The last player off the court for pregame warmups, Kenny Hasbrouck had a little grin on his face as he took a pass from Siena College president Rev. Kevin Mullen and drained a three, then disappeared into the tunnel.
It turns out he knew something no one else did: that the injury he suffered Sunday night would be a non-issue on Monday.
Hasbrouck shook off a slow start shooting and finished with 19 points in 37 minutes to help the Saints beat Niagara, 77-70, in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game before 9,744 at the Times Union Center, sending the Saints (26-7) to the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.
Since early in the second half of Siena’s semifinal victory over Fairfield, Hasbrouck spent most of his time, right up to hours before the championship game, icing his right calf after getting kneed in a midair collision.
He didn’t participate in a shootaround Monday afternoon, but showed no ill effects of the injury against the Purple Eagles (26-8).
Hasbrouck was 1-for-10 to start the game, then hit seven of his last 11 shots, including seven points during a 13-3 game-changing run inside of the seven-minute mark.
“I think I was 100 percent,” Hasbrouck said. “I was just sore. It’s not an injury that’s going to stop me from playing, it was more of a thing that was nagging. It was about how mentally tough I was, and not letting it get to me.”
“He wasn’t hitting early in the game, but he kept shooting, kept shooting and was able to start hitting,” point guard Ronald Moore said. “I wasn’t worried about him at all. Kenny’s a warrior, and our leader and our captain. That’s what he’s supposed to do.”
“He was right there in the first half,” Siena head coach Fran McCaffery said. “He was making plays and taking good shots. The great thing was, when he got going, everybody came with him. That’s kind of the way this team has been all year long.
“I thought he would play well. My concern was, for how long? Would he wear down? But with the adrenaline and the quality of the trainers we had, he’d be good.”
The game was tied, 50-50, with 8:47 left to play, then Hasbrouck made a pullup jumper and a runner that was set up when 6-foot-9 sophomore center Ryan Rossiter, who finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, went flying into the Siena bench to save a loose ball to Moore, taking out two chairs in the process.
Niagara hung around for a few minutes more, but Hasbrouck started the big run with a three-pointer.
“He’s a senior, he knew what he had to do,” Rossiter said. “Kenny’s a clutch player, player of the year, and he deserves every accolade he gets. We always trust him when the ball’s in his hands.”
Alex Franklin gave the Saints a 71-59 lead with a thunderous dunk putback with 2:59 left.
Anthony Nelson made two free throws to cut it to 72-65 with 1:01 left.
Moore made two big free throws to give the Saints a 75-67 lead with 34.9 seconds left.
“That’s the longest 45 seconds of my life,” Rossiter said. “The fans thought it was over at the three-minute mark, but we knew we had to keep fighting. I just couldn’t wait for those horns to go off.”
Siena will find out who they will play and where during the NCAA selection show on Sunday.
The Saints upset Vanderbilt in the first round last year before losing to Villanova.
“It’s back-to-back MAACs, and now, it’s NCAA time,” Moore said. “We didn’t want to stop this run now.”
Niagara made it a close, exciting game by cranking up threes and chasing down the rebounds.
The Purple Eagles were 9-for-37 from three-point range and had 49 rebounds, including 30 at halftime. They had 22 offensive rebounds.
“That’s always been their game,” Hasbrouck said. “They’ve done it every game we’ve played them, and they still do it. Sometimes, they win. The difference was we started getting rebounds.”
That was the job of Rossiter and Franklin, who finished with 16 points and six rebounds.
“He played great,” Hasbrouck said of Rossiter. “I don’t know what his stats were, but the stats won’t tell the story of what he did. He deserves the MVP.”
Tyrone Lewis scored 22 points for Niagara, and Benson Egemonye had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Niagara jumped out to a 13-5 lead, as Tyrone Lewis hit two of the Purple Eagles’ three three-pointers, including a banker that was reminiscent of the 33-footer he hit against Rider the night before to send that semifinal game into overtime.
Siena chipped away, and exploded to a 23-19 lead behind Clarence Jackson off the bench.
He came up with a steal and hit a deep three as Hasbrouck dribbled, spun around and fired it back to Jackson. He made another steal that led to a three-point play for Edwin Ubiles that gave Siena a 20-19 lead and sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Then Jackson accepted a pass from the post from Rossiter and nailed a three to make it 23-19.
Demetrius Williamson came off the bench and hit two threes during an 8-2 run late in the half to tie it at 33-33.
The Purple Eagles had a 30-19 rebounding edge at halftime, including 12 on the offensive glass.
Benn 2-15 1-2 6, Egemonye 5-9 0-1 10, Garrison 5-11 0-0 11, Lewis 7-16 4-5 22, Nelson 1-4 4-6 6, Cooley 0-4 0-0 0, Williamson 4-13 2-2 13, Gordon 1-2 0-0 2, Edwards 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 25-74 11-16 70.
Ubiles 4-13 1-2 9, Franklin 7-9 2-6 16, Rossiter 6-11 4-8 16, Moore 2-6 3-4 7, Hasbrouck 8-21 1-2 19, Duell 1-3 0-0 2, Jackson 2-4 0-0 6, Wignot 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 31-68 11-22 77.
Halftime: Siena 33, Niagara 33. Three-point goals: Niagara 9-37 (Benn 1-7, Garrison 1-7, Lewis 4-10, Nelson 0-1, Cooley 0-3, Williamson 3-9); Siena 4-10 (Ubiles
0-1, Moore 0-2, Hasbrouck 2-4, Jackson 1-3). Rebounds: Niagara 49 (Benn 11, Egemonye 10); Siena 41 (Rossiter 14). Assists: Niagara 14 (Nelson 7); Siena 19 (Moore 7). Total fouls: Niagara 20; Siena 14. Technical foul: Moore. Attendance: 9,744.