Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Siena Wins "Super Bowl" Match vs. UAlbany

Former Siena men's basketball coach Paul Hewitt really never wanted to play geographic rival University at Albany, and didn't have to.

The series that began in 1939 and was played continuously until Siena moved to the Division I level in the mid-1970s (when Albany was still Division II), was finally resumed in 2001 after a 25-year absence.

Once one of the most-heated rivalries New York's Capital Region has ever had (think a small-town version of Army-Navy or Red Sox-Yankees), nary an iota of intensity was was lost in its absence.

It became such that former Siena coach Rob Lanier, under whose watch the series resumed, recognized the overabundance of anticipation and interest throughout the region and sarcastically referred to the meetings with UAlbany as "Super Bowls."

The upstate New York's version of basketball's Super Bowl was held Monday night at Albany's Times Union Center, and current Saints' coach Mitch Buonaguro might be justified in referring to this year's renewal as, simply, "Super."

Super for the undermanned Saints (only six players saw more than seven minutes of action), who overcame a 31-12 deficit with 5:41 remaining in the first half to make a total reversal for a 64-60 victory over the Great Danes.

It wasn't even a MAAC contest, but Buonaguro justifiably called the outcome the best win for his program since he took over as its head coach prior to last season.

Siena, a team with only eight healthy scholarship players, including four freshmen, won its first two games before a five-game losing streak with each of those following a similar script: a big early deficit, followed by an inspired comeback that just fell short.

Against UAlbany, though, the comeback got over the proverbial hump as Buonaguro shrewdly changed defenses that prohibited the Danes' perimeter players from continuing the penetration that worked so well early while using his team's edge in inside athleticism to great effect.

It resulted in Saints' 6-foot-8 forward O.D. Anosike having the best game of his career with a monster 21-point, 18-rebound effort.

No wonder Buonaguro was pumping his first towards the court, towards the crowd and towards the crowd as the game ended.

"I acted like that for the kids (players)," said Buonaguro, who is no stranger to big victories ... as a Villanova assistant in 1985, he was responsible for the game-plan that knocked off Georgetown in that season's NCAA tournament championship game.

"We've been hearing a lot of things like that we've had a lot of adversity and injuries, and that we're not a good team. We proved a lot of people wrong."``

And Siena proved that it can win games with a depleted roster.

Mostly, though, the game was a confidence boost for a team that needed one.

"Did we need this win? In my own mind we needed this pretty badly," added Buonaguro. "We've been right there in just about every game (in four of the five recent losses), but without much success. You need to win one of those to boost your confidence."

And, Siena did before a crowd of 8,252, almost assuredly the largest turnout that will see a MAAC team's home game this season.

"After our last five games ... if we continued to dig our way back and give up up again, it becomes a long, long season," said Saints' senior guard Kyle Downey. "We can build on this, and hope it snowballs."

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