournament as the No. 10 seed after finishing the regular season 7-13 in MAAC play and 11-20 overall, kicking off its postseason run on Tuesday night at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall with a first-round game against seventh-seeded Fairfield.

The Griffs and the Stags faced each other twice in the regular season, the Stags sweeping the series with a 74-68 win at the Koessler Athletic Center on December 3, followed by an 80-76 overtime triumph in Bridgeport, Conn. on February 14.

Canisius comes into this game on a three-game winning streak, matching its longest such of the season after beating Siena at home last Saturday, 67-64. The Griffs have not lost since February 25.

Here are five keys for a Griffs’ first-round win.

1. Force turnovers

The hustle plays will be key here. The Griffs rank first in the MAAC in turnover margin and second in assist-to-turnover ratio, while the Stags are last in the league in average number of steals per contest. The idea here will be to make Fairfield feel uncomfortable with the ball and for the Griffs to be active on defense. If the Griffs can win the turnover battle, it will give them momentum all night long and will only be a benefit.

2. Keep it close

Five is the magic number. The Griffs are 6-4 in games this season decided by five points or less, including two of the three wins in the current winning streak. They have shown the ability to make clutch shots down the stretch of games all year when they need them. Three of those six wins have come by one point. Granted, one of those four losses was to this same Fairfield team after a Stags buzzer-beating layup at the end of regulation to send it to OT, but if the Griffs can keep it close, they will certainly have a chance to make big shots down the stretch.

3. Limit Jesus Cruz

Stags guard Jesus Cruz only averaged 8.7 points per game as a whole this year, but had 16 points in the first Canisius-Fairfield game and a career-high 25 points in game two. The Griffs must guard him well and not let him get hot, especially early in the game where he can carry them the rest of the way.

4. Keep Supreme Cook away from the paint

Stags forward Supreme Cook is second in the MAAC in rebounds this season, averaging 8.3 per contest. He had eight rebounds in each of the two regular season matchups. He’s also the second-leading scorer at 10.3 points per game, the majority of those points coming in the paint. He shoots 52.7% from the field, but the one benefit for the Griffs here is that he only plays just under 24 minutes per game. When he’s in the game, the Griffs will need to not let him grab rebounds, especially on the offensive side of the ball. When he’s out of the game, second-chance points will be necessary.

5. Get someone hot early

A theme to this year’s Griffs team has been the depth. It can be anyone’s night. It will need to get someone hot early in the game and there are plenty of candidates to do so. It could be Jordan Henderson, who had 16 and 15 points in the previous two matchups. Then again, it could also be someone else. However, the emphasis needs to be put on early in the game and having the lead at the half. The Griffs are 9-3 this year when leading after 20 minutes. If they can have the lead at the break, it will be helpful.

Tip-off between the Griffs and Stags is set for approximately 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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