Siena, as expected, advanced to the semifinals of the men’s MAAC tournament with a 78-61 victory over No. 9 seed Manhattan Saturday night, but not without a little first-half worry and a little second-half controversy.
The top-seeded Saints struggled early, falling behind by a 16-4 margin after seven minutes and were still behind by as many as five several minutes into the second half.
The controversial, though, began making its presence known when Manhattan’s standout junior guard Rico Pickett, a demonstrative performer even when on his best behavior, stole a pass near midcourt and began his route to an unobstructed dunk.
But, on his way there he veered closer to the Siena bench, turned in that direction and stuck his tongue out at the Saints before completing a 360-degree jam.
After that there was considerable woofing and rough play, punctuated by a decision by Saints’ coach Frank McCaffery, his team holding a 16-point lead, to lifted his starters and sent them directly to the lockerrom with 1:15 remaining in the contest.
One of his top reserves, Kyle Downey, attempted to remain on the bench but McCaffery walked the length of his sidelines to direct Downey to join his other departed mates in the lockerroom.
When the game ended and teams met at midcourt for the traditional post-game handshakes of sportsmanship, the Jaspers were greeted by Siena’s coaching staff and a the few remaining Siena reserves.
When asked about his decision afterwards, McCaffery opted for a no-comment.
“I’m not going to address it in any way,” said the Saints’ coach.
Manhattan coach Barry Rohrssen also opted to stay away from the potential controversy.
“My concern is for our team and our kids, and that’s here it is,” said the Jaspers’ coach. “That’s my believe and it’s where it needs to be. I can only coach one team at a time.”
Clearly neither coached was pleased about the contest’s extracurricular activities.
But, surely, McCaffery was pleased by the outcome that sets up a 4 p.m. semifinal-round meeting with No. 5 seed Rider, which earned its wan into that game with an impressive 69-57 victory.
The Broncs are now 16-14 overall (Siena is 25-6), but the Saints won both regular-season meetings with ease, by scores of 84-62 in an early-season game on Siena’s Times Union Center home court and by an 80-54 verdict last Friday at Rider.
Despite the two lopsided outcomes Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said he isn’t likely to change his team’s playing style for the third renewal.
“We are more a free-flowing, up-and-down team,” said Dempsey. “We tried to go up and down with them (in the two previous meetings) and they seem to do it better than us so far.
“We can adjust to whatever the game dictates, but if you ask my preference … I’d rather we get up and down.”
McCaffery said he remains impressed by Rider, despite his team’s two previous lopsided victories.
“They have a team with a multitude of offensive players,” said McCaffery. “What happened earlier this year doesn’t matter. All that matters is tomorrow (Sunday). They’ve got a solid substitute rotation built around guys who are stars in this league. Players of that caliber have our full attention.”