By Kevin Sweeney
Coming into this game, Siena had hoped that the Christmas break would serve as a restart button on what had been a disappointing season.
However, tonight’s game against Vermont was more of the same for the Saints, as they fell 76-60 to Vermont in front of a frustrated crowd of 6,176 at the Times Union Center in downtown Albany.
The Catamounts outplayed the Saints from the opening tip, but it took awhile for Vermont to pull away. Siena hung around for the entire first half, tying the game multiple times and never trailing by double figures. That said, the Catamounts held off a few Siena pushes to maintain control, getting a huge boost from Darren Payen off the bench.
Last night on “Upstate Sports Edge”, Siena’s four 1000-point scorers were interviewed, and one point made by center Javion Ogunyemi about the Saints’ struggles was that they seemed to give up “a career high to a player who shouldn’t be anywhere near that number.”
Payen did just that, scoring a season-high 17 points, including 12 in the first half, giving the Catamounts a huge lift off the bench. Payen had been averaging just 3.5 points per game coming into the contest.
Despite playing poorly, Siena had to feel pretty good about trailing just 36-30 at halftime. The game seemed like it was there for the taking, but the Saints could never capitalize.
A steal by Siena’s Nico Clareth and a couple of buckets by Ogunyemi allowed Siena to quickly cut their deficit in half, but a pair of triples by Vermont’s Ernie Duncan quickly stole momentum right back for the Catamounts.
The play that really swung the game in Vermont’s favor came with 13:33 to play in the game. Siena’s Lavon Long appeared to have converted an and-1 layup that could have brought Siena within four. However, the officials ruled the foul have new on the floor, wiping away the basket. Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos was irate, and was called for a technical foul.
While Patsos has been known to get himself “T’d up” in order to fire up his team, the technical had the opposite effect tonight. The technical started a 12-4 run for the Catamounts that gave Vermont a 61-46 lead with just over 10 minutes to play. Siena would never trim the lead to single digits again, and the Saints faithful slowly filed for the exits.
One strange stat about the game was the number of offensive fouls. With the introduction of the freedom of movement rules as well as the expansion of the restricted area, offensive fouls have become few and far between. In tonight’s contest, there were 10 offensive fouls, the most I’ve seen in a game this season.
Vermont continues to have Siena’s number, as the Catamounts have now won the last 7 meetings between the schools. There has been talk of moving the series to the Glens Falls Civic Center, about halfway between the two schools, for future meetings.
Payen’s 17 paced the Catamounts, while Trae Bell-Haynes added 16 points. Brett Bisping posted a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds for the Saints.
Siena resumes conference play on Monday, when they begin the MAAC’s infamous western road trip, in which teams travel to Buffalo for games against Canisius and Niagara. Vermont has one more non-conference game, a home tilt with Harvard on January 2, before opening America East play.