LEWISTON, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Golden Griffins were eager to come home from a long stretch on the road. A winter storm for the ages extended their hardwood odyssey into rival territory.
With an extensive cleanup job on campus in the blizzard aftermath, the Canisius College men’s basketball team took a road trip to Niagara Falls. The Griffs stayed at a downtown hotel, practiced at Niagara Falls High School and Niagara County Community College, and played a pair of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference games they were scheduled to host at the Koessler Athletic Center as part of doubleheaders in the Gallagher Center on Niagara University’s campus.
“It definitely felt like the road, all the way,” Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon said after Monday’s loss against Mount St. Mary’s, the Golden Griffins’ ninth in a row. “It had all the trappings of a road weekend. Eating in the hotel, leaving to come over to someone else’s gym.”
Even though Canisius was considered the home team — their points were counted under Niagara on the Gallagher Center scoreboard — “you know you are not at home,” Witherspoon said. “You are not playing the game in the venue that you practice in every day.”
“I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, because obviously there’s people who’ve had it a lot worse,” Witherspoon said.
From a competitive standpoint, however, the schedule disruption couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Canisius. In the midst of its longest losing streak in 11 seasons, the Griffs hadn’t practiced at Koessler Center since Dec. 17. And they are unsure when they will be able to return home.
“I’m anxious to see how our guys are going to be when we start practicing in there again, whenever that is,” Witherspoon said. “Hopefully, this experience that we are going through makes us better. It hopefully makes us appreciate (being home) a little bit better.”
Canisius athletics director Bill Maher said conditions on campus are being evaluated daily and he hopes the Griffs can return to their home facilities “for limited activity in the near term.”
“We’ve got to make sure the campus is up and running and has the infrastructure to do it,” Maher said. “The Koessler did sustain some damage, but not in the areas where the teams will be, the locker rooms, the facilities, the main gym. There was no water damage there at all. It was mainly contained to a couple classrooms and some offices.”
The Canisius women practiced at Niagara before playing road games at Manhattan on Thursday and Siena on Sunday. Maher remained hopeful that women’s basketball games scheduled for Thursday and Saturday at the Koessler Center will be played.
Maher had a stronger conviction that the men’s team will be able to return home for its Jan. 13-15 games against Marist and Siena. That would be almost eight weeks since Canisius’ most recent home game Nov. 20 against Fredonia, which was postponed for two days by a winter storm.
Putting aside their fierce rivalry on the court, Niagara and Canisius worked together to keep the MAAC basketball schedule on course.
“It was quite hectic with the logistics of putting everything together,” Niagara athletics director Simon Gray said. “But we feel very fortunate that we were able to provide the venue for Canisius to come play their games.”
With travel restrictions delaying players’ return to campus for practice, the MAAC accommodated Niagara and Canisius request to move the games from Friday/Sunday to Saturday/Monday doubleheaders.
“Very thankful to the Rider and Mount St. Mary’s administrations,” Gray said. “They were very flexible in this situation. Thankful for the fans, and the officials, being flexible. The MAAC and Canisius were very good partners to work with.
“I love the rivalry. You have to embrace it as a wonderful part of college sports. At the same time, the Canisius athletics administration are excellent people. I really enjoy working with them.”
Maher said, “Niagara has been very gracious in hosting us. While it’s a rivalry, and we always want to beat them whenever we play, behind the scenes, we understand what we’re all dealing with. There’s so much professional respect between the two groups that helps is get through these situations. And maybe at some point, we’ll have to repay the favor. And we’ll be glad to do it.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.