The victory was hard-fought for the Siena Saints tonight, who held off the nipping Manhattan Jaspers 89-76 on Saturday night at the Times-Union Center.
The game seemed lost for the Jaspers by the end of the first half - the actively involved referees doled out three fouls to Manhattan's best big man (Zane Waterman) and most talented shooter (Shane Richards), and were down 46-34. The Saints held a huge advantage with 19 offensive rebounds and 45 attempted free throws in the game. But Manhattan kept fighting. And a fourth foul called on Siena point guard Marquis Wright, who had been the steadiest guard against Manhattan's defense, made the Saints unsteady. Without him, hasty passes and a pair of offensive fouls gave the Jaspers enough of a window to bring the deficit to four...and then Jimmy Patsos picked up a technical. It was a nervous "neutral" crowd, for sure.
But five straight points by Javion Ogunyemi - first on a spinning layup with three seconds left on the clock and then from a banked-in three-pointer - upped the cushion to eight and the Saints never looked back.
Manhattan's Pressure Was Ferocious
Manhattan may have struggled early, but Siena felt the weight of playing the Jaspers. "They could just play hard for five hours," Jimmy Patsos said. "There's no quit in them." That lack of quit meant the constant pressure Manhattan put on the Saints, the different looks, disrupted Siena enough to get the Jaspers within striking distance. Siena ended the game with 20 turnovers, 10 in each half. And despite leads of up to 16, the game never felt 'over' at any point. "With that team," Patsos said, "he's like one guy short of another championship run."
The Backcourt Did The Little Things
Combined, starting guards Marquis Wright and Nico Clareth shot 4/18 from the field. But they scored 17 points, combined for ten assists,11 rebounds...and ten turnovers. Still, Jimmy Patsos took time to praise his developing guards. "I know [Marquis Wright] was upset because he went 1/10," he said, "but he's not [yet] in shape to play against a team like Manhattan that's so fast, so quick - you can't just make those [offensive] moves and pull up [and be effective]. Yet, he doesn't turn the ball over!" (He DID have five turnovers, but was much steadier with the ball than his teammates.) "Nico was a little off," Patsos added. "He didn't practice [much] the last few days, he's been out with a cramp issue. I think that's why his offense was a little off. But he played defense. Nico Clareth held Shane Richards to 5/16." "I think Marquis is getting better every game, and his best basketball is ahead of him... including tomorrow night [against Iona]."
Lavon Long Came Up Big
Lavon Long was huge in the contest with 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists. And it's a big step for him after sitting out the last Siena game after missing practice. "I said Lavon Long - the terminator - would be a huge factor in this game," Patsos said afterwards. "I'm proud of Lavon for really stepping up. It would have been easy to say 'I Had a bad thing happen to me' [being benched for the regular season finale for missing practice] and put his head in the sand. Instead, he got his hair cut, played great." Though he, like the rest of the Saints, wilted a bit in the second half, Long paced the Saints with deft passing and smart decisions.
The Saints, who described themselves as a "power team" after the game, knew their advantage was inside. "Part of the scout was to go inside, work inside out. Not just me, but everyone," said Siena forward Brett Bisping. The Saints rebounded 61% of their own misses, gaining chance after chance to score. And those chances were needed against the Jaspers' ability to force turnovers and get transition opportunities. In total, Siena finished with 46 rebounds to Manhattan's 21.
How Will This Team Handle Iona?
Siena looked worn down by Manhattan's pressure. It was a tough game, filled with momentum shifts, fouls, and hard hits. And Iona, described as "the Lakers of the league" by Patsos, are an experienced and skilled offensive machine. Will this game leave them too tired to compete for 40 minutes against AJ English and company, especially with an extra day of rest for the Gaels? "The ball's going up at 7 o clock [on Sunday] and nobody cares who had more rest at that time," said forward Brett Bisping. Patsos chimed in, saying that the fact that Iona gets a day of rest is for the MAAC's benefit. "Friday night, the one and two played, and we think that's a good thing that they earned [for the league]," he said. "It means an uptick in ticket sales, which means more attention for the league." With what we will assume is a wink and a nod to the home fans, Patsos added, "I know it's a neutral place but we really appreciate all the fans coming out [to see us tonight]." Will the home atmosphere be enough to push the Saints against the talented Gaels?