Another stop on the Western New York Hoop Junkie's Odyssey:
Marist men at Canisius at 7 p.m.
After making the quick 30-minute jaunt from Monteagle Ridge to downtown Buffalo and the Koessler Athletic Center, we watched two teams with much to prove.
Canisius was trying to show it was as good as its 9-5 record prior to the game, and not as bad as it looked in a 66-45 setback two days earlier at the hands of Fairfield.
And Marist wanted to start showing that a nice late-season run a year ago wasn't a fluke and that it was better than its 94-72 loss at Niagara two days earlier.
Mission accomplished for both.
Canisius did enough to show why it has enough pieces to stay in, or close, to the hunt for a regular-season title while securing a 73-64 victory.
And, Marist showed it was only a few late-game plays (it got within five twice in the closing 4:45) from putting a real scare into the Golden Griffins.
But, something else was on display, too: One side of a debate about the league's best three-man backcourt.
Iona (Momo Jones, Sean Armand and, maybe, freshman A.J. English) and Fairfield (Derek Needham, Colin Nickerson and Desmond Wade) can both make a case.
But, for now, we think the best arguments can be made for the backcourts in the land of the chicken wing and beef-on-wick sandwiches.
That would be in Western New York where Niagara can put up Antoine Mason, Juan'ya Green and Ameen Tanksley (45.3 points per game) and Canisius can counter with Billy Baron, Isaac Sosa and Harold Washington (42.2 ppg.).
Niagara's trio might hold a slight edge in points produced, but the Canisius threesome is better at distributing the ball (8.6 assists per game to 7.4 for Niagara).
On Saturday night, Baron put on a text-book display of point guard play with 17 points, 10 assists and just three turnovers. More than a few of his passes helped produce baskets by Sosa (22 points), who sank long-range three pointers on four consecutive possessions early in the second half.
And while Washington only had six points Thursday, he added three assists. He is also the team's second-leading scorer (13.6 ppg.) and led the Griffs in scoring a year ago (17.0).
Washington was the only one of the three to play against MAAC competition a year ago. Baron, who played at Rhode Island last season, got a hardship waiver to play immediately after his transfer to Canisius, while Sosa sat out the traditional transfer season after coming over from Central Florida.
So, it was logical to ask Washington his thoughts about the conference's top guard trio.
And, then, Baron jumped in ...
"Do we have the best guard trio? I'd like to think so," said Baron. "We don't come out in any game thinking the other guards are better than us. We approach every day and every game with that type of confidence. If you don't have that confidence you might as well not play the game."
"What he said," added Washington, about Baron's answer.
- Canisius forward Chris Manhertz, one of the team's few bright spots in a 1-17 league season a year ago, continues to open eyes with his play this season.
Manhertz, a 6-6, 235-pounder, entered Saturday's game averaging 6.6 points and 8.3 rebounds. He opened the eyes of Marist coach Chuck Martin with a 9-point, 14-rebound effort on Saturday.
"He just plays hard all the time," said Martin. "If a team had all of its players play with the force of his will, they it would have a heck of a team."
- Marist did indeed show signs of better play ahead (the Red Foxes are currently 4-11 overall).
Marist had a similarly slow start a year ago and, in fact, had an 0-7 record for the month of January, 2012. After that they finished out 7-3.
"We're right there (on the verge of better play) now," said Martin. "We have to start doing the little things better. But, I'm glad this isn't February right now. The fact that we have eight more weeks of the regular season, and knowing what's ahead for us, has me feeling good."
Marist has also been playing lately without 6-5 junior forward Jay Bowie (7.5 points, 4.7 rebounds per game), who missed his fifth game with what the team is calling a "head injury."
"Right now he's day to day," added Martin. "When we don't have him in the starting lineup ... it hurts."