BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — It’s rare that heading into a conference tournament, teams have to be wary of the No. 9 seed.

For next week’s MAAC tournament in Atlantic City, N.J., that case can be made for Canisius men’s basketball.

Following Saturday’s 81-68 win against arch-rival Niagara while spoiling Noah Thomasson’s career-high 35 points, the Golden Griffins have won five of the last six to close the regular season, making them as hot as any team in the league heading into the tournament.

“We’ve talked about it,” Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “We’ve gone through difficult times and we talked about this when we were going through those difficult times. We can use those experiences to help us get better. I think our guys have.”

The Griffins dealt with injuries throughout the majority of the season to several key pieces, including Jordan Henderson, who put up 17 points on 6-11 shooting in his final game inside of the Koessler Athletic Center after five seasons with the program.

“It’s a good way to go out,” Henderson said. “A good way to end my career, at least at home playing here.”

Henderson had missed four games this season due to shoulder problems. In addition, Siem Uijtendaal missed seven games, TJ Gadsden missed seven, George Maslennikov missed three and Xzavier Long was held out of a pair. Witherspoon noted that the team has suffered five concussions this season.

One constant throughout the season has been redshirt freshman Tahj Staveskie, who scored a team-high 24 points on 10-18 shooting in the win. That mark is good for his second-highest total of both the season and his career.

“It feels good, but nothing feels better than winning,” Staveskie said.

The Golden Griffins were able to get a rare win against the Purple Eagles, the program’s second win in the past eight games and third in the past 12 between the foes. It was Canisius’ second win against Niagara dating back to January 2018.

The opponent for Niagara, which has now lost five of its past six, will be Siena in Wednesday night’s quarterfinal round. The Purple Eagles are the No. 5 seed in the tournament. Siena and Niagara split the season series.

“For us, we’ve only got 40 minutes left,” Niagara coach Greg Paulus said. “We want to be a team that has an urgency for the moment.”

Meanwhile, the Golden Griffins head down to Atlantic City to face-off against an equally hot Mount St. Mary’s team, which has won four of its past five, finishing off the regular season on Saturday with a 74-69 win against Manhattan. The Mountaineers swept the season series against Canisius, winning 64-60 on Niagara’s campus while the Koessler Athletic Center was being repaired from storm damage on January 2 and 75-74 in Emmitsburg, Md. on February 19.

“It’ll be an exciting one, I think,” Witherspoon said. “We played two close games against them. They’re playing really, really well right now, we’re playing really well right now. We’ll go forward and just be excited to be there.”

Aidan Joly joined the News 4 staff in 2022. He is a graduate of Canisius College. You can see more of his work here.