Saints jump back on NCAA train (with photo gallery)

Ronald Moore hit another big three-pointer, then Siena outscored Fairfield, 12-5, in overtime to pul
Siena’s Edwin Ubiles is lifted in the air as Siena fans celebrate their team’s win against Fairfield during the MAAC tournament championship game at the Times Union Center in Albany on Monday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Siena’s Edwin Ubiles is lifted in the air as Siena fans celebrate their team’s win against Fairfield during the MAAC tournament championship game at the Times Union Center in Albany on Monday.

Onions, triple order.

Ronald Moore hit another big three-pointer, then Siena outscored Fairfield, 12-5, in overtime to pull out a heart-stopping 72-65 win in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game before 10,679 at the Times Union Center on Monday night.

The victory sends Siena (27-6) into the NCAA tournament, where Moore memorably drew an “Onions! Double order!” call from commentator Bill Raftery last season, for the third year in a row.

Despite an attempt by security to keep celebrating fans off the court after the game, a swirling flood of gold T-shirted students rampaged through courtside chairs and joined the team at center court, lifting Edwin Ubiles onto their shoulders after the senior swingman scored 27 points, including six in overtime.

Siena now will look forward to Selection Sunday, when they will find out who their first-round opponent will be, and where they will play in the first round of the NCAAs.

“It’s great for us seniors, who have been through a lot, had our ups and downs and struggled at times. This is a great way to go out,” Ubiles said. “One thing we never thought of was the NIT. We knew we didn’t want to go there. We wanted to be with all the big dogs, and we had to make it happen tonight.”

“We couldn’t get down on ourselves, even though we dug a big hole,” Moore said, as screaming students mobbed around him.

Siena came back from a 13-point second-half deficit, finally taking the lead with 2:07 left on a three from Moore that was reminiscent of the two shots he made against Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season.

Freshman Colin Nickerson tied it for Fairfield (22-10) with 55 seconds left, but the Saints scored the first four points of overtime, and never trailed.

Tournament MVP Alex Franklin, the third senior on the team, opened overtime with a leaner in traffic, then junior Ryan Rossiter tipped in Franklin’s miss for a 64-60 lead.

Ubiles made a baseline jumper that was answered by two free throws from Anthony Johnson, then Franklin scored inside to make it 68-64.

Ubiles hit two from the line with 30.7 seconds left for a 70-64 lead, and after freshman point guard Derek Needham hit one of two from the line, Ubiles iced the win with two free throws with 10.8 seconds left.

“Sure, there’s some talent here, but tonight, I think what we saw was character,” Siena head coach Fran McCaffery said.

“There was no point in the game where I thought it was getting away from us,” said Franklin, who had 22 points and 12 rebounds. “We don’t rattle in situations like this.”

Moore, who hit a three to send the game against Ohio State into double overtime, then made the game-winning three, gave the Saints a 60-58 lead with 2:07 left when Ubiles dribbled into the lane and passed to the left wing, just as he did against the Buckeyes.

Moore swished it, holding his follow-through as he spun to head back on defense.

He said he couldn’t help but have a flashback to last year’s win over Ohio State in Dayton, Ohio.

“I like to have the ball in my hands for the tough decisions,” Moore said. “For Eddie to find me, like he did at Ohio State, I told him if he hit me, I was going to knock it down.”

“It’s funny, because a couple of times, I had it on the right side of the floor, everybody was helping and I even put up the shot a few times,” Ubiles said. “I didn’t see him, so it’s not like I was looking him off. But he kept telling me, ‘When you drive, I’m open on the weak side. I’m wide open.’ And I told him, ‘I’m in a zone, right now.’ So he’s like, ‘Just think about it.’

“They cut me off, I saw everybody closing in and I looked weak side, and he was wide open. I gave it to him, and he knocked it down. It definitely reminded me a little bit of the Ohio State game.”

Siena, which has been prone to slow starts all year, fell behind at halftime, 39-28.

The Saints started to press on defense more in the second half, and were able to bring some chaos to what had been a smoothly operating Fairfield offense.

Siena scored eight straight points early in the second half on a driving finger roll by Clarence Jackson, a slam and a tip-in by Franklin and a jumper by Rossiter off a feed from Moore, who passed Marist’s Jared Jordan as the all-time assist leader in the MAAC.

That brought the Saints within 45-40, and got the crowd into a deafening roar.

“The thing we had going for us was we had tremendous exper­ience,” McCaffery said. “And we had a lot of time. What we didn’t do is panic. In the second half, the game plan was to disrupt their rhythm. They were in a great rhythm, and were essentially carving us up. We had to press them.

“In my mind, when the game shifted was when it was 45-40. We were still five down. But in a relatively short period of time, we got it to a two-possession game. When you have an 11-point deficit, and that baby goes to 17, 19, with 14 minutes to go . . . you’re not catching Fairfield. You’re not. Once we made the run, obviously, the crowd got involved, and then it was a game.”

“We knew Siena was going to make a run,” Fairfield senior Mike Evanovich said. “We expected it, we just didn’t handle it well enough when it happened.”

Still, Siena continued to play catchup.

The Saints finally tied it at 53-53 with 7:46 left on a drive in traffic by Ubiles that got the roll.

Rossiter made a difficult putback to tie it at 55-55, then the Stags’ Sean Crawford swung the momentum back by hitting a three from the right wing with 3:27 left.

Franklin got two back with a drive, then Moore made his big three-pointer.

Ubiles turned it over trying to force a pass inside to Rossiter that led to Nickerson’s finger roll off a bounce pass from Needham that Moore swiped at, but missed.

Fairfield had a chance to win it in regulation, but Siena had fouls to give, and used them to burn clock. Nickerson’s jumper from the left corner bounced off the back iron as time expired.

“We belonged in this damn game,” Fairfield head coach Ed Cooley said. “We will play in this game again.”

“We’ve got three great seniors here, and we know what it takes to win a game like this,” Ubiles said. “We’ve been through it, and we took it upon ourselves to make sure we got this one.”

Rossiter finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds, his 21st double-double of the season and 16th in the last 18 games.

Needham scored 16 points for Fairfield, and Johnson had 14 points and 13 rebounds.

FAIRFIELD (65)

Turner 0-2 0-0 0, S. Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, A. Johnson 5-8 4-4 14, Needham 7-18 1-3 16, Crawford 2-11 0-0 5, Jordan 2-3 0-0 5, Grzeck 0-0 0-0 0, Nickerson 5-12 0-1 10, Olander 3-5 2-3 8, Evanovich 3-6 0-0 7. Totals: 27-65 7-11 65.

SIENA (72)

Rossiter 5-9 0-2 10, Franklin 10-18 2-5 22, Jackson 2-11 0-0 4, Ubiles 10-20 5-6 27, Moore 3-6 2-2 9, Anosike 0-0 0-0 0, Downey 0-0 0-0 0, Griffin 0-2 0-0 0, Wignot 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 30-68 9-15 72.

Halftime: Fairfield 39, Siena 28. Regul­ation 60-60. Three-point goals: Fairfield 4-24 (Needham 1-8, Crawford 1-6, Jordan 1-1, Nickerson 0-6, Evanovich 1-3); Siena 3-10 (Jackson 0-5, Ubiles 2-2, Moore 1-1, Griffin 0-1, Wignot 0-1). Rebounds: Fairfield 39 (A. Johnson 13); Siena 43 (Rossier, Franklin 12). Assists: Fairfield 11 (Needham, Nickerson 3); Siena 11 (Moore 6). Total fouls: Fairfield 14; Siena 16. Fouled out: A. Johnson, Rossiter. Attendance: 10,679.

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