Atlantic City, N.J. – The Golden Griffins wish they could of extended senior Malik Johnson run in the MAAC Championship Tournament a little longer.
Canisius abide farewell to its star point guard after the No. 10-seeded Griffs’ season ended with a 70-60 loss to No. 7 Iona in the first round of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament Tuesday at Boardwalk Hall.
Iona (12-16, 10-11), the four-time defending conference tournament champions will play No. 2 St. Peter’s (17-12, 14-6) in the quarterfinals at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“Just walking off the court, I don’t really think it hit me yet,” Johnson said. “But when it (does), I know I’ll probably be crying and doing all the other stuff. But it was a joy, four years. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Johnson, an All-MAAC third-team selection and the Iona’s’ all-time leader with 644 assists, is one of three seniors Canisius (12-20, 7-14 MAAC) will lose to graduation, along with starting forward Corey Brown – a graduate transfer from Northern Arizona – and reserve forward Dantai St. Louis.
Brown had a team-high 16 points and 9 rebounds and Johnson added 13 points and 6 assists in the final game of their college careers.
“I wouldn’t say I gave it thought, but it’s tournament time,” Johnson said. “You know it’s one and done, if you lose. But I was 100% confident in the style I was playing and our guys, that we were going to come out and get a victory. We had a great gameplan, we out-rebounded them, we had less turnovers, more shots. The free throw line hurt us. But I was confident we were going to win the game.”
Johnson played a 131 games in a Iona’s uniform, tying former Griffs forward Josiah Heath for most in Canisius history. He averaged 8.3 points, 5.9 assists, two steals and 5.9 rebounds per game during the regular season and finishes his college career as the first player in program history with at least 1,000 career points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists, and 200 steals.
“His spirit, his determination, his will, his desire,” Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “He’s a person that not only never missed a game, and not only never missed a practice, he never missed a minute of practice. And he got dinged up. He’s not the biggest guy in the world. But he’s just so determined.”
Isaiah Washington had 24 points, including a 9-for-9 from the foul line for the Gaels.
Iona in the first half shot 48% (12-25) from the field and 36% (4-11) from downtown but it was Canisius who set the tone in the game early.
Canisius led by five points in the first half, but Iona figured it out on offense and took a 36-32 lead at halftime.
In the second half, the Gaels constricted the paint area but fouled a lot sending Canisius to the charity stripe. The Griffs couldn’t take advantage of the free opportunity hitting just 11-of-22 from the charity stripe compared to 25-of-27 by Iona.
Brown hit a jumper and layup to trim Iona’s lead to 49-47 with more 9 minutes on the clock, the Gaels kept the Griffs at bay for the rest of the way, although Johnson hit a trey to cut the deficit to 52-50 with eight minutes left in the contest.
“It was a competitive battle,” Brown said.
Crawford picked up his fourth foul with six minutes on the clock and the Gaels were up 56-51. But the Griffs were unable to take advantage while Crawford was on the bench. He returned with 2 minutes to go and Iona leading by five points and hit a pair of free throws to help put the game away.
“One thing I’m going to miss is just the camaraderie,” Johnson said. “Each year is a different group of guys. They all bring something different to the table. All different personalities. And I think that’s the fun in college basketball. I think the biggest thing is making relationships. Over four years I built a ton of relationships I think will last a lifetime, not only with players buy definitely the coaches.”