Friday, February 27, 2009

Niagara Creates Late-Season Excitement

The view from in front of a TV set about 300 miles away from Friday night's Siena at Niagara game is that the Saints won't walk through the conference's post-season tournament.

Especially if the two teams both advance to the event's championship contest and both play like they did Friday.

Final outcome on Friday: Niagara 100, Siena 85.

And, yes, it was as lopsided as the score indicates.

Niagara's inside players got in early foul trouble, and it played much of the game with an undersized lineup.

But, that appeared to work in its favor as it consistently beat Siena to loose balls, and used its superior quickness on the boards and in getting into the lane for easy shots on offense. Siena looked a step slower than Niagara in every facet of play, particularly when it was on the defensive end.

The hosts never trailed, had a 10-point edge midway through the first half, a 17-point lead at the half and a 19-point spread after scoring the first basket of the second half.

The Saints eventually got back within seven, the last time with about four minutes left, and followed that with a good defensive possession that resulted in a long Niagara three-point miss as the shot clock expired. And, then, the winners' Bilal Benn grabbed the rebound, converted a shot in the lane and the lead was back to nine and the Saints were never in it again.

The 100 points allowed was the most given up by a Siena team since midway through the 2000-01 season when Niagara also hit the century mark in a 104-83 victory back when Louis Orr was Siena's coach.

What does it mean?

It means Siena won't become the conference's second team to win a regular-season title by four games (joining the 1985-86 Fairfield team). Siena, now 15-2 in MAAC play, holds a two-game edge over 13-4 Niagara and each has one conference game remaining.

The victory clinches second place for Niagara, meaning it will be placed in the opposite bracket as Siena for the conference tournament setting up a championship-game meeting between them.

It probably gives the entire league some optimism heading into the tournament with Niagara showing that Siena isn't necessarily the dominant presence some perceived it to be.

One glaring statistic from the contest: Saints' Player of the Year candidate senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck had what might have been the worst game of his career, shooting 2-of-20 from the floor and finishing with five points in 37 minutes of playing time. He had averaged 21 points over Siena last seven contests.

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