Friday, February 12, 2010

Niagara Ends Siena's MAAC Win Streak

Siena's 18-game winning streak against conference opponents ended at the same place where the Saints suffered their last MAAC setback: at Niagara.

Late last season, Feb. 27, 2009, Niagara handed Siena a 100-85 defeat at the Taps Gallagher Center.

Fifty weeks and 18 consecutive Siena victories over league opponents later, the Purple Eagles turned in a similarly dominating effort with an 87-74 victory over the Saints before a supportive, raucous sell-out crowd on their home court.

What does it mean?

Tangibly, too not much. Siena had the regular-season championship already secured.

For Niagara, now 7-8 in conference play, it's another win closer to finishing in the top six in the conference standings and avoiding the play-in round of the MAAC's post-season tournament.

Otherwise, it meant plenty.

It not only ended Siena's streak agaisnt conference foes but snapped a 15-game overall run of success by the Saints that was the longest nationally.

It also put a significant blemish on the Saints' hopes for an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament should they fail to win the conference's post-season event. Just an uneducated guess here, but Siena probably now needs to run the table, including a victory at Butler on Feb. 20th, to stay in contention for an NCAA at-large invite.

It also means Siena, now 14-1 in MAAC play, won't become just the second team ever to win its 15 conference games and won't become the third team to go through the regular season without a loss.

So, it's still safe to consider the current Siena group among the better teams in MAAC history, but simiarly correct to assume those La Salle teams of two decades ago, particularly the 1989-90 team, continue to stand above all others.

Maybe coincidentally, current Niagara coach Joe Mihalich was a La Salle assistant coach during the Exporers' stretch of MAAC domination.

And, now, Mihalich's Purple Eagles have put a late-season demolition on Siena for the second straight year.

Senior guard Tyrone Lewis led all scorers with 24 points for Niagara, while senior forward Kashief Edwards added a career-high 20 points and senior forward Bilal Benn had 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Siena's junior center Ryan Rossiter finished with 23 points, but 15 of those came in the final 10 minutes, all after Niagara had extended its lead to 17 points.

Niagara seemingly scored at will in the contest, hitting 54.1 percent of its shots, while Siena struggled against the hosts' quickness and managed just 42 percent shooting from the field.

The winners appeared, at least from a seat in front of the 42-inch screen, to play with noticeably more intensity than the Saints on this particular night.

Of course the initial reaction is to assume this is the type jump-start victory that could propel Niagara to similar success in the post-season tournament.

But, that remains to be seen.

After Niagara earned its late-season lopsisded victory over Siena at the end of the 2008-09 season it did advance for a rematch in the MAAC tournament's championship game.

But Siena won that, 77-70.


Mulldog said...

What does it mean is the question.

I happen to be of the opinion that it means a whole lot more than most people think.

Siena was exposed a bit last night. They can't score it from deep and they miss their free throws. On top of that, they play "solid" defense but it's mainly just keeping teams off the line while creating turnovers. Last night we saw what happened when you break down their pressure defense and attack the rim.

More importantly though it was a huge emotional victory for a team in desperate need of some confidence and momentum. You can't really get a bigger confidence booster than last night. It would have been one thing to sneak out a victory but to absolutely pummel Siena despite some terrible officiating shows that NU still has the ability to step up and play toe-to-toe with Siena at the Times Union Center.

Mainly, it sparked the revival of life in the only other team in the conference that fields a team as talented as Siena. Athlete for athlete, Niagara might have more skill, though Siena wins when it comes to brand of basketball and balance...but if you think Siena is worried about playing any other team in conference more than Siena come tournament time, you're not paying attention (directed at no one in particular).

Most importantly of all though, wasn't that Niagara won. It was that they did it with Kashief Edwards having a monster game. He beasted Rossiter who filled up another empty stat sheet as the Gallagher Center was chanting his name all night. Franklin perhaps struggled with Niagara's athleticism even more, as he was posterized on numerous occasions and was blocked a couple times.

The fact is, if Niagara starts playing with confidence and now will actually field a big man, who is a talented out..this team might be ready to make a serious run...and while I expect Siena to bounce back, they certainly looked like a team that couldn't wait for the bus ride home during the second half last night.

Steve Amedio said...

Mulldog --
Thanks, as always, for your insights.
What I think it showed was that Niagara is capable of playing with anyone when it plays with the energy and the ability to hit shots that it did in this game.
The other thing it proves is that when Siena doesn't come to play, and it seemed like Siena wasn't in sync the entire night, it leaves itself open to results like this.
It certainly will be interesting to see what happens in the post-season tournament.