Albany County

Siena women’s basketball looks to get past Niagara in MAAC quarterfinals

Siena's Rayshel Brown puts up a shot during the Siena Saints' women's basketball home opener against Duquesne Saturday, November 27, 2021 at the UHY Center in Loudonville.
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Siena's Rayshel Brown puts up a shot during the Siena Saints' women's basketball home opener against Duquesne Saturday, November 27, 2021 at the UHY Center in Loudonville.

Niagara swept the Siena women’s basketball team during the regular season, and the Saints lost those games in rough fashion. In each defeat, Siena committed a whopping 32 turnovers against Niagara’s full-court pressure.

But, for their MAAC quarterfinal game, the Saints don’t dread matching up against Niagara. It’s been a season of bouncing back for the Saints, and Thursday’s 2:30 p.m. game at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, represents Siena’s latest opportunity to show how much it’s grown this season. 

“We’re not just going to go down there and think that we’ll lose to them,” Siena fifth-year Rayshel Brown said Monday after a practice in Loudonville. “We’re just going to go down and play.”

To put it mildly, it’s been an up-and-down season for the Saints. At season’s start — and again later in the campaign — Siena didn’t look like a team on its way to earning a first-round bye for its conference tournament. In Jim Jabir’s first season back leading the Saints as head coach since his tenure guiding the program from 1987 to 1990, Siena lost its first 10 games. Then, after winning five consecutive games, the Saints lost seven of eight games before winning four of their last five.

“It would have been easy just to quit,” Brown said. “So I’m very proud of my team as a whole. We’re growing and learning, day by day, and I’m just happy to see the growth pay off.”

Siena (No. 5 seed, 10-18 overall) lost to Niagara (No. 4, 14-14) on Jan. 27 and Feb. 7, with those two defeats by a combined 20 points. Niagara scored 54 of its 147 points off turnovers in those games, so it’s no secret what Siena’s focus was leading up to the start of postseason play.

“I kind of welcome playing Niagara,” Jabir said, “because I really feel that if we’re going to get to the next level, we have to find a way to fundamentally play against that kind of pressure — and I think we’ll do a better job this time out.”

The Saints head into the tournament with some momentum on their side. Like Niagara, Siena won its last two games of the regular season, and the second of those wins for the Saints clinched their first-round bye. Selena Philoxy recorded career-high marks in points with 21 and rebounds with 19 in that 69-65 win against Monmouth, while Brown contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Ahniysha Jackson scored a dozen points in a game that had a postseason feel for the Saints.

“That just makes us want it more, knowing something is on the line,” Philoxy said.

Brown, a second-team All-MAAC selection, led Siena in scoring with 13.1 points per game during the regular season, while Margo Peterson averaged 10.4 and Philoxy scored 9.6. Philoxy averaged a team-best 8.3 rebounds per game.

For Niagara, Angel Parker leads the way with 17.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 4.2 steals per game. Parker was a first-team All-MAAC selection.

The winner of Siena vs. Niagara will play top-seeded Fairfield, which defeated Iona 69-56 in a Wednesday quarterfinal. That Friday semifinal is scheduled for 11 a.m., but Jabir said the Saints’ focus is squarely on Niagara. 

“I think if we play with composure, we have a good chance of beating them,” Jabir said, “and that’s all I want to see, is just continued improvement.”

Categories: College Sports, Siena College, Sports

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