By Kevin Sweeney
The Siena Saints shot a blistering 64% from the field in the second half to earn an important comeback win over the Iona Gaels at Hynes Center on Saturday. The Saints were led by strong performances from Nico Clareth (20 points) and Brett Bisping (19 points, 13 rebounds). The Gaels led by 12 with 11:27 to go in the game, but then surrendered an 11-0 run by the Saints, including 2 3-point baskets from senior guard Ryan Oliver, which brought the game within one.
Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos credited a team huddle with 12 minutes left for starting the turnaround. “We had like a huddle with 12 minutes to go and it was kind of like, everybody was upset because we knew we were better than that. Everybody cared, there was nobody mad at each other, we were just upset that we weren’t playing better,” said Patsos.
Oliver scored 13 points for the Saints, including 4-6 from deep, nearly double his season average of 6.8 points per game. Oliver led a 3 point shooting barrage by the Saints, who shot 11-20 as a team from downtown. Siena seemed in control with a 77-70 lead after a Clareth jumper with just 2:17 to go, but Iona responded, scoring the game’s next 6 points to trim the Siena lead to just 1 with 43.7 seconds to go. After Clareth went 1-2 from the foul line with 5 seconds left, Iona had one chance to send the game to overtime, needing a 3 pointer. They put the ball in the capable hands of senior guard A.J English, whose shot from just inside of half-court missed to the right. The Saints were able to withstand the senior duo of English, who scored 31 points and added 8 assists, and Isaiah Williams, who added 20 points for the Gaels. Siena was able to overcome 23 turnovers, including 8 by junior wing Lavon Long.
This game will seemingly have an huge impact on the MAAC standings the rest of the way. Siena’s win pulls them within a 1/2 game of the Gaels for second place. The Iona loss also seemingly locks up the MAAC regular season title for Monmouth, who now holds a 2 game lead on the Gaels with just 5 games to play. The two teams will meet again on Monday, February 22 in Albany. Siena’s junior point guard and captain Marquis Wright is expected to be available for the Saints in that contest, despite not having played since December 22 due to a stress fracture in his foot.
Looking forward, Siena will play next on Friday night when they travel to take on Rider. Iona will play next on Monday in a home tilt with Quinnipiac.