Nico Clareth's 20 points included several clutch shots as Siena came back from down 12 points to defeat Iona. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone)
NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- With less than 12 minutes remaining and his Siena team down 12 points against Iona, Jimmy Patsos and his players had an epiphany.
"We had a huddle with 12 minutes to go," the Saints' head coach revealed after Siena (18-9, 11-5 MAAC) used a 17-4 run to retake the lead and hold on for an 81-78 victory against Iona (14-10, 11-4 MAAC) at a sold-out Hynes Athletics Center. "Everybody was just upset, because we know we're better than that, and I think that's a sign of a team coming together. Everybody cared. Nobody was mad at each other, we were just upset that we weren't playing better."
"We wanted it bad," added Brett Bisping, who contributed 19 points and 13 rebounds to the Saints' winning cause. "We knew we hadn't beaten them here, and we wanted it more today."
Trailing 63-51 with 11:27 on the clock, the Saints gradually chipped away at their deficit until a three-pointer by Ryan Oliver on the right wing with 5:18 remaining in regulation gave Siena a 68-67 lead against Iona, and the Gaels were unable to regain the advantage the rest of the way, which ended a seven-game Saints losing streak that dated back to January 23, 2012, when Iona saw a 21-2 run to start the game evaporate in a 65-62 loss at the Times Union Center. A.J. English led the home team with 31 points and eight assists, but the Gaels' lack of success from beyond the arc played a major role in the outcome.
"We knew what we had to do to win the game, and 8-for-30 (from three-point range) is not in that recipe," said Tim Cluess as Iona suffered just the ninth home loss of his six-year tenure at the helm. "I just thought we had a four or five-minute stretch where we didn't play as hard as we've been playing the last few games."
After Siena gained the lead for good, Javion Ogunyemi (19 points) and Isaiah Williams (20 points) traded layups before Nico Clareth drove in for a layup to extend the lead to three. After Jordan Washington made one of two free throws, a three-pointer by Bisping made it a two-possession affair, with Clareth's stepback jumper from the left elbow putting the Saints up seven with 2:17 to play.
"He might be the best freshman in this conference," Cluess said of Clareth, who posted 20 points off the bench as he furthers his case for both Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year honors. "He's terrific."
Iona would once again draw within one, and after Siena missed free throws in the final seconds, the door was still open for the Gaels to tie in the final seconds. However, English's halfcourt heave at the buzzer grazed the backboard and bounced off, allowing Siena to escape with a crucial win heading into another pivotal road game on Friday against Rider.
"This is a great win for us," Bisping said before cutting to the chase. "But we have to get ready for the next one."