ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — With the season on the brink, Siena women’s basketball head coach Jim Jabir implored his team to get going as the Saints headed into the fourth quarter of Thursday’s MAAC tournament quarterfinal at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.
Valencia Fontenelle-Posson, one of the few members of Siena’s playing rotation with any past MAAC postseason experience, understood where the coach was coming from in that huddle.
“I actually just thought of last year, going home, and that feeling,” said the sophomore, referencing Siena’s one-and-done postseason in 2022. “I really fed off that feeling of the loss that we had. I just don’t want to feel that feeling again — and I’ll do anything not to feel that feeling.”
Fontenelle-Posson and her teammates made sure they didn’t Thursday, as they doubled up Fairfield in the fourth quarter of their 59-53 win. Siena trailed by as many as 10 points in the third quarter of the victory that advanced the fourth-seeded Saints to a semifinal matchup with top-seeded Iona at 11 a.m. Friday.
Siena (No. 4, 19-12) trailed by four points heading into the fourth quarter against Fairfield (No. 5, 15-15), which won the conference championship last year. After a basket from Fairfield to start the final period’s scoring, Siena rattled off a game-changing 10-0 run that included six points from Fontenelle-Posson. From there, Siena never trailed, as the Saints answered both times Fairfield tied the score in the final minutes.
“Pretty much get your ass in gear or we’re going home — right?” Jabir said of his motivational speech heading into the fourth quarter. “Yeah, I mean, we have to play really intense, and focused and harder than them. That’s got to be Siena basketball. We have to defend and rebound with passion — and we were going through the motions for the first three quarters of the game. … It looked like a passing drill. They were just throwing the ball around and getting open looks, getting second shots, and … we should have bought tickets. We were just watching the game. And, then, it clicked and guys made plays. We rebounded, we attacked, we ratcheted up the defense — and these guys played with the passion that we know they have.
“And,” Jabir continued, “once we learn how to do it consistently, we can beat anybody in our league. But it’s up to us to figure out how to be that team consistently.”
Siena, of course, is a youthful team this season, one that was picked to finish tied for ninth place in the MAAC’s preseason poll. Thursday, Siena only played one player — junior Ahniysha Jackson — who wasn’t a freshman or sophomore.
But Siena showed veteran mettle after trailing 30-26 at halftime and for all of the third quarter. Siena’s 10-0 run put the Saints ahead in the fourth quarter, and late-game pressure didn’t seem to bother the young club. Fairfield tied the game at 49 midway through the fourth quarter, and Siena promptly responded with a 3-pointer from freshman Teresa Seppala. Later, Fairfield tied the game at 53 with less than four minutes to play, and Siena answered with a second-chance basket from Jackson that started a game-ending 6-0 run. That final spurt included a driving basket from freshman Angel Jones and a fast-break layup from sophomore Anajah Brown off an assist from freshman Elisa Mevius, the MAAC Rookie of the Year.
“I think some players stood up, and we held each other accountable,” Mevius said of her team’s strong fourth quarter. “We tried to push each other more.”
Fontenelle-Posson and Jones each scored 10 points to lead Siena, which also received nine apiece from Jackson, Mevius and Seppala. Brown contribited eight points and seven rebounds.
For Fairfield, graduate student Callie Cavanaugh had a game-high 18 points, plus six rebounds.
The quarterfinal game was Siena’s first close game in a month. Since beating Niagara 83-81 courtesy of a buzzer-beating, half-court heave from Mevius in mid-February, Siena’s final five regular-season games were each no closer than 17 points.
Awaiting Siena in the semifinals is an Iona squad coming off a performance much different from the one the top-seeded Gaels delivered when the teams last met. Iona only scored 39 points Wednesday in its quarterfinal win. When Iona and Siena played in mid-February, Iona won 91-64 and made 37 of 49 shots from the field, including 13 of 17 from 3-point territory. Iona’s 75.5% shooting for the game wasn’t far off the all-time best mark in an NCAA Division I women’s basketball game, which is Vanderbilt’s 76.2% from a 2007 game against Alabama.
Juana Camilion and Ketsia Athias each scored 22 points to lead Iona in that win, while Brown had 16 points for Siena. Iona also defeated Siena in January, a 68-66 game that saw Iona’s Camilion score 21 points and Seppala lead the Saints with 17.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for Iona. They’re really balanced,” Jabir said. “[Camilion] is a great player, and she makes them go — and she’s so clutch on both ends of the floor.”
Fontenelle-Posson said the Saints know they need a more-complete effort against Iona than the one they delivered against Fairfield.
“We just all need to come together and decide before the game that we need to show up and just work hard from the jump,” Fontenelle-Posson said. “We can’t just take any plays off, for not even a second — and we need to come together on defense because our defense leads to our offense.”
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Categories: College Sports, Siena College, Sports