Siena won its 10th game without a loss in MAAC play Monday night at Albany's Times Union Center, but not without some very anxious moments.
The Saints escaped with a 69-68 victory over Iona, needing an under-pressure 10-footer from the baseline from junior forward Edwin Ubiles with 4.2 seconds remaining to get the winning points, and, then, hold on courtesy of sophomore center Ryan Rossiter's deflected in-bounds pass that disrupted the Gaels' attempt for a game-winning play.
The Saints now have eight remaining conference games to win to become the first MAAC team to ever finish 18-0 and be the first team to go undefeated through conference play since the 1989-90 La Salle team finished 16-0.
Some observations from Monday's game:
- Having had a look, either in person or on TV, of every MAAC team ... Iona, right now, might be the conference's second-best team. And, that humble opinion is predicated on more than the close call it gave Siena.
The Gaels had won five of their previous six contests entering Monday's affair, and its play against Siena was the latest indication of the maturation process of a young, but talented team. And, they were forced to play without their top front-court reserve, sophomore forward Alejo Rodriguez, who had to sit out Monday's game as the result of his role in an altercation against Manhattan in Iona's previous game.
The Gaels, with Rodriguez, legitimately go 10 deep, and that playing group includes just two seniors. The others are two juniors, two sophomores and four freshmen. Iona is set up to be very good for a few years, at least.
- Iona's freshman point guard Scott Machado is clearly the best freshman in the league. He had 16 points and eight assists (against three turnovers) against Siena in 33 minutes.
Said Iona coach Kevin Willard, about Machado: "He's not just one of the best freshmen, he's one of the best players in the league, period. There are a lot of good point guards in our league, and I put Siena's Ronald Moore (7 points, 6 assists, 2 turnovers Monday) up there. And, (David) Devizin (of Marist) is a really good point guard. But, I have the best one (Machad0), to be honest. He has brought it every game. Whatever his numbers are are irrelevant. He just continues to bring passion and continues to learn and he's doing it with a very inexperienced team."
Numbers? Through Monday's games ...
Machado averages 9.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and has 96 assists against 67 turnovers.
Moore averages 9.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and has 125 assists against 51 turnovers.
Devezin averages 11.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and has 77 assists against 49 turnovers.
Top point guard?
By definition, that accolade falls to the player who best runs his team.
Considering that he has the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league (2.5) by far ... this humble blogger considers Moore to be the MAAC's best point guard.
- Clearly, Siena's attempt at finishing unbeaten in league play won't be easy. After hosting Canisius this coming Thursday, the Saints play five of their last seven games on the road, including potentially stumbling blocks at Iona (Feb. 16) and at Niagara (Feb. 27).
"They're the best team in the league," said Willard, about Siena. "No offense to the other nine of us, but they're the best. If people are talking about an at-large berth (to the NCAA's) for them (if they don't win the league's post-season tournament), then they should be.
"Whether they'll go unbeaten (through league play) ... anyone can have an off-night. But they have a good chance at doing it."
- Monday, though, might have been Siena's "off-night." After building a 49-35 lead early in the second half, Siena got outscored 33-18 as it fell behind, 68-67, before Ubiles' game-winning shot.
"Once Iona started making its run, I think we tightened up a little," said Siena coach Fran McCaffery.
But Siena got it done when it counted. After the Gaels tied the score at 61-61 with 4:40 remaining, senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck scored on three straight possessions and, then Ubiles hit his clutch jumper to win it.
- Saints' sophomore Ryan Rossiter continues to exhibit play that makes him one of the most-improved players in the MAAC. He had his second straight double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds along with three blocks on Monday), and made the key deflection of Iona's in-bounds pass on the Gaels' last possession.