Game Preview: Siena To Challenge Canisius In MAAC Quarterfinal

maac 2014

Siena begins postseason play on Saturday under first year coach Jimmy Patsos as they take on the Golden Griffins of Canisius. Tipoff at the Mass Mutual, Center in Springfield, MA is scheduled for 2:30 pm. Picked 10th in the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the Saints (15-16) won their last four regular season games to secure the 5th seed and a first round bye.

“Siena’s fan base and the alumni have been great for us,” said Patsos. “People wondered how we came in fifth. I wonder myself. Despite my coaching, we came in fifth.”

Saturday’s matchup will be the 8th meeting in the MAAC tournament between these two teams with Siena leading the tourney series 5-2. Siena’s 5 wins all came in Albany while their two tournament losses to Canisius came in Buffalo. The Saints have won 6 of 7 quarterfinals matchups vs. the Griffs.

Siena and Canisius last met in the tournament in 2009 with Siena winning 77-52 at the Times Union Center. This is the Saints’ 25th MAAC Tournament where they hold a record of 34-19. It is their first time entering the tourney as the 5th seed. They will be trying to become the 3rd team to win the title as the 5 seed. The winner of the 4/5 game has won two of last three MAAC Championships.

In their first matchup this season, The Griffs shredded the Saints defense in the first half, hitting 10 of 15 three point attempts to head into the locker room with a 57-36 lead. Canisius continued their torrid pace in the opening minutes of the second half, pushing the lead to 27, 72-45, five minutes into the half. Siena would claw back to within 10, but Canisius prevailed, 93-78. Brett Bisping led Siena with 17 points and 9 boards. Marquis Wright had 12 assists and 8 points. Michael Wolfe had his best game of the season shooting 6-7 from the field, scoring 14 points, grabbing 4 rebounds and adding 2 assists in 24 minutes. Billy Baron scored a game high 21 points and dished 13 assists in the winning effort for Canisius.

In their most recent matchup, Siena pushed Canisius all the way to the brink in a triple overtime nail-biter at the Times Union Center. But, the Golden Griffins’ Billy Baron converted a 3-point play with 45 seconds left in the third extra session to rip the 92-88 win from the grasp of the Saints. Rob Poole finished with a career-high 33 points shooting 11 for 18 field goals and 6 of 11 from three. Brett Bisping scored 16 points with 9 rebounds. Marquis Wright added a double-double of 10 points and 11 assists along with 6 rebounds. Baron finished the game with a game-high 40 points, 9 in the 3rd overtime alone. He added 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. He played all 55 minutes for Canisius, was whistled for zero fouls and converted 18 of 19 free throws.

This year’s young Siena team has had a flair for the dramatic particularly down the stretch as 8 of their last 10 games were just a one possession games in the final minute. The Saints have led in the final minute of regulation in 11 of their last 12 contests. Two of their four losses in that stretch came in overtime.

“They’re a good team,” said Canisius coach Jim Baron of Siena. “We battled with them up in Albany the last time we played them…a three overtime game. They’re good. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. They’ve got some wins under their belt right now. They’re a good basketball team. They can score the ball. Poole can really go and they’ve got a lot of good players. It’s gonna be a challenge for us.”

Rob Poole and Evan Hymes both reached the 1,000 point career milestone this season. It is only the second time in program history that two Siena players have done so in the same season (Alex Franklin and Edwin Ubiles 2008-09).

“We’re happy with how we are playing but you always want to get better and build on your success and that’s what we’re gonna try to do in this tournament,” said Poole.

“You want to be playing your best basketball going into March. We’ve been saying that all year. We have,” Hymes said.

Brett Bisping is Siena’s most improved player this season averaging 10.3 points and 6.3 points per game. He is 4th in the MAAC in FG percentage (51.6%). As a freshman he averaged 3.2 points and 2.6 rebounds while shooting just 37% from the field.

“We’re going into the postseason obviously thinking that we want to win, “Bisping said. “That’s what everyone does. We’re playing well, so we’re excited about it.”

With Marquis Wright and Lavon Long, Siena placed multiple players on the MAAC All-Rookie team for first time since its inception in 2002. It is only the third time any school has had multiple players on the All-Rookie Team.

Wright has averaged 10.9 points and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 48% FG over the last 15 games. He leads the conference in assists (5.5, 33rd nationally) and is 2nd in steals (1.7). He is the first freshman to lead the MAAC in assists in at least 20 years.

Long has scored in double figures in 7 of the last 9 games. He has shot 79% (49-62) FT in the last 14 games.

Imoh Silas is averaging 1.8 blocks per game ranking 5th in the MAAC. His 6 blocks on Sunday are the most by a Siena player in 168 games.

“Every time we come on the floor we’re trying to compete,” said Silas. “We’ve been competing the whole time and we’re gonna compete when we get to Springfield too. I’m not going to stand here and tell you we’re gonna win all the time. All I’m gonna tell you is we’re definitely gonna be competing, playing hard every time and do what we have to do and hopefully we get a win.”

Siena is 2nd in the MAAC in FG percentage defense, three-point percentage defense and rebounding margin. They have only allowed 34.2 rebounds per MAAC game, which is best in the conference. They are tied for third in FT % (71.8) and Evan Hymes ranks 6th in the MAAC shooting 83% from the FT line.

The Saints are averaging 70.1 points per game this season after averaging 60.0 last season, the lowest in their Division I history.

No. 4 Canisius enters the game with a record of 20-11.They are led by All-MAAC First Team selection and Player of the Year,  Billy Baron who is third in the nation in scoring, averaging 24.4 points per game. He is second in the MAAC in scoring and assists (5.2). Other key pieces include guard Chris Perez (12.4 ppg.) and 6-10 center Jordan Heath (10.5, 5.5, 67 blocks) as well as  freshman guard Zach Lewis (9.7) and power forward Chris Manhertz (8.1, 6.7).

“Baron is the Player of the Year if….one of the top players on the east coast in my mind and we have to play against him,” Patsos said. “We can’t let him have 40 again. I know that. We’re playing well. Being hot is one thing but we have to stop them. They’re really good at scoring.”

“I’ve been in the MAAC 10 years,” Patsos said. “This is top to bottom as good as good a conference as I’ve seen in my 10 years and I think it’s anybody’s ballgame to win the tournament.”

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