Saturday, March 3, 2012

Siena's Improbable Win Epitomizes Team's Resolve

Mitch Buonaguro has been an active coach for more than 1,100 games over 36 years, but called his Siena team's 84-82 overtime victory over Manhattan in the quarterfinal round of the men's MAAC tournament that ended 35 minutes after the bewitching hour "One of the greatest wins I've ever been associated with."

Buonaguro was reminded that he was the Villanova lead assistant in 1985 when that program defeated Georgetown in the national championship game, one of the NCAA tournament's all-time greatest upsets.

"Well, that one is No. 1, but this one isn't far off," said Buonaguro. "It's definitely in the top five."

But it must rank even higher for being improbable and inexplicable in a Siena season that continues to epitomize the unlikely.

Due to ineligibilities, injuries and an early season transfer that had the Saints relying on just six players for much of 2011-12, Buonaguro's team turned in a satisfying 13-16 regular season and earned the sixth-seeding position for the MAAC tournament.

But the regular-season now pales in comparison to the obvious euphoria the Saints so obviously displayed after their over the third-seeded Jaspers in a game that started Saturday night.

Improbable? The Saints were down to ust five players when guard Kyle Downey, its second-best ball-handler, fouled out with 4:18 remaining in regulation and Manhattan holding a 73-69 edge.

Unlikely? Siena's senior forward Owen Wignot scored a career-high 22 points, among those a game-tying three-pointer with seven seconds left in regulation on a broken play designed for him to pass instead of shoot.

Inexplicable? Siena had to hold its collective breath when Manhattan's Kidani Brutus squeezed off a potential game-winner  five seconds later that rolled around the rim twice, and seemed to be halfway down the cylinder before spinning out harmlessly.

Siena never trailed in the overtime, had an 84-82 lead when Wignot made one of two free throws with 19.6 left to play and had to sweat out two more Manhattan misses -- one by forward Rhamel Brown that was blocked by Saints forward Brandon Walters, the other a tough missed inside shot by Emmy Anduar -- before the victory was secured.

Walters also had a career-best scoring night (19), as did freshman forward Rob Poole (16), while junior forward O.D. Anosike, hindered most of the night with foul woes, had his usual double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

The outcome continued a season of belief-stretching occurrences by one of the nation's most-undermanned team whose iron-man starting five has played more minutes than any other starting group in the country.

During the season the Saints upset top-seeded Iona, No. 3 Manhattan and No. 4 Manhattan during the league season on its way to its current 14-16 record.

Manhattan, which played its fourth straight game without its starting point guard Mike Alvarado, finishes its year, for now, with a 20-12 record but is likely to get invited to one of the minor national post-season events.

"We battled, and played with two freshmen on the floor and got career-best games from Owen Wignot and Brandon Walters," said Buonaguro, as if still in disbelief moments afterwards.

"The resolve of this team is just unbelievable. Owen Wignot was terrific. Every time we needed a bucket he hit a big shot. But, this is what we've been like the whole season. We've had great resolve all year long, and we played with phenomenal resolve in this entire game."

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