TAMPA, Fla. — Kenny Hasbrouck had it in his hands.
Siena’s star guard plucked a defensive rebound out of the air, and headed up court, looking to push it.
Every time Siena pushed, though, Villanova pushed harder.
Before Hasbrouck ever got going, the ball was slapped out of his grasp to Dwayne Anderson, and he gave it to Scottie Reynolds for an uncontested layup while everyone else waited at the other end of the court.
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The play was symbolic of the entire afternoon. Siena was always a step behind its big brother from the Big East and lost, 84-72, in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum on Sunday.
It ended one of the finest postseason runs in program history, as Siena (23-11) won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season and tournament, and came within one game of a Sweet 16 appearance.
The Wildcats (22-12), who will play Kansas in Detroit on Friday, got the jump on the Saints from the start, and relentlessly answered every little shift in momentum for Siena. The Saints came back from a 16-point first-half deficit to get within nine with 6:28 left, but Reynolds’ basket blacked out that glimmer of hope.
“We were one play away four or five times,” said senior guard Tay Fisher, who played his last game for the Saints. “They just kept beating us down every time. But we went out there and played with tremendous heart; we dove for balls. We did the best that we can, and that’s all you can ask for.”
“You try to keep fighting, which I think we did, we kept coming back, coming back, we just couldn’t get over the hump,” point guard Ronald Moore said.
“We were scared to death to get behind them early, because we weren’t going to be able to press them, and turn them over and get them out of what they do,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said.
There were hugs among the coaches from each team after the game, and Siena head coach Fran McCaffery, a Philadelphia native, told Wright he is rooting for the Wildcats to make it to San Antonio and the Final Four.
Saints assistant Mitch Buonaguro was an assistant at Villanova for eight years, and assistant Andrew Francis coached under Wright the last three seasons before joining the Siena staff last year.
The game was a reversal of Siena’s first-round victory over Vanderbilt on Friday, when the Saints took a 5-0 lead, and never let the Commodores get into it.
This time, Villanova scored the first five points, built a comfortable margin and held Siena at bay, mostly through excellent guard play by Reynolds and Corey Stokes, who scored 25 and 20 points, respectively.
The shorter and lighter Moore had a difficult time with Reynolds, and finished with three points on 1-for-7 shooting, five assists and four turnovers, and Edwin Ubiles was quiet on offense, although he had 12 rebounds.
For most of the game, the Siena rooting section didn’t have much to do other than complain about foul calls, until power forward Alex Franklin muscled inside for a tough basket and drew a foul to cut it to 67-58 with 6:28 left, to a great roar from the green-and-gold.
His free throw bounced off the front of the rim — Siena missed 13 foul shots in the game — but the Saints were poised to get back in it when Hasbrouck rebounded Reynolds’ miss. Then it all swung back to Villanova in a heartbeat, as Hasbrouck lost it, and Reynolds calmly laid it in with no one around him.
“I grabbed the rebound, turned my back and somebody hit the ball from behind me,” Hasbrouck said. “That really hurt. That was like what happened the whole game. Plays like that were back-breakers.”
“I thought we had it when Kenny got the rebound, and we got a stop,” McCaffery said. “Scottie drove the ball, we got a good contest and a rebound, we’re down nine, we’re going on the break, we get a bucket there, we could’ve called a timeout and get into our press. Not only did we lose the ball, but they got back to double digits.”
Villanova followed that play with Dante Cunningham’s power move against Josh Duell to make it 71-58, and the Saints never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
After McCaffery emptied his bench to get everyone in with five seconds left, freshman Clarence Jackson cranked in a meaningless three-pointer at the buzzer to produce the final score.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how they just kept coming. We pressed them, we ran it, we drove it,” McCaffery said. “We got 39 free throws, that’s pretty good. Unfortunately, we didn’t make a very high percentage of them.”
“We were in a little bit of funk, but I think it shows to our character the way that we battled back from down 17 [actually 16] to get it back to 10,” Duell said. “We wanted to leave it all out there, but we ran into a better team today.”
“It was just like, whenever you get that emotional [boost] and try and make a run, and somebody just keeps it, hits a big shot to push the lead back up, it starts to hurt,” Hasbrouck said.
The Saints were down by 19-5 before they knew what hit them, as Reynolds made two three-pointers and scored eight points, but Siena didn’t let it get out of hand.
They started to work it in to Franklin late in the half, and Duell’s three-pointer with 47 seconds left pulled Siena within 42-32 at halftime.
Wright said getting the jump on Siena at the start was crucial.
“Fran, he really gets it,” Wright said. “They did that to Vanderbilt. If that team gets a lead, with their guards and the way they can handle the ball and pass it, you’re in big trouble.”
Whatever momentum the Saints gained at the end of the half, they lost at the beginning of the second. Siena turned it over on its first two possessions, and Reynolds popped a three for a 45-32 lead.
The Siena locker room was a mixture of disappointment for the end of the season and hope for next season, when the obvious goal will be to get back to the NCAA’s.
“We showed that we can play with the best teams in the country,” Duell said. “It’s just great for the program. It kind of put us on the map.”
Duell 2-6 3-4 9, Ubiles 3-11 6-10 12, Franklin 5-9 8-14 18, Moore 1-7 0-0 3, Hasbrouck 5-15 6-6 17, De La Rosa 2-3 1-2 5, T. Fisher 1-4 2-3 5, Jackson 1-1 0-0 3, Carr 0-0 0-0 0, Rossiter 0-0 0-0 0, Magee 0-0 0-0 0, Harris 0-0 0-0 0, Preistley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-56 26-39 72.
Pena 2-5 0-0 4, Anderson 3-4 2-2 8, Cunningham 6-10 2-4 14, Reynolds 7-15 7-9 25, Stokes 8-12 2-2 20, Grant 0-0 0-0 0, Colenda 0-0 0-0 0, Drummond 1-1 0-0 2, C. Fisher
0-1 2-3 2, Redding 0-2 3-4 3, Clark 3-5 0-0 6, Tchuisi 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 30-56 18-24 84.
Halftime: Villanova 42, Siena 32. Three-point goals: Siena 6-21 (Duell 2-6, Ubiles 0-2, Moore 1-3, Hasbrouck 1-4, De La Rosa 0-1, T. Fisher 1-4, Jackson 1-1); Villanova
6-13 (Anderson 0-1, Reynolds 4-7, Stokes
2-5). Rebounds: Siena 34 (Ubiles 12); Villanova 37 (Reynolds 8). Assists: Siena 9 (Moore 5); Villanova 15 (Reynolds 5). Total fouls: Siena 19; Villanova 27.
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