Saturday, March 9, 2013

Niagara Not At Best, Still Good Enough To Advance

Its 74-62 victory over Siena in a MAAC tournament quarterfinal-round contest Saturday afternoon wasn't vintage Niagara work, but Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said he's just glad his regular-season titlist is moving on to the next round.

The Purple Eagles, now 19-12 overall, only shot 40.4 percent from the field, while Siena made 50 percent of its shots. But, Niagara forced the Saints into 20 turnovers (to just seven for the Purple Eagles), a different that accounted for the winners getting 13 more shots from the field.

"I'm not a KenPom guy," said Mihalich, about the type statistical analysis available via internet sources like Ken Pomeroy's. "I don't understand all the numbers on the charts that are supposed to tell what you do well. My assistants look at that and tell me that one of the things we do well is force more turnovers than we commit, and that's a big part of what we do, so I guess I agree."

The Purple Eagles, despite what appears to be a frenetic offensive style, came into Saturday's game forcing 3.83 more turnovers per game than it committed, by far the best in the conference. And, then, it held a 20-7 edge over Siena in turnovers forced/committed in Sautrday's contest.

"That's been a problem for us all season," admitted Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro. "We just can't turn the ball over like that against a team like Niagara."

Despite the discrepancy in that particular statistic, Siena stayed close for most of the quarterfinal-round contest and was within six with 2:42 remaining after Evan Hymes' three-pointer.

Niagara, though, answered with a trey by its sophomore guard Juan'ya Green to push its advantage to nine and Siena couldn't get closer than eight again.

"You win one ... you buy one, and you live to play another day," said Mihalich. "All the talking heads in the media were saying that this just a No. 1 vs. No. 8 game (actually, Siena was the event's No. 9 seed), but it just showed the difference between 1 and 8 is marginal.

"We just had some guys make plays when they had to. I'm just glad to be around for another day.. The thing I always say that one of the toughest things about this tournament is that winner of the 8-9 seeds already has a game under its belt and comes into the quarterfinals loose and comfortable. Hopefully, we've gotten this out of our system and we'll be loose and comfortable the rest of the way."

Niagara looked most comfortable when it was taking good care of the basketball. It also did a solid job on Siena's senior standout forward O.D. Anosike, limiting the 6-foot-8 player to just 13 points (6-of-8) shooting and 10 rebounds.

We threw the kitchen sink at O.D.," admitted Mihalich. "He's a hard guy to guard."

The outcome sees the Saints end their season with an 8-24 record, the program's worst since a 6-24 finish to the 2004-05 season, the last under coach Rob Lanier before he was fired.

Current Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro's record in three seasons as the program's head coach is 35-59, leading to considerable speculation that Siena's administration might be inclined to buy out the last year of their coach's estimated $275.000 per season contract.

"I'm the coach," Buonaguro said. "I have a contract for next season. We'll see what happens."

Mihalich, though, came to his counterpart's defense.

"Mitch and I go back a long way, and I have a ton of respect for him as a coach," said Mihalich. "If not for bad luck he'd have had no luck at all during his time at Siena. They didn't have a full team all year this season,  with all the injuries. I think they dressed a manager for their Radford game (a BracketBusters' contest), at least it sounded that way to me."

Siena won two of its last five games, lost one by just two points and played well against Niagara in this event.

"It's been rewarding to see that we've been playing our best at the end of the year," said Buonaguro. "As a coach, that's what you strive for."

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