The Siena Saints got Rico Pickett to put his tongue back in his mouth.
Then Siena head coach Fran McCaffery bit his.
Taunting the Siena bench throughout the first half, Pickett and backcourt mate Darryl Crawford got the jump on the Saints, but Siena methodically worked its way into control of the game in the second half and beat Manhattan, 78-61, in the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament before 8,914 at the Times Union Center on Saturday.
The game ended on a testy note, as McCaffery sent his starting lineup into the locker room with the game in hand and 1:20 left on the clock, removing them from the postgame handshake line, reminiscent of Siena’s win at Holy Cross last season when McCaffery was angry about the Crusaders’ hard fouls.
Top-seeded Siena (25-6), which has won 36 straight at home, will face No. 5 Rider in the semifinals today at 4 p.m. The Saints beat the Broncs twice this season, including an 80-54 win at Rider nine days ago.
To open the press conference afterward, McCaffery explained why he sent most of his players into the locker room early, then refused to address the issue further, or let his players do so.
“To avoid the multitude of questions that I might get, the reason that I sent my starters to the locker room was to avoid any possible incident that would affect their safety. That’s my No. 1 concern. And that’s all I’m going to say about it.”
He angrily interrupted a follow-up question to Alex Franklin, who had 23 points and 11 rebounds in his first game since being named MAAC Player of the Year, about the Jaspers’ taunting: “I said we addressed that. Questions about the game.”
It was a strange coda to a strange game in which Siena fell behind, 9-0, and had to endure Pickett’s antics as he made several big shots in the first half, then turned to face the Siena bench before heading back on defense, at one point sticking out his tongue before hammering a breakaway dunk.
Endure it they did, though, and in the end, Pickett didn’t have much to crow about as the experienced Saints kept their cool, in typical fashion, and shook off the slow start.
Siena didn’t take its first lead of the game, 48-46, until there was 15:26 to play, and the Saints outscored the Jaspers (11-20), 30-12, in the final 13:29.
“It was an aggressive game all game, we knew it was going to be that way,” said Siena point guard Ronald Moore, who passed Marc Brown into first on Siena’s all-time assist leaderboard.
“That’s their style of play. We just had to keep our composure, and we did a good job of that. When we were down, we stayed positive and stayed motivated, and his showboating, as well, gave us that much more motivation to come back and win the ballgame.”
“With regard to the game, as in any tournament situation — and I’ve been in enough of them — every game is hard,” McCaffery said. “Anyone who saw the game last night [Friday] saw how well Manhattan played. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game, we got off to a slow start offensively, but got after the glass and really made the plays down the stretch that we needed to make.”
As usual, Siena’s front line gave Manhattan trouble.
Ryan Rossiter had 10 points and 12 rebounds for his 14th double-double in the last 16 games and 19th of the season.
Franklin was magnificent, keeping the Saints in the game with 17 points in the first half, when Manhattan took a 40-36 lead.
Twice during the first half, Pickett nailed jumpers on the left wing, then spun around to look at the Siena bench.
Antoine Pearson hit a three for a 35-31 Manhattan lead and saluted the sea of gold Siena t-shirts in the student section in the end zone, and Pickett followed that shot with a steal and breakaway dunk.
He stuck out his tongue before spinning for a double-pump reverse.
“I really didn’t say anything, I just looked,” Pickett said. “The game was emotional. Everybody was emotional. I had some emotions running, and maybe I shouldn’t have done that, but it happened. I don’t feel like that messed anything up. But I didn’t say anything, I just looked at them.”
Pickett had 10 points in the first half, when Manhattan was 6-for-11 from three-point range, and Crawford scored 10 points in the first 4:45.
They combined for just 10 points in the second half.
“It couldn’t have gotten any worse,” Moore said of the cold start for Siena. “But we did a good job of not getting sideways, chipping at it bit by bit. Nothing was falling for us in the first half. It happens that way.
“We clamped down on them. Those guys were hot. We had to turn it around if we wanted to have any chance of winning.”
Off the bench, sophomores Owen Wignot and Kyle Downey, in just his second game since returning from a broken foot, and freshman O.D. Anosike made big contributions to fuel the comeback.
Wignot, who is 10-for-11 from the field in six career postseason games, followed a Franklin dunk with a three that gave Siena a 59-52 lead and sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Downey hit a three for a 65-53 lead with 6:07 left.
With Rossiter picking up his third foul on the first play of the second half, Anosike played a solid 13 minutes before spraining his left MCL with 16:39 to play. He was helped off and might be able to play against Rider tonight.
“Owen was spectacular today,” McCaffery said. “They were in a zone, he busted it wide open. He made plays, he hit threes, steals, he was all over the glass . . . I can’t say enough about Owen.”
“We always keep our composure,” Franklin said. “That’s the great thing about this team. We’ve been through a lot of different situations together, and we try not to rattle. If things aren’t going for us early, we know that we’re always in the game and things are going to start coming our way.”
With Siena leading, 75-59, and 1:20 on the clock, all of the Saints filed into the locker room except for the five reserves on the floor and little-used Connor Fenlon.
McCaffery shook Manhattan head coach Barry Rohrssen’s hand after the game, then there appeared to be some words between the coaching staffs, but there were no incidents.
“You know what, it’s not really on my mind right now,” Rohrssen said of Siena’s players going into the locker room.
Gabriel 1-2 0-2 2, Adams 1-5 0-0 2, Pickett 7-16 3-6 18, Bouli 3-5 0-0 9, Crawford 5-14 0-1 12, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Koita 1-1 0-0 2, Pearson 3-7 0-0 7, Coulibaly 1-2 1-2 3, Beamon 1-2 4-4 6, Laue 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 23-54 8-15 61.
Rossiter 2-7 6-6 10, Franklin 7-10 9-14 23, Jackson 2-15 2-4 8, Ubiles 5-12 0-0 10, Moore 1-5 0-0 2, Anosike 1-2 1-2 3, Downey 3-9 1-2 8, Smith 1-1 0-0 3, Griffin 0-1 0-0 0, Martens 0-0 0-0 0, Wignot 4-5 0-1 11, Breeden 0-1 0-0 0, Priestley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 26-68 19-29 78.
Halftime: Manhattan 40, Siena 36. Three-point goals: Manhattan 7-16 (Pickett 1-4, Bouli 3-5, Crawford 2-5, Pearson 1-2); Siena 7-22 (Jackson 2-11, Ubiles 0-1, Downey 1-4, Smith 1-1, Griffin 0-1, Wignot 3-4). Rebounds: Manhattan 32 (Crawford 9); Siena 48 (Rossiter 12, Franklin 11). Assists: Manhattan 10 (Gabriel, Pickett, Bouli, Crawford, Pearson 2); Siena 12 (Moore 8). Total fouls: Manhattan 23; Siena 15. Fouled out: Gabriel. Attendance: 8,914.
Rider 69, St. Peters 57
Ryan Thompson scored 22 points to lift fifth-seeded Rider past fourth-seeded St. Peter’s.
Justin Robinson and Mike Ringgold added 15 points apiece for the Broncs (17-15), who reached the semifinals for the third straight year.
The Broncs attempted 46 foul shots, second most in tournament history, with Thompson making 11 of 12.
Ryan Bacon had 24 points for the Peacocks (16-14), while Jeron Belin scored 14.
Fairfield 67, Canisius 57
Derek Needham scored a career-high 29 points as second-seeded Fairfield held off seventh-seeded Canisius.
Anthony Johnson added 16 points and a pair of blocks for the Stags (21-9), who advanced to face the winner of the Iona-Niagara quarterfinal in today’s semifinals.
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