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CBI Finals Game 1 Preview: Siena At Fresno State

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Siena is on the road at Fresno State Monday night in the first game of a three-game series for the College Basketball Invitaional Championship. Tip off at the Save Mart Center is scheduled for 10 pm eastern time in a game to be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network. It will be the first meeting between the two teams who have both advanced to the CBI Finals for the first time.

The Saints enter Game 1 with a record of 18-17 after wins over Stony Brook, Penn State and Illinois State in their first three rounds of the CBI. Making their 12th postseason tournament appearance (NCAA 1989, 1999, 2002 and 2008-10 and NIT 1988, 1991, 1994, 2000 and 2003), they are now 16-11 all-time in those tournaments.

In their first season under head coach Jimmy Patsos, Siena has won their last seven of eight games and are 16 and 10 since starting the season 2-7. Following a 9th place finish in the MAAC in 2012-2013 with only 8 total wins, the Saints finished 5th this season after being picked 10th in the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll.

The Saints are led by 6-5 junior Rob Poole who averages 14.7 points along with 5.1 rebounds per game. He became the 17th player in Siena history to reach the 500-point single season mark in the Penn State game and is averaging 15 points in the CBI.

Siena has gotten a huge boost this season from the improved play of 6-8 sophomore Brett Bisping. He is second on the team in scoring (11.1) and first in rebounding (6.7) after averaging just 3.2 points and 2.6 rebounds as a freshman. Bisping has scored in double figures his last six games and in 11 of the last 13. He has averaged 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in the CBI and finished with a double-double last time out with 20 points and 13 rebounds vs. Illinois State.

Freshmen Marquis Wright and Lavon Long have been key additions to the Saints this season. They were both selected to the All-MAAC Rookie Team. Wright leads the MAAC in assists (5.4). He is 34th nationally and third among all freshmen (Kahil Felder (6.4) and Tyler Ennis (5.5)). He is the first freshman to lead the MAAC in assists in at least the last 20 years.

Long scored a career-high 17 points in Siena’s quarterfinal win over Penn State. He is third on the team in scoring (9.4) and averages 5.0 rebounds.He has scored in double figures 18 times this season.

Evan Hymes is the spark off the bench for the Saints. He is averaging a team-best 17.8 points per 40 minutes and has scored 15 or more points, eight times this season.

Ryan Oliver has become a key ingredient for Siena down the stretch. He has hit several key shots and has made at least one three-pointer in 11 of the last 12 games. He is averaging 25 minutes per game in the CBI.

Imoh Silas has emerged as a defensive presence for the Saints. He is fourth in the MAAC in blocked shots with 1.8 per game and has pulled down seven or more rebounds in five of the last 11 game.

As a team, Siena has allowed just 52 points per game in its first three CBI games. Opponents have shot just 32% from the field and 23% from beyond the three-point arc in the CBI. The Saints are 9-0 this season when holding opponents to 59 points or less.

Fresno State enters the game with a record of 20-16 following CBI Tournament wins over UTEP (61-58) on the road and over Princeton (72-56) and Old Dominion (71-64) at home. The Bulldogs finished in a 3-way tie for 5th place in the Mountain West Conference with a record of 9-9. They were 9-3 to close out the season.

“They’re really skilled, Poole said. “They’ve got great guards and some tough big men. It’s gonna be hard to get up and down. They play in a great conference. We’re gonna have to come and compete and play really hard.”

The Bulldogs have four players averaging in double figures led by 6-4 senior guard Tyler Johnson who averages 15.8 points followed by 6-4 sophomore guard Marvelle Harris (14.6), 6-1 RS sophomore guard Cezar Guerrero a transfer from Oklahoma St. (12.9) and 6-7 freshman Paul Watson (10.2). As a team the Bulldogs have  averaged 72.9 points per game while allowing 70.3.

“I talked to Jeff Jones from Old Dominion. It’s gonna be a tough task,” said Patsos. “It’s Guerrero Harris and Johnson. They are our size. They are 6-1, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 and 6-9. Rodney Terry’s a great coach. He was at Wilmington a long time and he was with Rick Barnes for a long time. A very good guy and a very good coach. Similar styles.”

Fresno State likes to launch 3-pointers ranking in the top 50 in attempts from deep. They connect on 35.6%. Defensively the Bulldogs pride themselves on their 3-point shooting defense holding opponents to 31.0% (44th nationally).

“I know they like to get up and down and get in transition,” said Bisping. “They’re kind of a run and gun team. So, we’re gonna have to get back and not give up any easy buckets in transition. We just need to keep playing our game. We don’t want to let them get us heated up and have bad turnovers.”

“They’re a good team, said Oliver who hails from LA. “They have a lot of good players. Cezar Guerrero, their point guard I played against growing up in LA. I’m familiar with a couple of their players. They’re tough. They can score the ball so it’s gonna be tough for us. But, It’s gonna be good.”

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