Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hoop Odyssey: Buonaguro Justifiably Jumps For Joy

And, Game 2 of a four-games-in-four-days Basketball Odyssey in New York's Capital Region ...

Friday night, Canisius men at Siena at the Times Union Center in Albany.

When this one was officially declared over, Siena fans saw their coach pump fists in the air, and twice jump as high as, probably, he ever did in his own playing career at Boston College some 40 years ago. They saw their coach's physical "animation" leave his shirt out of his pants and light green tie very much askew.

Yes, Mitch Buonaguro looked he was dancing to the song of the loon, and had every right to do so after a stunning 57-54 upset victory over Canisius.

Stunning? Surprising?

Siena came into the game with a 2-13 overall record and riding an 11-game losing streak.

Canisius came in with a share of the conference's top spot with a 3-1 MAAC record and a 10-5 overall mark.

Not long before the game, Buonaguro learned that one of his starters, and second-leading scorer and  rebounder Rob Poole would not suit up due the flu. If left Siena with seven player Buonaguro trusted in game competition, two of them sophomores and four others freshmen.

Somehow, though, Siena rallied from a 10-point deficit with less than 10 minutes remaining, held an opponent that had been averaging 74.5 points per game to just seven points over the final 11 minutes and to just 54 for the entire game.

It enabled the Saints to pull into a tie at 54 when sophomore guard Rakeem Brookins made one of two free throws with just over a minute left.

Junior guard Billy Baron missed a three-point attempt with 12 seconds left that would have given Canisius a lead, Ryan Oliver grabbed the rebound for Siena and threw an outlet pass that seemed intended for teammate and Saints' point guard Evan Hymes.

Instead, Brookins reached up to grab the pass from Oliver and began pushing the ball up the sideline watching the Siena bench for an indication Buonaguro wanted a time out to set up a last-second play.

Instead, Buonaguro kept waving Brookins forward, and the sophomore guard pushed it up to within about 22 feet away just in front of the Siena bench and launched a fall-away three-point shot over the outstretched defense of Canisius' Isaac Sosa that fell through at the buzzer.

But, did it? Game officials took well over a minute to check video replays to confirm that the shot was released with eight-tenths of a second still on the clock.

"Actually, when they were pushing the ball up court (for Brookins' last shot), I thought they were calling for a time out," said Canisius coach Jim Baron.

"I usually do call one in that situation," said Buonaguro. "But `Rock' (Brookins) is a really good late-game player. Tonight wasn't the night for a time out. It was more of a gut feeling that he was going to do something really good."

"By far, that's the biggest shot I've hit in my life," said Brookins.

And it prompted the type of post-game celebration by the Siena coach that might have rivaled his gyrations after Villanova upset Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA championship game, at which time the Siena head man was a Villanova assistant coach who designed the game plan for that legendary result.

"Yeah, I was animated because of the circumstances," said Buonaguro. "We've had a lot of adversity. A coach should be able to do that once in a while. It was more than personal elation, though. It was for the kids ... they've been through a lot.

"But we came into this game with an 11-game losing streak and had to play arguably the best team in our league. We had our backs to the wall when we were down 10, and we get an unbelievable shot at the end.. We played against a team that came in averaging 75 points per game and held them to 54. It was an unbelievable defensive effort. We could not have been better at that tonight."

Yes, Buonaguro had plenty to be jumping for joy about on this night.

Observations ...

- Siena played a zone defense almost exclusively, not only as a recipe to make perimeter shots tough to come by for the Golden Griffins' talented guard group, but to give a short-handed playing group time to catch their collective breath during the game. It was reminiscent of a year ago when the Saints were down to six trusted bodies for the second half of the season and found success playing that way.

- It also reinforced just how close things are between MAAC teams this year. Coaches everywhere within the conference are quick to point out overall parity from top to bottom and, for once, it's more than lip service. Of Siena's 13 losses so far, two have been by a single point, two others by four points, one by five points and three by six points.

- Siena's sophomore guard Evan Hymes, who entered play shooting just 30.1 percent from the floor and 26.9 percent on three-pointers, was 8-of-12 overall and 4-of-6 from beyond the stripe with several of them from way beyond the stripe, for a game-high 20 points.

- We knew coming in that it was going to be a battle," said Canisius coach Jim Baron. "We didn't step up and make shots like we normally do. And, you look at their shots ... Hymes stepped up big time for them.. We just got caught up in playing a slow-down game with them, and we'd rather play and up-and-down tempo."

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