Friday, January 4, 2013

WNY Odyssey: Canisius Hands Siena A Heartbreaker

The MAAC Western New York Odyssey of five games over four days continues ...

Siena women at Canisius at the Koessler Athletic Center.

Friday morning, 11 a.m. start for a standing-room only "Kids Day" game at which a crowd of 2,196, mostly elementary school-aged kids with loud, shrill voices, make it difficult to think let alone hear.

Afterwards, one player remarked that it was hard to hear their coaches giving assignments during timeouts.

This one ended with a shot for the ages, and one that Canisius' freshman point guard Tiahana Mills will certainly remember for a long time.

With the game tied at 62 after Siena's Kanika Cummings scores on a driving layup with three seconds remaining, Canisius in-bounds to Mills. She takes two dribbles to half court and lets loose with a one-hander from straight on at half court that swished at the buzzer.

The result was pandemonium by Canisius with players running on the court, swarming Mills and all of them falling to the hardwood.

"I was just concerned that someone was going to get hurt," said Canisius coach Terry Zeh, who came off the court pumping his fist and supported that with a smile that one associates with big-jackpot lottery winners.

Afterwards, Zeh was more than happy to joke around about what a win like this one means to a program that, to date, had been struggling a little (the Golden Griffins are now 4-8 overall).

"I'm hard enough to deal with at practice," said Zeh. "And, after a loss ... my players not only have to deal with me, but they're also down after a loss. This makes it a little easier for them to put up with me at the next practices."

This was the second-straight emotional victory for the Griffs, who held off Vermont, 56-55, in their previous game.

Those are the type outcomes that often ignite a team's confidence.

Observations ...

- Siena's resiliency will definitely be tested.

Five days earlier Siena seemed to have a victory over a good Sacred Heat team in hand with a six-point lead and just 1:30 remaining. And, then, the Saints missed four of their final free throws and Sacred Heart made everything, including two game-winning free throws on a foul call with a two seconds remaining. Instead of holding on, Siena lost that one, 61-60.

And, then, this one today. Once again Siena had a late six-point lead (3:30 remaining).

Then, it's top defensive player, Tehresa Coles fouled out. The Griffs' Ashley Durham immediately drove nearly uncontested to the basket, a move she probably can't make if Coles is still on the court.

Canisius outscores Siena 10-2 to grab a 62-60 edge before Siena's Kanika Cummings makes a tough drive to tie it with three seconds remaining to seemingly force it into overtime.

Mills, though, ensured the OT never happened with her half-court game-winner.

For sure, teams would rather lose by 40 points than lose on last-second plays. And, now, Siena has dropped two straight in the closing seconds after holding leads down the stretch in both.

We'll see how Siena bounces back two days from now in a 2 p.m. contest at Niagara.

- Mills said the half-court shot was the first one she has ever made in a game.

"I used to practice them when I was in high school, but I never hit one in a game," she said, afterwards.

- Mills is another nice piece to the Canisius perimeter game. She had 12 points, six rebounds, six assists (just three turnovers) and three steals in 27 minutes against Siena and plays like a player beyond her freshman status.

She entered Friday's game as the MAAC's assist leader with 3.9 per contest.

Her performance at the point has allowed Durham to move over to play more shooting guard, and Durham also delivered against Siena with 16 points (5-of-7 shooting). Between those two, sophomore Kayla Hoohuli and junior off-the-bench player Jen Morabito, Canisius has as good a perimeter foursome, likely, as any other MAAC women's team.

- Siena certainly caused many of its own problems, falling behind 17-3 early as it appears Canisius came out with a little more intensity for the first five minutes. Or, maybe, the Golden Griffins' coffee was a little more potent.

The Saints shot an abysmal 17.9 percent (5-of-28) in the first half, but still only trailed by six at the intermission, based on good defense after that slow start and by pressing the issue inside, drawing fouls and making 9-of-10 from the line in the first half.

But, Siena couldn't keep that up from the foul line(it entered play making 75% of its free throws, 27th best nationally) and missed its last three free throws in the game's final 16 seconds.

- Coles is certainly Siena's most-indispensable player, a contributor at both ends. She leads the MAAC in steals (3.2 entering Friday's game), 33rd-best nationally. Had she been on the court down the stretch, things would have been considerably more difficult for Canisius.

- Canisius is now 4-8 overall, but hasn't exactly played a cream-puff early schedule. Its losses were to (records entering today's games) Detroit (7-5), Bucknell (8-5), Oakland (7-7), Akron (8-4), St. Bonaventure (7-7), Long Beach State (7-5) and two losses to UAlbany (10-3).

- In the interest of full disclosure, your Hoopscribe could fit in another game today: The Iona women's team is playing at Niagara this evening.

But the chicken wings from the Anchor Bar are beckoning instead.

Still ... a double-header tomorrow, both men's games: Fairfield at Niagara at 3 p.m., Marist at Canisius at 7 p.m.

So, check in early and often for reports.

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