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Coming off a narrow win at Manhattan, Monmouth presents a bigger challenge for Canisius

After a nail-biting win in the Bronx, Canisius travels to New Jersey to battle Monmouth.

NCAA Basketball: Monmouth-NJ at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Canisius visited Manhattan College at Draddy Gymnasium Friday night, as MAAC play kicked off in the Bronx. The Golden Griffins went into halftime down 14 to the Jaspers, but were able to come out in the second half and erase the deficit to win by a point.

With the win over Manhattan, Canisius improved to 3-4 on the young season. The Golden Griffins return to action Sunday against the Monmouth Hawks. The Hawks sit at 5-2 (1-0 conference play) on the season, and will present a formidable challenge to the Golden Griffins.

Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon assumed the post of head coach in May, taking over for Jim Baron, who retired after four seasons in the role. The transition from Baron to Witherspoon was quick, and Witherspoon seems to be focusing heavily on calming his team down and steadying the ship.

Over the course of a five-minute postgame press conference after the win against Manhattan, Witherspoon said the word “calm” six times, and “anxious” three times, while drilling home the point that when his team is relaxed, it plays well, and that mistakes come when they get over-excited. Witherspoon cited his team’s 17 turnovers as an example. Canisius had 12 first-half turnovers, and committed only five in the second half, while holding Manhattan to only 30 points.

Taking care of the basketball will be critical against a team like Monmouth, whose roster sports multiple high-volume scoring threats.

Monmouth and its bench mob burst onto the national scene last season, winning the 2015-16 MAAC regular season. The Hawks have established an early seat atop the conference this year. So far, Monmouth has allowed only 68 points per game while scoring 78, and averaging eight steals per game. The Hawks are led by a backcourt duo of Micah Seaborn (13 ppg, 2.1 rbg, 2.6 apg) and Justin Robinson (13.1 ppg, 3.0 rbg, 5.6 apg).

In order to enjoy continued success and win games against tough competition, Witherspoon stressed that variety will be key, and that the onus of scoring cannot rest solely on senior Phil Valenti, or any other one player.

Valenti, last season’s leading scorer for Canisius, was held to eight points over 25 minutes of play against Manhattan, due to foul trouble. Jermaine Crumpton, a junior forward, was the game’s leading scorer. Crumpton poured in a career-high 26 points, and pulled down a career-high-tying nine rebounds.

“We’ve been trying to tell our guys it could be a different guy,” Witherspoon said. “I think we need to buy in to the mindset that maybe the next game he’ll [Valenti] score a lot of points, and maybe somebody who just scored may not score as many.”

Canisius and Monmouth tip off at 2:00 p.m. in a game that will air on ESPN3.