Friday, February 5, 2010

Siena Thwarts Yet Another Challenge

It was the battle of the conference's top two teams at the two-thirds of-the-season point in MAAC play, second-place Iona meeting first-place Siena Friday night before a sell-out crowd of 8,056 at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.

Siena left no doubt about who rules the MAAC, swatting away another challenger like it would dismiss a bothersome mosquito with a dominant start-to-finish 88-68 victories ofer the Gaels.

Iona had certainly earned its stature as the conference's second-place team, riding an eight-game winning streak (the seventh-longest nationally) into the contest.

The Gaels had started to look like a legitimate challenge to Siena. Maybe not in the regular-season standings, but if Iona turned in a competitive performance it might have been a sign that it could do so again in the league's post-season tournament.

But, it doesn't look that way now.

Siena remains as dominant a MAAC team since the days that La Salle ruled the conference two decades ago.

In fact, Siena's 13-0 start to league play is the longest any conference team has gone into a season without a league loss since the 1989-90 La Salle team finished league play with a 16-0 record.

The MAAC has an 18-game season these days, but Saints' coach Fran McCaffery claims 18-0 isn't even on his mental radar.

"All I'm thinking about is Fairfield," said the Siena coach, about his team's next game (Monday night at the TUC).

There are plenty of others, though, not only thinking 18-0 but thinking Siena will get there, too.

And, why not?

Its current 14-game winning streak not only is the longest active string of success nationally, but also matches its program's all-time longest streak previously set by the 1988-89 team.

On Friday Siena had a double-digit advantage with 2:40 left in the first half and, then, went on a 15-6 start to the second half to take a 19-point lead with 16:09 left to play. The Gaels never got closer than 15 again.

Siena dominated just about every facet of play.

Iona, which has found success with pressure defense and three-point shooting, could only force Siena into eight turnovers and saw its offense limited to 4-of-18 shooting from three-point territory.

Siena, meanwhile, shot 9-of-17 from bonus territory (junior guard Clarence Jackson was 6-for-10 from beyond the stripe.

Senior forward Clarence Jackson led the winners with 23 points, while Jackson added 20 and junior center Ryan Rossiter had 19 points and 12 rebounds.

Sophomore guard Scott Machado had 24 points for Iona, but seven came in the game's first five minutes and nine more came in the final nine minutes when Siena's lead had been extended to 22 points.

Iona coach Kevin Willard was effusive in his praise for Siena.

"We got taken to the woodshed," said Willard. "I was proud of where we had gotten this year (the Gaels are currently 17-7 overall and 9-4 in MAAC play). But we're a long way from being able to compete with them.

"They start three seniors and two juniors. Our five starters include two freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors. You don't have a chance against them unless you pitch a perfect game. This one looked like we threw Joba Chamberlain out there and they started Roger Clemens."

It has looked like that for every conference opponent this season. Siena's margin of victory in its 13 league games to date is 13.9 points.

Friday's outcomes left Iona tied for second place with Fairfield.

If Siena beats the Stags in Monday's game, it will clinch outright possession of first place in the conference.

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