BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The 170th meeting between Little 3 basketball rivals St. Bonaventure and Canisius was as competitive and compelling as any that came before.
The back-and-forth battle featured 14 lead changes, nine ties, and neither team led by more than two baskets before the Golden Griffins surged at the start of overtime and held on for an 84-80 win Saturday night at the Koessler Athletic Center.
“Both teams played really, really hard, and at times looked like they were going to win,” Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “And probably deserved to win.”
St. Bonaventure leads 102-68 in the all-time series dating to 1920. Canisius’ first win since 2019 at the downtown arena lifted its record to 53-52 in games played in Buffalo, and 4-4 on its campus. The teams have now split the 10 overtime games they have played. It was the first overtime affair since Canisius won 106-101 at the Reilly Center in 2016, and the fourth time in 30 years both teams scored more than 80 points.
“It does have a historic touch to it, because people will talk about it for a long time,” Witherspoon said. “These teams have been playing for a long time. Growing up here, I can remember going to those games.”
Witherspoon gave Little 3 history lessons to his team throughout the week. He told them about Tim Winn, the Niagara Falls native Witherspoon coached in AAU basketball who starred for St. Bonaventure and was inducted this week into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. He spoke of Bob Lanier, raised in the same East Buffalo native as Witherspoon, who went on to become St. Bonaventure’s all-time greatest player on his way to an esteemed NBA career and enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“It does mean a lot,” said Witherspoon, who was touched by the No. 31 jersey patches the Bonnies are wearing this season to honor Lanier, who died in May. “The impact not only that he made on the court, and the impact he made off the court.”
Witherspoon recalled watching Lanier-led Bonaventure teams play Canisius in sold-out games at Memorial Auditorium. While those crowds were much larger, the spacious arena absorbed sound better than the intimate venue on-campus. Witherspoon and fifth-year senior Jordan Henderson advised the Griffs, with nine new players on the roster, that their home gym would be filled with vocal antagonists. More than half in the crowd of 1,903 backed the visiting Bonnies, creating an atmosphere Witherspoon compared to a high school game, with dueling cheers for both team’s baskets.
“The atmosphere was great,” said Henderson, who had 19 points and six assists. “Definitely enjoyed it. I think it gave us a good chance to lock in.”
Witherspoon appreciated the home fans, even if they were outnumbered. “Our students coming out, they actually impacted the game,” he said.
Xzavier Long matched Henderson with 19 points, a career high for the sophomore who shot 7-of-8 from the field. Jaccco Fritz added 12 off the bench, and the Griffs got 53 points from returning players. Among the newcomers, Tahj Staveskie scored 11, with six coming from the free throw line in overtime to atone for his traveling violation on Canisius’ last possession in regulation, and Jamir Moultrie added 10 points. The Griffs made half of their 22 attempts from 3-point range. Two of those 3s came during a 10-2 surge to open overtime.
Daryl Banks III, a transfer from NCAA tournament Cinderella story Saint Peter’s, led St. Bonaventure with 22 points. Half of his scoring came in the final minute of overtime when the Bonnies got within a point in the closing seconds.
Both teams are 1-1 on the season. St. Bonaventure visits South Dakota State on Tuesday, while Canisius hosts Cleveland State on Wednesday.
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Elsewhere in local college basketball, UB and Niagara both lost.
The Bulls (1-1) shot 32% and got beat 97-62 by James Madison at Alumni Arena. Takal Molson, the Buffalo native who started his career at Canisius, scored 12 for the Dukes (3-0), who were led by Vado Morse’s 22 points.
Niagara (0-2) continued struggling to score in a 68-50 loss at Bucknell that followed a 71-49 defeat at Maryland. The Purple Eagles will now go overseas in search of offense, traveling to Ireland next weekend for games against Central Arkansas and Stetson at the MAAC/ASUN Dublin Challenge, before playing the first of three non-conference home games against Division II D’Youville on Nov. 23.
The Niagara women lost their home opener 83-64 against LaSalle on Saturday. Angel Parker (O’Hara) scored 23 points, and her sister Aaliyah Parker had 16 points and 11 rebounds.