A Seat in the Bleachers: Things get tighter in MAAC

The MAAC title race is getting tight down the stretch.

From the clipped tone of Fran McCaffery’s press conference, to the disgust and exasperation dripping from Kenny Hasbrouck’s answers, this loss seemed a little different.

It wasn’t the first time Siena has lost this season, but it was the first time they seemed rattled by it.

McCaffery’s fury with the offic­iating was evident during the game, but even if he was still seething about it afterward, he has other concerns, like Siena’s rebounding deficiencies.

Meanwhile, Hasbrouck observed that “We started playing hard, but we kept easing off.”

You could post that quote over the entire season so far. Every time it looks like the Saints have things figured out, they throw in a game that casts doubt.

Loyola torched Siena by 29 last month, providing all the motiv­ation the Saints would need to put together a tournament-type performance at home on Saturday, but instead, the Saints were unable to close the deal against a team that has swept them twice in each of the last two seasons.

There are two problems there: Siena has only three regular-season games left to learn how to win a game like this — really learn it — and the Greyhounds have all the evidence they need to prove they can beat Siena any kind of way, by blowout or nail-biter.

“I guess they have our number,” Hasbrouck said. “That’s four straight now. I don’t know what else to call it.”

As wide open as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference is right now, the Saints have every reason to believe they’ll see the Greyhounds again in what promises to be a del­icious MAAC tournament.

Even if they don’t, there are enough other obstacles out there. Rider lost to Fairfield; Marist lost to Manhattan, Siena’s opponent on Monday; and Niagara is right there.

The Saints were embarrassed by Rider, then came back last Sunday and beat the Broncs on Josh Duell’s three-pointer with 1.3 seconds left.

But then, to use Hasbrouck’s words, they eased off.

“It was a wake-up call when they [Loyola] blew us out. We didn’t need a wake-up call,” he said. “We’ve already been woken up about five times this season. We’ve got to finish games. We beat Rider, and that was a tough game, probably the biggest game we’ve won so far, but we’ve got to be more mentally tough.

“We have to have more savvy than we have. In a game, we’re just not there yet. From a leadership standpoint, I’ve got to let them know, that it’s not just an easy game. At the end of the game,

everything changes. People make big shots from everywhere.”

On Saturday, it was Loyola’s Greg Manning, who never left the bench until :16.9 left in the game, hit a three to send it into overtime and went right back to the bench.

“I’m going to retire from coaching if this keeps up,” Loyola head coach Jimmy Patsos said. “Anybody that doesn’t think the MAAC’s a great mid-major league, hasn’t watched us play. We’re a scoring league, an exciting league, and it’s a real honor to beat the best team in the league.”

At some point, Siena was the best team, but now the conference could go any which way.

On Monday, McCaffery reminded the media that he had predicted before the season that 12 or 13 victories would win the MAAC, and that’s starting to look like a solid bet.

There’s an apple on a low branch waiting to be plucked, but too many hands on the ladder.

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