Siena won over the doubters and even some UAlbany fans as their 13th-seeded team defeated fourth-seeded Vanderbilt Friday in the NCAA basketball tournament.
NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket
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“Go Saints! This is probably the first time in my life I’ve said that,” yelled Maureen Kelly of Niskayuna, who drove to three different bars before finding a crowd of Siena College fans to hang out with.
She started out just wanting to enjoy an enthusiastic crowd. She wasn’t going to cheer for Siena.
“I’m not a Siena fan,” she said firmly. “I just like NCAA basketball.”
But the team won her over. Before the first half ended, she was cheering like everyone else.
Many couldn’t believe their team was actually winning. Even Nick Carpenter, 14, the leader of the Saints ballboys, kept calming down the people sitting near him at Beff’s on Everett Road.
“They don’t miss, I’m telling you,” he said of Vanderbilt. “They’re good. They’re going to keep coming at us.”
Siena alumna Melissa Guiry, who graduated in 2005, reluctantly agreed.
“Vanderbilt’s going to want it and then they’ll step it up,” she said. “They probably thought it would be an easy game.”
But as the Saints kept scoring, she started to hope.
“They’ve worked so hard,” she said. “The team’s gone through so many changes — yes! That was a really sweet shot!”
Carpenter shook his head. Siena only had a chance, he said, if the team was ahead at the half. He pointed out every weakness in his players, every mistake they made, every strategy they missed.
The minutes ticked down. His pessimistic commentary slowed. He started cheering the baskets, then shouting at each successful pass. When the buzzer blew at the half with the Saints ahead 46-34, he leapt off his seat.
“Yes!” he screamed. “They’re going to do it!”
Siena alums stood shoulder-to-shoulder with UAlbany fans as they watched the last breathless moments. Despite the fierce rivalry between the two colleges during one much-anticipated game in the regular season, everybody wanted one of the local teams to win big.
“You won’t get many Siena and UAlbany fans sitting together, but when it gets to this level, you cheer for the Capital District,” explained Gregg Weinlein of East Greenbush, who graduated from UAlbany in 1974. “Everyone wants the local team to win.”
Almost everyone, that is.
“I want Siena to lose. I like to watch the teams I don’t like lose,” said Nicole Nati of Albany as she watched the crowd at Sutters Mill. The popular bar across the street from the UAlbany campus was filled with Siena fans and she was hoping to relish in the moment when the Saints ran out of steam.
“Everybody gets so upset when they lose, and I love it,” she said.
Friend Marcella Anastasio of Albany agreed. “Go Albany!” she yelled when Vanderbilt scored.
Fans who were hanging on every foul shot reacted angrily, shouting that it was Siena, not UAlbany, that had made it to the national stage.
“[Expletive] root for your team!” one man yelled, while another shouted, “Support your community!”
Anastasio shrugged. “All right, go Siena,” she said without much feeling. “Same difference.”
Others vehemently disagreed.
Ami Jo Campbell of Scotia said watching the Saints win was far different from watching the hypothetical success of a bigger university like UAlbany.
“They’re a small team from a small school and they’re playing their hearts out,” the 2003 alumna said happily.
She left her 7-week-old son at home and went to a bar so that she could watch the entire game without interruption. Baby Thomas was supporting the team from his bed, though. He was dressed in Siena clothes, from his shirt to his hat.
He may kick himself later for sleeping through the big game. Residents said watching Siena win was the experience of a lifetime.
“That’s our team!” they shouted, whether they graduated from Siena or UAlbany. Even out-of-towners who moved to the area after college claimed ownership of the team.
“It’s great that there’s a team so close to home that’s actually making it,” said Stefanie Sheppard, who graduated from Fordham University. “That’s our team up there!”
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