LOUDONVILLE — Matt Gras, a 6-foot-10 center who helped the Siena men’s basketball team make a deep run through the 1994 National Invitation Tournament, died on Wednesday after a long illness that was complicated by COVID-19, the school athletic department announced on Wednesday.
The 1995 Siena graduate had been suffering from cerebellar ataxia. He was 46.
He appeared in 114 games from 1991-95, including 65 starts, and was a two-time MAAC All-Academic Team selection.
Gras may be most well-remembered for his stellar 1994 NIT performance, in which he played a key role in leading the Mike Deane-coached Saints to a third-place finish at Madison Square Garden.
That run started with a stunning first-round victory over Bobby Cremins-coached Georgia Tech before over 12,000 at the then-named Knickerbocker Arena in Albany.
Gras averaged 15.4 points and 7.2 rebounds spanning five NIT games, highlighted by his first collegiate double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds in the consolation game victory over Kansas State at the Garden.
“Matt was a gentleman who matured into a very good person and basketball player,” Deane said in a release from Siena. “Matt was a delight to be around, and nobody ever had a bad word to say about him. I hope he can rest in peace now, because I know that he was struggling of late because of his disease, and I know that he will be sorely missed by all.”
“Matt was talented and extremely gifted,” former teammate and college roommate Brian Bidlingmyer said. “He had great hands and feet and helped us win a lot of games. Unfortunately, he is the second member of our 1994 NIT team that we have lost [Jeff Muszynski], so this really puts into perspective how lucky and blessed you are.”
“Matt and I first met at summer camp before coming to Siena, and we went through thick and thin together,” former teammate Stu Downing said. “We always felt that our time together was special, and this is a great loss. My prayers and support for his family.”
“This whole situation has been tough, and I’m heartbroken for Matt’s family,” Doremus Bennerman told Siena from his home in Sweden. “We got to a point at Siena where we were so close from our time together in high school and college. We always knew we had each other’s backs.”
Gras led the Saints in scoring during his senior season in 1994-95, averaging 13.8 points while adding 5.9 rebounds on 53.3% field goal percentage.
A native of Seymour, Connecticut, Gras starred alongside Bennerman at St. Joseph High School in Trumbull, Connecticut.
Gras was a 1,000-point scorer for the Cadets, and averaged 22.4 points and 12.5 rebounds during his senior season en route to being named the Bridgeport Post Player of the Year. Gras and Bennerman were part of a St. Joseph men’s basketball team which was recently enshrined in the school’s Hall of Fame.
Gras is survived by his mother Carolyn, stepfather Spike Jones, daughter Chloe, brother Bryan, sister Nicole, sister-in-law Kristen, nephews Tyler and Evan and former wife Jennifer.