ALBANY One hasn’t played enough lately.
The other played too much.
Siena got near-heroic games out of two sophomores, point guard Evan Hymes and shooting guard Robby Poole, but the Saints ran out of gas and fell just short to first-place Niagara, 78-69, at the Times Union Center on Friday night.
With Rakeem Brookins out with a back injury, Hymes played all 40 minutes and had 30 points and six assists, but by the end of the game, both of his legs were cramping. He had two costly turnovers in the closing minutes.
Poole, still coughing with a sore throat in his first game back since Jan. 6 because of the flu, scored 14 points, but missed a potential game-tying three-pointer from the left corner with 1:29 left that everyone on Siena’s team believed was going to be good.
The Purple Eagles, who improved to 8-1 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and 12-8 overall, made all the plays down the stretch, including a 4-for-4 showing from the free-throw line by Juan’ya Green, who fell just short of a triple-double, with 19 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds.
Hymes was magnificent from start to finish, making a nifty behind-the-back pass to O.D. Anosike for a huge dunk to bring Siena within 70-69 with 2:04 left.
The 5-foot-8 guard was disconsolate over another close one that slipped away for Siena (2-7, 4-16), which has lost 14 of its last 16 games.
“I could care less about the points; we should’ve won the game,” he said. “I shouldn’t have turned the ball over. I take ownership on that. We were right in it.”
“Evan Hymes could not have played better,” Siena head coach Mitch Buonaguro said. “He was incredible. I think he got tired. He played 40 minutes against arguably one of the top two or three point guards in the league. I have no issues with him turning the ball over. The only reason we were in the game was because of him.”
The Purple Eagles didn’t shoot nearly as well as they did in an 87-64 win last week, but were actually more efficient on offense, with 18 assists against just three turnovers, only one of which came in the second half.
Niagara led by as much as 59-47 with 11:16 left, but the Saints gradually clawed back into it.
Hymes, who was 4-for-5 from three-point range, made a three to cut it to 61-55, and Trenity Burdine, back for the first time after missing six games while on academic suspension, made two free throws, followed by a Poole jumper to bring it to 61-59.
He’s an exciting, dangerous player,” Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich said. “He’s one of those guys who’s going to make a 28-footer, and we told our guys that when he does, don’t look over and say, ‘But coach, he was way out.’ ”
Burdine, who had 11 points and four rebounds in 25 minutes, fouled out with 7:07 left, though, while Siena was still in the process of chipping at the lead.
“To be honest, I thought he had three fouls,” Buonaguro said. “That’s an issue on the bench that should not happen. I’ll take responsibility for that. The assistants told me he had three. It hurt a lot. You have to go with [Rich] Audu, a freshman, who’s not as experienced.”
Still, the Saints resolutely stayed in contact with the Purple Eagles.
Hymes made two free throws, then found Anosike for the big dunk that got the crowd of 6,387 roaring and cut the lead to 70-69 with 2:04 left.
The Saints didn’t score another point.
After Devon White dunked on a play coming out of a Niagara timeout to make it 72-69, Hymes found Poole open in the left corner for a three, but it was just a tad long on the iron, and was rebounded by Green.
“I’ve got to make those shots, especially the one in the corner when I was wide open,” Poole said. “Honestly, I thought that one was going in when I shot it.”
“We didn’t play the ball screen well out of the timeout, and that really hurt us,” Buonaguro said. “Then we had a wide-open look, and it didn’t go down. The shot that he took to tie the game, I thought it was going in.”
Antoine Mason, the son of former New York Knick Anthony Mason, made two free throws with 51.4 seconds left, and Hymes turned it over to White dribbling into the paint.
Green then made two free throws for a 76-69 lead with 31.2 seconds left.
“I had some crucial turnovers where I shouldn’t have tried to make a play,” Hymes said. “But I’m proud of my team. We fought hard against the No. 1 team in the MAAC. The dude smacked me on the arm, but being a smaller guard, I’ve got to know I can’t make that pass, dribble it out and run something. That was a crucial turnover.”
Mason finished with 17 points, and Ameen Tanksley scored 14 for the Purple Eagles.
Hymes was 7-for-11 from the field and 12-for-13 from the free-throw line.
Anosike had eight points and 10 rebounds and drew 13 fouls from the three Niagara big men.
“We threw the kitchen sink at him,” Mihalich said.
White 4-6 1-2 9, McCall 3-9 0-0 6, Green 6-17 6-6 19, Tanksley 5-8 4-7 14, Mason 5-11 4-4 17, Cline 1-3 0-0 2, Lemmons 0-2 0-0 0, Thomas 1-2 0-0 2, Jordan 3-6 0-2 9. Totals: 28-64 15-21 78.
Anosike 3-8 2-5 8, Bisping 0-2 2-2 2, Audu 1-4 0-0 2, Hymes 7-11 12-13 30, Poole 5-12 2-2 14, Burdine 4-7 2-2 11, Martens 1-3 0-1 2. Totals: 21-47 20-25 69.
Halftime: Niagara 42, Siena 40. Three-point goals: Niagara 7-20 (Green 1-4, Tanksley 0-1, Mason 3-6, Cline 0-2, Lemmons 0-1, Jordan 3-6); Siena 7-18 (Audu 0-2, Hymes 4-5, Poole 2-7, Burdine 1-3, Martens 0-1). Rebounds: Niagara 32 (Green 9); Siena 31 (Anosike 10). Assists: Niagara 18 (Green 11); Siena 12 (Hymes 6). Total fouls: Niagara 22; Siena 18. Fouled out: Thomas, Burdine. Technical foul: Thomas. Attendance: 6,387.