ALBANY — Siena capitalized on an undermanned Niagara squad and a great matchup in the post down the stretch to rally for a 60-56 MAAC men’s basketball victory over the Purple Eagles before a crowd of 5,401 Friday night at MVP Arena.
Niagara (3-7 MAAC, 8-11 overall) was playing without Marcus Hammond, who was averaging a team-leading 17.3 points per game, but missed the game because of COVID-19 protocols. Siena (4-3, 7-8) took advantage of the Purple Eagles’ lack of firepower overall and Jackson Stormo’s strength inside to surge to the win. Stormo scored 20 points, including 12 in the second half and numerous clutch points late in the game to help the Saints fight back from several five-point deficits.
With Siena behind 41-38, Stormo — a 6-foot-9, 247-pound senior — scored six consecutive points on a layup, a hook and another layup. He later scored four straight points to push the Saints on top 56-50 with 2:23 remaining and then virtually clinched the win with a pair of free throws with 29.5 seconds remaining to give Siena a 60-54 cushion.
“We heard that Hammond wasn’t going to play just before the game,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said. “But college guys tend to relax a little bit when you tell them something like that, and we knew that gave them an opportunity for someone else to step up for them. We knew it was going to be a tough game to score.
“We knew the way they played — putting so much pressure on the screeners — that we could try to get the ball to Jackson. We wanted to work the ball in the matchup.”
“Our guards did an excellent job getting me the ball,” Stormo said.
Colby Rogers, a 6-foot-4 junior guard who leads Siena in scoring (13.8 ppg), said the team enjoyed a home game after having played so much on the road.
“It definitely feels good to be home again with our own fans,” said Rogers, who added 11 points. “It was a long road trip.”
Although Siena shot a respectable 47.3% from the floor, neither team could make 3-pointers, as they combined to make just 2 of 25 on long-range shots. Each team sank just one shot from behind the arc.
“We knew it was going to be a low-scoring game, and it was a little sloppy at times,” Maciariello said. “It definitely wasn’t pretty in the first half. But we stayed with the process and stayed the course. I’m very proud of the guys.”
Niagara opened up an early 11-6 lead as Noah Thomasson and Sam Iorio, a transfer from South Alabama, scored four points apiece.
Siena regrouped with the help of Aidan Carpenter, who came off the bench to score five consecutive points on a floater in the lane and a three-point play. Stormo contributed four straight points a few minutes later to knot the score at 24-24 before the Purple Eagles headed into halftime with a 26-24 lead.
Iorio, who finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, scored six of Niagara’s first 10 second-half points to spark them to a 35-30 advantage, and then Jordan Cintron added back-to-back baskets to give Niagara another five-point cushion at 39-34 with 14 minutes left.
One of the big turning points occurred when Stormo scored six straight points and Rogers tacked on a free throw after Iorio received a technical foul for arguing about Stormo’s layup on an aggressive drive through the lane. That put Siena ahead 45-41 with 6:07 to go.
Siena held a 50-45 lead before Niagara put the Saints in foul trouble, allowing Thomasson to sink both ends of a 1-and-1.
But when Siena beat the Niagara press on a long pass to Stormo, he sank a layup to put the Saints ahead 56-50.
Thomasson scored 15 points, and Cintron tacked on 13 for the Purple Eagles, who have lost 16 of their last 18 games on the road to the Saints. Albany native Rob Brown III scored nine points on 4 for 11 shooting for Niagara.
“Hopefully, this game gives us some confidence, and we can keep playing like this at home,” said Maciariello, whose Saints continue their four-game homestand against Quinnipiac Sunday at 2 p.m.