Friday, March 4, 2011

Men: Siena Uses Experience To Hold On

The clock had nearly reached midnight at the end of Siena's play-in round in the men's MAAC tournament Friday night, but it didn't strike midnight on the Saints' season or their hopes for a fourth consecutive post-season championship.

But, Siena needed every bit of its past tournament savvy to hold off a young Manhattan team that played one of its best games of the year in earning a 68-66 overtime victory to advance to Saturday's 7:30 p.m. quarterfinal-round contest against second-seeded Iona.

Manhattan got a 15-foot jumper from freshman point guard Mike Alvarado to force the extra session and the Jaspers had a 66-65 lead after sophomore forward George Beamon's two free throws with 2:17 remaining.

But, Saints' junior forward Owen Wignot made a corner three-pointer with 1:28 left to give Siena its 68-66 lead and Siena blocked the Jaspers' next two shots. Manhattan had a final gasp, but Beamon missed a three-pointer in the closing seconds to enable Siena to advance.

Besides his late-game three-pointer, Wignot also tipped a missed shot to teammate Clarence Jackson for a bucket that gave the winners a two-point edge near the end of regulation that enabled Siena to get into overtime after Alvarado's shot at the end of the second half.

"Owen made big plays ... the tip and the three," said Saints' coach Mitch Buonaguro. "If he doesn't make the three, we probably lose.

Saint seniors Ryan Rossiter (17 points, 14 rebounds) and Clarence Jackson (24 points, including 6-of-14 shooting from three-point range) led the offense for the winners, now 13-17 overall this season.

"Those two have been in a lot of big games, and they played big tonight," added Buonaguro. 'That we've been in a lot of close games ... all those close games have helped us.

"The older guys have been there before. When we came off the court at the end of regulation, the first thing Ryan Rossiter said to the guys is that we were going to win."

"The experiences we've had before helps because a lot of guys have been there before and have gone through (tough games) before," added Rossiter. "We've been down by 17 or 12 in tournament games before. You just tell the young guys to take it a possession at a time and not get down on yourself."

The victory enabled Siena, the winner of the last three MAAC post-season events, to continue on against an Iona team it split with in regular-season meetings this season."

Friday night's victory was Siena's 10th straight in MAAC tournament games, matching the longest winning streak in the league's post-season event previously reached only by the La Salle teams of the late 1980's.

Rossiter had 14 rebounds Friday to reach 400 for the season, the third-highest single-season rebounding total in conference history. Only former Rider standout Jason Thompson (411) and former Fairfield forward Darren Phillips (405) have had more rebounds in a season.

If Rossiter reaches his average of slightly over 13 rebounds per game against Iona, he'll hold the conference's new one-season record in that statistic.

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