Saints back on track, poised for stretch run

Say what you want about being sent two time zones from home with your team split into two different
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Say what you want about being sent two time zones from home with your team split into two different flight itineraries for a non-conference game while you’re supposed to be concentrating on a fierce fight for first place.

Nobody was griping when half of the Siena contingent touched down at Albany International Airport on Sunday evening, the other half of the team still on its way.

The Saints were shaken by two straight close losses to Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference op­ponents, but put it all together in a dominating 93-70 ESPN BracketBusters victory at Boise State late Saturday night.

Just in time for two more MAAC games before the conference tournament begins on March 7, the Saints (11-5, 17-10) showed how well they can play when everyone does his job.

“We needed this real bad,” senior guard Tay Fisher said. “That game came around at a tough time. We did lose some tough games, so we needed a game where we could go out there and start off fresh again. There was no better game to do it in than a non-conference game. It couldn’t hurt us, but it definitely could make us better.

“We went out there, played real well, and now, we can get a little streak going. That’s what you need at this time of year, we need to beat Niagara, beat Saint Peter’s and then win three in a row to get into the championship game.”

“This win is big, especially confidence-wise,” sophomore forward Alex Franklin said. “After losing two games, it’s the best thing for you, to get a win. The trip was well worth it. It’ll give us some momentum going into the next game.”

That would be 7 p.m. Friday at home against Niagara, one of four teams tied for first in the MAAC.

A win is one thing, but the Saints didn’t just beat the Broncos, who came into the game with a 20-6 record and first place in the Western Athletic Conference; they dismantled them.

No matchup was more glaring in its one-sided advantage for Siena than Franklin against Reggie Larry, who had eight points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes.

Franklin’s numbers were cartoonishly eye-popping — a career-high 30 points on 13-for-16 shooting (81.3 percent), and a career-high 18 rebounds.

“That was an important matchup,” Siena head coach Fran McCaffery said. “Larry’s probably going to be the player of the year in the WAC, and Alexander clearly outplayed him. So to win that matchup so handily was a big step in our ability to establish that we had a low-post game. He rebounded extremely well, so we could get out and run. I think they rely on their two big guys offensively, and we did a pretty good job on both of them. He’s just better [than Larry]. It’s really pretty simple.”

“Coach B [assistant Mitch Buon­aguro] did a great job on the scouting report,” Franklin said. “He thought there would be some things that I’d be able to do, and that I’d be able to attack the defense pretty well, so I just wanted to follow the game plan and attack them.

“I really didn’t know what my stats were. I was so in the flow of the game. When somebody told me at the end of the game, I was like, ‘Wow.’ ”

“Alex is a beast, man,” Fisher said. “Alex is a beast. We need him to do that every game. He’s been doing it, and his back is getting better. Coach has been taking a lot of pressure off him, especially in practice. Like I said to the team, if you go out there and give heart and we rebound, the outcome is going to be good.”

Rebounding has been a sore spot for Siena all season, but the Saints had a 44-36 advantage over Boise State.

The Saints got their running game going, and scored at least 90 points for the third time this season despite making just four three-pointers, all in the first half.

Every time the Broncos, who never led, showed signs of gaining some momentum, Siena wiped it out with a scoring run, usually

fueled by steals leading to fast breaks. The Saints forced 20 turnovers.

“It wasn’t anything out of the

ordinary,” McCaffery said. “We ran on makes and misses, we disrupted them, we turned them over 20 times and ran out off those turnovers and off their misses. But while it was an aggressive mindset, offensively, I thought, defensively, we played as complete a game as we’ve played all year.”

“Throughout the game, they were scoring big baskets and coming back, and we’d come down, run a play, and it was successful every time, so we took the crowd out of there,” Fisher said. “It was a frustrating game. I don’t think they liked the way it was officiated, they were losing, there were a lot of words being exchanged, but we held our composure, and played through it. It was a great win, especially going to Idaho, and I’m happy we’re back right now.”

“I never felt like we didn’t have control of the game throughout the whole game,” Franklin said. “We were able to maintain the intensity for the whole 40 minutes.”

Siena seemed to be riding high after two straight wins over Marist and an

80-77 victory over Rider in the rematch of an embarrassing loss to the Broncs.

Then, the Saints lost in overtime at home to Loyola, and lost by one at Manhattan while making just seven of 19 free throws.

That left Siena tied with Niagara, Rider and Loyola.

“It was important to come back and play well,” McCaffery said. “We had a chance to win two games that we didn’t win. If you look at the film, I didn’t think we played that bad against Manhattan. If we make free throws, we win the game. That was the unfortunate thing. If you look at the numbers, we outrebounded them, we didn’t turn it over, we shot it pretty well. They made a ton of threes, which is not good, but 7-for-19, you’re not going to win on the road.”

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