Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) -- Big 4 Basketball was alive and well at First Niagara Center on Wednesday night as the Canisius Golden Griffins used a feverish second half rally to defeat the University of Buffalo Bulls 69-55, while the Niagara Purple Eagles topped the Davidson Wildcats 83-72.
The Golden Griffins and Bulls combined to shoot 0-10 to start the nightcap, before Josh Freelove sank a three-point bucket to give UB a 4-1 lead three minutes into the half. The Bulls held the lead the entire first half, with just one tie when the score was 6-6 on a Billy Baron three-pointer. Buffalo’s lead reached 9, when the Bulls led Canisius 27-18 midway through the half.
Baron was the only player to score in double figures for the first half. The senior guard scored 10 points, while Freelove led the Bulls with 8 points in 15 minutes. UB went 14-27 from the field in the first, which was good enough for a 51.9 field goal percentage. By contrast, the Griffs shot just 10-30, or 33.3% from the field in the half.
The Griffs took their first lead of the game, 54-53, on a Baron free throw with 5:43 to go in the game. The 26-4 run to end the game was capped by a Baron free throw. The senior led all scorers with 23 points. Chris Perez recorded 16 points, while Phil Valenti chipped in 11 for the Griffs. Javon McCrea led the Bulls with 13 points, while adding 6 rebounds in the loss.
The atmosphere for Game 2 of the doubleheader at FNC was considerably better between Canisius and UB. The pace of the game may have helped energize the crowd, plus obviously having two local teams playing against each other will add to the noise in the building. I spoke with a ticket agent from Canisius who said that they hoped for a large turnout from the school and hoped that they could have an event like this at FNC every season.
I envy those who got to enjoy the then “Little 3” games at The Aud. It would be great to recreate something anywhere close to what those games used to be between the schools. It would also help to have a highly attractive non-conference opponent as a draw. I thought Michigan could have been that team this year, with obvious ties to Canisius with Michigan coach John Beilein coaching at Canisius in his early years, and the incentive for the Wolverines to play in a building that will be a host site for the NCAA’s this year where they possibly could play.
The Purple Eagles shot 44% in the opening twenty minutes, but found themselves trailing Davidson by three points at the break, 34-31. Each team went 6-10 from the free throw line, but a 4-16 performance from behind the three-point line was the difference in the first. Antoine Mason was held to 2 points, despite playing all twenty minutes. The guard came into the game as the nation’s leading point scorer.
There were 14 lead changes in a very up-and-down opening half of play. Niagara outrebounded the Wildcats 23-18 in the first, led by Ramone Snowden’s 5-rebound effort. The forward also added 8 points, including a pair of three-pointers. Marvin Jordan led the Purple Eagles with 9 points in 17 minutes of action.
Jordan picked up right where he left off by hitting the first shot of the second half. The senior knocked down a three-pointer to lead the team to a 7-1 scoring run over the first three minutes of the half. He and Mason helped keep the Purple Eagles in front the entire second half. Niagara’s largest lead ballooned to 12 points after a Tahjere McCall free throw to finish off an and-one attempt.
Mason finished the game leading all scorers with 21 points, while Jordan added 17, to go along with double-digit efforts by McCall (16) and Snowden (12). Niagara shot 52% from the field in the second half, and 48% overall in the game. Tom Droney led Davidson in scoring with 17 points. The guard also grabbed 5 rebounds in a losing effort.
Antoine Mason came into the game against Davidson leading the nation in scoring, at 29.4 points per game. Mason was quiet for the 1st half and then had to be helped by trainers due to back spasms during the early part of the 2nd half.
Mason is never one to come out of a game willingly, but came back from being in and out and working with the trainers to score 19 of his 21 points in the 2nd half. Although his game wasn’t up to his scoring average, Mason’s court presence is clearly a help to a young team, going through a big roster transition from the offseason.
Mason said he knew his teammates would step up for him during the early part of the game when things weren’t going well for him. When asked about playing at First Niagara Center, he said. “It’s cold out there.” The ice remained intact for the game and was just covered with one layer of hard plastic. I can tell anyone that the heat in the FNC is pretty much non-existent, regardless of the event, as they are trying to keep the ice in better condition with better controlled temperatures.