Sunday, March 4, 2012

Saints' Unlikely Win over Jaspers One for the Ages

Every once in a while, but not that often, a basketball game grabs the imagination; becomes one that will forever be etched in the memory banks.

Siena's defying-the-odds overtime victory against Manhattan that started Saturday night and didn't end until 12:35 a.m. Monday morning, is one of those.

It was memorable enough, at least in the frantic, euphoric moments afterwards for Saints' coach Mitch Buonaguro to pronounce it possibly the greatest game he had ever been associated with, and he has been associated with more than 1,100 college games during his coaching career.

It was only after Buonaguro was reminded that he was, after all, the lead assistant at Villanova in 1985 and the architect of the game plan that resulted in one of the sport's all-time upsets, a championship game victory over Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown, that the Siena coach amended his assessment.

"That was No. 1, for sure," he agreed. "But this is definitely up there, for sure in the top five.

Where does it rank in MAAC lore? Surely relatively high, but coming in a quarterfinal-round contest and not in the championship game costs it some consideration.

What what at stake was the continuation of Siena's season and not a trip to the NCAA tournament.

But, in a Siena historical perspective, of which your Hoopscribe can go back to the beginning of the program's Division I era in 1976, it at least ranks among the best.

Again, not for the resultant tangible benefits. After all, if Siena can win this year's MAAC tournament the results later today and tomorrow would certainly surpass the Saints' victory over Manhattan for sheer surprise and shock.

But, for improbable results, there are few greater.

What would potentially rank higher?

Maybe a 1989 victory over Boston University in the championship game of the North Atlantic Conference's post-season tournament that sent Siena to its first NCAA game. That one needed a Steve McCoy rebound of a missed Siena shot and a twisting reverse layup as the buzzer sounded for Siena to win and advance (and, ironically, McCoy's nephew, Ryan McCoy is a freshman reserve for this year's Manhattan team).

And, maybe, that season's Siena victory, as a No. 13 seed, in a first-round tournament game over Stanford (ranked 13th nationally).

But, in both instances, the Saints had more than enough talent, led by all-time program great Marc Brown, to justify those victories that weren't all that shocking within the so-called Siena community. To this day, former Siena coach Mike Deane contends he expected to win that game.

Maybe the most-improbable run over Siena's history came from the 2001-02 team., coached by Rob Lanier, that struggled so much during the regular season that it entered the MAAC tournament as its No. 9 seed. It then proceeded to win four straight tournament games and advance to the NCAA event. But that season's team was decimated by injuries most of the year and when players got healthy for the late run the Saints had as much talent available as any conference team that season.

Others may point to the program's NCAA tournament victories, particularly over Ohio State in 2008 when then point guard Ronald Moore made big-time shots at the end of both regulation and the first overtime (Bill Rafftery's famous "Double Onions" call) to keep the Saints alive. But, Siena was seeded just one slot below Ohio State that season and, again, had enough talent for the outcome to hardly be considered an upset of any significance.

There have been a number of last-second shots, significant rallies and other unlikely comebacks in the program's history.

But this weekend's victory over Manhattan probably stands alone among the improbable outcomes.

How else to explain a team decimated by injuries, ineligibilities and transfers to the point where it played the entire contest with six players and the last 9:17 with an iron five and got career games from two seniors (Brandon Walters and Owen Wignot) who basically had been little more than role players over their Siena careers.?

How to explain a regulation-ending Manhattan jumper that would have ended things right there yet, instead, spun around the rim twice and appeared to be farther down in the cylinder than not yet still spin out?

Said school president Father Kevin Mullen: "Someone was looking out for us."

And, still, Siena had to survive two last second shots by Manhattan as it clung to a two-point lead, the first blocked by Brandon Walters the second bouncing harmlessly off the rim, to complete the improbable, unlikely occurrence.

Yes, indeed, it did appear that someone was looking out for the Saints against Manhattan in a game that while not one that will rank among the program's best for tangible rewards will surely be recalled as one of the most inexplicably positive outcome in Siena's Division I basketball history.

No comments: