A great third quarter and double-digit scoring efforts Tuesday from three Saints helped send the Siena women’s basketball team into Wednesday’s MAAC tournament quarterfinals.
Siena won 74-65 in its first-round game against Niagara at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The Saints’ reward is a matchup at noon Wednesday against top-seeded Marist, a club that swept Siena during the regular season with an average winning margin of 19.5 points per game.
“Really excited. Honestly, just trying to enjoy this win right now,” Siena graduate student Isis Young said during Tuesday’s post-game teleconference. “It’s great to play the first-round game and to win, and we’ll worry about Marist [Tuesday night].”
Siena played those regular-season games against Marist without Young, the leading scorer in the MAAC this season. Against Niagara, Young scored a game-high 26 points on 8 of 17 shooting, while senior Rayshel Brown added 21 points and junior Amari Anthony contributed 14 as the Saints held off a Niagara squad that made things interesting late.
“But we stayed the course. We stayed composed,” Siena head coach Ali Jaques said. “And we stole one — and now we’ve got to try to steal one again [Wednesday].”
Siena led by as many as a dozen points in the fourth quarter and had a double-digit lead midway through the final stanza. After Siena moved ahead 66-57 following a Young basket with 2:27 to go, though, Niagara responded with a 7-0 run that took a little more than a minute off the clock.
Niagara head coach Jada Pierce appeared to try to call for a timeout at the end of that run, but it wasn’t awarded. Instead, Siena quickly headed back the other way, and Anthony scored less than 10 seconds later to give the Saints back a two-possession advantage — and Niagara never seriously threatened again, as Siena finished the game on an 8-1 run.
“I was definitely trying to call the timeout because I wanted to be able to set up our defense after we scored and we cut [Siena’s lead to two points],” Pierce said. “But I guess the official said I didn’t call it in time, and that Siena had the ball [in bounds] when I tried to call the timeout.”
Pierce added: “I’m proud of the fight we showed toward the end of the game. It’s just unfortunate that we fell short.”
Niagara (No. 8 seed, 4-7 overall) and Siena (No. 9, 4-11) didn’t play during the regular season. The teams were supposed to play last week, but a positive COVID-19 test result within the Siena program led to the games’ cancellation.
Siena led 33-31 after a turnover-filled first half. Siena committed 13 turnovers in the opening two quarters, while Niagara had 11. Siena had the advantage, though, after Young scored 13 points in the opening half and made 3 of 5 shots from 3-point territory, while Brown scored eight of her points before intermission.
Siena started the third quarter on an 11-2 run, and outscored Niagara 16-9 for the quarter. After the teams often traded the lead in the first half, Siena led for the entirety of the second.
“Our players were really locked in defensively and did a fantastic job,” Jaques said.
For Niagara, sophomore Angel Parker scored a team-high 23 points.
A win Wednesday will send the Saints to the semifinals for the first time since 2018. Marist is 15-3 on the season, but is coming off a loss against Saint Peter’s. Prior to that defeat, Marist had won seven consecutive games.
“We’ve got to be focused,” Young said. “We’ve got to be locked in, and we all have to step up.”