MAAC Tourney Preview: #4 Siena vs. #5 Fairfield


Siena begins their quest for a sixth MAAC Championship on Saturday as they take on Fairfield in the MAAC Tournament quarterfinals. Tip off at the Times Union Center is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU.

Siena enters the tournament with an overall record of 15-16 and 12-8 in the MAAC which placed them in a tie for 3rd place with Iona. Iona grabbed the #3 seed due to tie breaker criteria making the Saints the #4 seed.

This is the 68th matchup all time between the two teams with Siena leading the series 37-30. The Saints are 6-1 all-time vs. Fairfield in the MAAC Tournament. Siena beat the Stags in the MAAC Tournament Final, 72-65 in overtime in Albany in 2010 to capture the program’s most recent MAAC title.

The Saints began the season with a record of 4-11 and seemed to reach a season low point after a pair of losses on the western New York trip to start off the 2017 calendar year. Since that time, they have gone 11-5 and have won their last 5 out of 7 games with the two losses during that stretch coming to #1 seed Monmouth.

The Saints are led by senior guard Marquis Wright, an All-MAAC Second Team selection, who is averaging 16.5 points per game which ranks 7th in the MAAC. He is third in the MAAC in assists with 4.9.

Sophomore Nico Clareth is the Saints’ second leading scorer at 13.6 points per game. His status for Saturday’s game is uncertain after he suffered an ankle sprain in practice earlier in the week. He is considered day-to-day.

Brett Bisping, an All-MAAC Second Team pick along with Wright, is averaging 12.2 points and a league-leading 9.6 rebounds per game. He ranks 10th in the MAAC in steals (1.2). He will be playing his 135th game on Saturday tying him with Ronald Moore for the most in program history.

“Our season wasn’t exactly what we thought it would be but I think we’re playing our best basketball at the right time,” said Bisping. “I like where we’re at right now. I like how we’re playing. I like how we feel.”

Seniors Javion Ogunyemi (13.4) and Lavon Long (13.0) also average in double figures for the Saints. The pair along with Wright reached the 1,000 point career scoring milestone earlier this season. They, along with Bisping, who reached 1,000 points last season, make Siena the only Division I team roster with four 1,000 point scorers.

“Rebounding is one of the most important things for us,” said Ogunyemi. “We can wear teams down on the offensive glass and if we hold them to one shot on defense we like our chances against whoever we play.”

Current RPI rankings: Siena 140, Fairfield 174.

Fairfield enters the matchup with an overall record of 16-13 and 11-9 in the MAAC earning them the #5 seed. They are winners of 8 of their last 11 games heading into the tournament.

The Stags are led by First Team All-MAAC selection Tyler Nelson, a 6-3 junior guard, who ranks second in the MAAC in scoring (18.9), fifth in threes (71), and ninth in assists (3.5).   

“Fairfield’s really tough because Tyler Nelson’s one of the most explosive players in the league,” said Siena coach Jimmy Patsos. “This guy Nelson’s the real deal.”

Curtis Cobb (12.7 ppg), a 6-4 sophomore guard, and Jerry Johnson Jr. (11.5 ppg), a 6-2 sophomore guard, also average in double figures for the Stags.

Amadou Sidibe, a 6-8 senior forward, ranks second in the MAAC in rebounding behind Bisping with 9.4 boards per contest.

Siena swept the regular season series with the Stags with victories in the MAAC regular season opener, 80-73 in Albany on 12/03/16 and 63-54 in Bridgeport on 1/15/17.

In the first matchup, sophomore Clareth came of the bench to score a career-high 33 points to lead the Saints. Ogunyemi scored 17 and Long added 13. Nelson paced Fairfield with 23 points, Cobb added 19 points and eight rebounds and Sidibe had a double-double of 12 points and 14 rebounds.

In the rematch later in the season, the Saints grabbed their first road win of the season behind Bisping’s 16 points and 7 rebounds. Johnson led Fairfield with 14 points off the bench, while Sidibe added a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds.

The winner on Saturday will move on to face regular season champion and top seed Monmouth in the MAAC Semifinals Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

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