Javion Ogunyemi's 23 points and 11 rebounds led Siena in Saints' 75-63 win over Niagara, their second in MAAC play this season. (Photo courtesy of 4 Guys In Blazers)
BY NORMAN ROSE (@ECoastBias)
But despite big games inside from Javion Ogunyemi (23 points, eight offensive rebounds, three defensive rebounds) and Brett Bisping (20 points) for Siena, the win came with realities about weak benches along with some concerns about how the team will weather the loss of point guard Marquis Wright, roaming the sidelines on crutches after a stress fracture in practice the day after Christmas.
There wasn't a lot of fight in the first half for the Saints, who found themselves down by as many as ten points to the visiting Niagara Purple Eagles, who came ready to impose their particular brand of high energy play on the game, even if that energy continues to come with turnovers, rushed shots, and frustrated stretches.
Despite three fouls in the first half for Matt Scott of Niagara (Siena star Brett Bisping also had three fouls), Niagara earned a four-point lead over the Saints at the end of the first half. It would have been more, but one of Niagara's patented "basketball is hard, guys!" stretches between the 12-minute mark and the seven-minute mark occurred, where the Purple Eagles turned the ball over on four out of six possessions and missed rushed shots on the other two. Still, Emile Blackman had 13 of his 19 points in the half, including four points late to give the Eagles the lead.
Starting the second half, Jimmy Patsos' team went to Ogunyemi early and often. He bullied his way into the paint against the slimmer and less-effective Purple Eagle front line, fightingin the paint for offensive rebounds. Niagara had little answer for him. The Saints, who had committed 11 turnovers in the first half, lowered that number to four in the second, or in tempo-free parlance, reduced their turnover rate from 34 percent of their possessions to just 12 percent of their possessions.
Marvin Prochet had 16 for the visiting Eagles, who fell to 3-11 on the season, (1-2 in the conference) while Matt Scott added 14. Freshman Dominic Robb started and provided a good look for the Purple Eagles in the paint; but foul trouble limited him to 22 minutes before he fouled out, and he only scored five points.
With Robb and Scott fighting foul trouble from the middle of the first half, the team's offensive efficiency dipped from 1.06 points per possession in the first half to .86 in the second, and they had little size to battle Siena inside.
But this game was supposed to be a gimme for Jimmy Patsos' team. But...
"My freshmen were freshmen early," Patsos said afterward. "Javion Ogunyemi and Lavon Long wouldn't let us lose that game. "Lavon and Javion started owning the boards and going inside and playing a two-man game."
Long had 12 points in the second half, and six of his nine rebounds. Patsos singled out senior Ryan Oliver - who had four points, five assists, and played almost all of the second half ahead of freshman starter Kenny Wormley as a steadying defensive presence - for praise.
"I think Ryan's shooting suffered because he played so hard defensively for us," Patsos said. "Ryan Oliver was good for us. He knows he has two more months to play, and then it's off to Rodeo Drive. He's really crushing it."
"There's nothing [freshmen Kenny Wormley or Nico Clareth] did wrong, it's just tough [to start] two freshmen in the MAAC. So for now, and I don't know who's going to start, but I just went with Ryan. Nothing happened at halftime. I just said you two are too young, I'm putting Ryan out there."
"It's gonna take a village with this team," Patsos lamented, "until Marquis gets back. We're gonna learn as we go."
"I know one thing," Patsos said, looking ahead to the rematch against the Manhattan Jaspers on Monday night. "That team's gonna be ready to go. That team's the defending two-time champ [of the league], they're at home, they beat Fairfield, who's good. Shane Richards isn't going down against Siena with a 35-point loss to Siena. (Rich) Williams and Richards are as good a one-two punch as we're gonna face."