Patsos has made Siena relevant again

The reasons Siena lost to Iona Sunday night in the MAAC semifinals were all over the scoresheet, and
Siena coach Jimmy Patsos yells encouragement to his player during Sunday night's MAAC Tournament semfinal against Iona at Times Union Center.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Siena coach Jimmy Patsos yells encouragement to his player during Sunday night's MAAC Tournament semfinal against Iona at Times Union Center.

Categories: College Sports

The reasons Siena lost to Iona Sunday night in the MAAC semifinals were all over the scoresheet, and the court.

On a bad night, if you looked hard enough, you could still see the seeds for optimism. But, really, you had to look hard.

“It was a good season,” junior Brett Bisping said. “Right now, it hurts.”

What you weren’t going to see this night was a Siena win. No way. Not against this Gaels team, not yet, anyway.

You can’t shoot 11-for-21 from the foul line and win. Especially when your opponent shoots almost that well from behind the arc (10-for-21).

Your point guard can’t go 2-for-11 from the field and have five turnovers.

And you can’t let A.J. English go off. Siena did a great job containing the Iona guard and future pro in the first half (six points on 1-for-6 shooting). He finished with 29 points, making five of eight three attempts in the second half, including one a foot or so from his bench.

Meanwhile, Siena shot 7-for-22 from 3.

“Their shooters made shots,” Siena coach Jimmy Patsos said, “and ours didn’t.”

Pretty much. And that’s how Siena lost 81-70, and why Iona, Siena’s MAAC daddy in tournament play (8-0), moves on to tonight’s title game to face top seed Monmouth. It’s the fourth straight title game appearance for the Gaels.

That is where Siena wants to get back to. And the Saints (21-12), despite this loss, are finally on their way.

Siena is relevant again. And it appears they will stay that way for a while.

“Great season,” said Patsos, noting the Saints will keep playing in one of those alphabet tournaments. (Could they meet UAlbany in one? Why the hell not?) “We can’t get over the hump as quickly as we like here, but we are certainly going in the right direction.”

In his first season in Loudonville in 2013-14, Patsos guided Siena to a somewhat illusory 20-18 record, thanks to entering — and winning — the CBI. Last year, the Saints fell back to 11 wins.

This year: 20-plus wins. And it’s legit. A few more in a CBI or CIT would be fine. More importantly, the infrastructure is in place for Siena to return to past glory of the NCAA variety.

Yes, the reasons why Siena lost Sunday were all over the court. But the reasons why the Saints could return to the MAAC title game for the first time since 2010 — and win it — as soon as next season were equally apparent.

Next season, Siena only loses two players, Ryan Oliver and reserve Imoh Silas. It will be led by Bisping, a double-double machine with an inside/outside game, and Marquis Wright, the point guard whose junior year was waylaid by a foot injury, and Javion Ogunyemi, a defensive force developing offensive polish. Don’t forget Lavon Long, a swingman who does a bit of everything.

Four senior leaders. Exper­ience plus talent is the winning formula in mid-major college basketball (and a lot of other things in life).

Then there are young ’uns.

The only reason Siena briefly made it a game in the second half (the only lead the Saints ever had was 2-0) was Nico Clareth. The freshman guard led Siena with 18; if he progresses as a sophomore, he will be a first-option in the Saints’ offense.

Classmates Kenny Wormley and Evan Fisher will play more next season. (Watch Fisher’s development; he flashed as freshman.) And Kadeem Smithen, a sophomore guard and transfer from Richmond, will be eligible.

“We are really climbing the mountain, earning our way,” Patsos said. “The future is bright.”

In the post-Fran McCaffery years, Siena basketball fell into an abyss. When Patsos arrived, he had to resurrect a moribund program.

Forget the larger-than-life personality and the million-dollar quotes and the sideline antics that in fact have been toned down in recent years: Patsos can flat-out coach. And he has brought Siena, if not back, then to the brink of being back.

“We have to grow up a little bit,” he said. “We got a B. We are close to getting an A.”

Not yet. Not just yet. There is still some mountain to climb.

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