ALBANY — Siena got close, but couldn’t close the deal.
Down 14 points at halftime to Quinnipiac and having trailed by as many as 15 in the first half, the Saints spent the second half of Friday night’s MAAC men’s basketball game getting closer and closer, but never close enough as Quinnipiac held on for a 66-63 win at MVP Arena.
After the loss, Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello lamented mistakes that have plagued the Saints at multiple stretches this season.
“I’m tired of teaching lessons,” Maciariello said. “These guys are grown men, especially these two guys [graduate students Jackson Stormo and Andrew Platek] next to me, especially some of the other guys on our roster. We’ve got to correct it. We can’t keep making the same mistake.”
A fast start to the second half got Siena within three, and the Saints withstood an 8-0 Quinnipiac run that pushed the lead back to 11 with 3:51 to play to make one final charge.
Down 62-56, Michael Eley’s 3-pointer got Siena within 62-59 with 13.7 seconds to play, and the Saints got a gift when Quinnipiac’s Paul Otieno missed the front end of a 1-and-1 at the free throw line.
Then, the same sequence played out twice in a row. As soon as Siena’s Javian McCollum dribbled over half-court, Quinnipiac fouled to prevent the Saints from getting off a game-tying 3-point attempt. On both occasions, McCollum made both free throws to get Siena within a point — but Quinnipiac’s Matt Balanc responded with two made free throws of his own on the other end.
After Balanc’s free throws made it 66-63, Killian Gribben was called for a travel with 1.6 seconds left, sealing the Saints’ fate.
“Every game is going to be [within] two or three possessions in the MAAC,” Maciariello said. “You can’t give them away. You can’t give away possessions over and over again, the same way we were doing in November.”
With the loss, Siena (11-5 MAAC, 17-10 overall) no longer controls its own destiny in the race for the MAAC regular-season title. Rider’s loss to Canisius earlier Friday night meant Siena entered its game with a chance to leapfrog into sole possession of second place in the conference, but the Saints — who are off Sunday — head into next weekend’s crucial road trip to Rider and Iona still sitting in third, currently a half-game behind Rider and 1 1/2 games behind Iona with four regular-season games remaining before the conference tournament in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Since starting 6-0 in MAAC play, the Saints have gone 5-5 over the team’s last 10 games.
“Our goal is always to win a MAAC championship,” Platek said. “We’re more than good enough to do it. We just have to do it our way, the Siena basketball way. We didn’t show that tonight. … Time is ticking. We only have a few more games left, and we’ve got to get ourselves into gear going into Atlantic City.”
Stormo, who came off the bench for the first time all season, led Siena with 16 points and eight rebounds. Platek added 11 points, while McCollum and Jared Billups scored eight apiece.
McCollum and Eley were both bothered throughout the night by Quinnipiac’s perimeter defense, finishing with 15 points between them on a combined 5 for 18 shooting.
Offensively, Quinnipiac won the game on the interior, outrebounding Siena 36-28 and outscoring the Saints 34-24 in the paint.
“It’s nothing that we didn’t know they were going to do,” Stormo said. “We know they’re a physical team. They crashed the glass hard. Coach said it’s one of our keys to the game, and we didn’t execute.”
Little went right from the jump for the Saints. After a Billups 3-pointer opened the scoring, Quinnipiac responded with a 14-2 run — including nine straight points at one stretch — and never let Siena get comfortable.
Quinnipiac dominated every phase of the game in the first half, shooting 14 of 28 from the field compared to Siena’s 10 of 28, making 4 of 11 3-pointers compared to 1 of 9 for Siena, and finishing the opening 20 minutes with a 21-13 rebounding advantage.
Balanc and Dezi Jones each finished with 12 points for Quinnipiac (9-7, 18-9).