Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dominance, Thy Name is Siena (so far)

If there was ever a situation where the Siena College runaway train could have been expected to derail, it would have been Saturday afternoon at Fairfield.

The Saints, about 41 hours earlier, had just finished off an emotional, potentially draining overtime victory at Marist, rallying from a 13-point deficit with under four minutes remaining to pull out an improbable win in overtime.

And, then, Siena had to travel to Fairfield, an opponent that had been living up to expectations for it to finish second in conference play (according to the coaches' preseason poll). The Stags entered the contest with the Saints with a 5-2 league record, a 12-5 overall mark and a perfect 6-0 ledger on its home court at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn.

The result? The train cruises on, full speed ahead.

Siena dominated Saturday's proceedings, running out to a 20-4 lead early, and holding a 16-point lead at halftime. Fairfield crept back to within four, 39-35, early in the second half, but Siena ran away again after that, grabbing a 47-36 lead with 12:49 remaining and never relinquishing its double-digit edge after that.


Siena is now off to an 8-0 start. It equals the best beginning to league play since the MAAC realigned to its current 10-team format in the 1997-98 season. Only the 2003-04 Manhattan team also started league play with an 8-0 record. The Jaspers followed that 8-0 strt with a loss in its ninth league contest.

In fact, further research indicates that the last time a MAAC team started better than 8-0 was in 1989-90 when the Lionel Simmons-led La Salle team swept conference play with a 16-0 regular season.

Siena now actually has a 13-game winning streak against MAAC opponents ... the eight wins this year, three in last season's conference post-season tournament and its final two regular-season contests of the 2007-08 season. The last MAAC team to beat the Saints was Manhattan, in a 73-72 decision on Feb. 18, 2008.

Against all opponents, Siena has won 12 of its last 14 games since losing three straight at the Old Spice Classic in late November. The only losses have come at nationally top-ranked Pittsburgh, and at defending national champion Kansas.

Saturday's Siena victory capped off a nine-game, 21-day stretch that saw the Saints play in seven cities. Siena finished 8-1 over that span (the one loss coming at Kansas), despite playing six of those games on the road.

Siena's 8-0 league start this season includes four road victories (at Loyola, Manhattan, Marist and Fairfield).

And, now, the Saints get some time off. Their next game is next Saturday (Jan. 24). But upcoming games should provide a significant test.

Those are against Niagara (Jan. 24, noon) and Iona (Jan. 26, 7 p.m.).

Niagara currently holds second place in the MAAC with a 5-2 conference record and is 14-5 overall record.

Iona is 4-4 in MAAC play (9-10 overall), but has been hot of late with all four MAAC wins in its last five games, including a sweep on its Western New York trip this weekend including a 71-65 victory at Niagara on Thursday and a 78-77 win in double overtime over Canisius on Saturday.

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