This had “easy game” written all over it.
Well, at least until Canisius got the big eraser out.
The first-place Siena Saints dominated the last-place Golden Griffins, 72-44, on Jan. 13, and in the short time since then, Siena has only gotten stronger.
A funny thing happened on the way to what, on paper, looked like a mismatch, though. Saints coach Fran McCaffery has said since the preseason that there will be no
automatic wins in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and, on cue, Canisius proved him correct on Friday night by knocking off Niagara, 70-62, the biggest upset in the MAAC this season.
Since gaining a small measure of national attention with one point in the “votes received” category of the Associated Press national poll that came out two weeks ago, the Purple Eagles have lost two of three, and fallen into a second-place tie with Marist behind 6-1 Siena.
Heading into today’s 6:30 p.m. game at the Times Union Center, the Golden Griffins should be riding a wave of emotion off their big win, Canisius’ first over its crosstown rival in the last 10 meetings, and just its third overall in 17 games this season.
Even before the Griffs (1-6 MAAC) dropped Niagara to 11-5 overall, the Saints were wary of Canisius, since the Griffs actually led Siena last time, 17-9, before the Saints shut them down on defense.
“That’s going to be a big game for us, because we came out in that game sluggish, and they showed how good they are, and they were competing with us,” junior guard Kenny Hasbrouck said after
Siena’s 69-56 win over Manhattan on Thursday night.
“It’s always a tough game, because you come out, and sometimes, you don’t respect a team,” forward Josh Duell said. “But coach has told us to respect our opponents all the time.”
Whatever momentum Canisius has off its Niagara win, it can’t match the roll Siena has begun to build.
The Saints have won four of their last five, including a 94-84 win over Niagara on Jan. 11, and got three of their most important players back into the swing of things in Thursday’s game.
Alex Franklin had 15 points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes in his third game back from a back injury, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets back in the starting lineup. Duell returned from a three-game absence due to a broken bone in his mouth, and played a key role in the first half against the Jaspers, and Kenny Hasbrouck broke out of a shooting slump in the second half.
In Siena’s only loss in the last five games, 53-52 to Fairfield on Jan. 8, the Saints had plenty of open shots that didn’t fall, including a short turnaround by Edwin Ubiles on the final play that McCaffery said the 6-foot-7 forward makes nine times out of 10.
“I don’t feel like we’ve let down, yet,” McCaffery said. “Everybody seems to think that we did that against Fairfield. We just didn’t shoot the ball well. A lot of good things came out of the game, and I think we’ve been pretty consistent from day one.”
McCaffery also shrugged off Hasbrouck’s meager production during a three-game stretch in which he made just six of 24 shots.
“The reason that I’m not worried about it is because he didn’t miss a shot for two days in practice,”
McCaffery said. “And the other thing is, he’s going to get extra shots up. That’s the way he is. We’re going to leave him out there. He’s going to make shots, and he’s going to get to the free throw line.”
Franklin played well for short stints in his first two games back, but the Manhattan game was the first evidence that he’s close to being the player he was before the injury, when he won the MAAC player of the week award twice.
He was able to get to the rim through traffic from the baseline, finish plays and draw fouls against the Jaspers.
“He’s tough to guard,” Duell said. “No matter who guards him, he’s a matchup problem. I got a little upset with him, because he was stealing all my rebounds.”
With Franklin and Duell back, and several freshmen having benefited from extra playing time during their absence, the Saints have a pretty long bench with which to work right now, and the team is playing unselfishly.
“Our team camaraderie is just unbelievable, and we’ve been waiting for this moment,” Duell said. “We know when things start to come together, we play defense, we get out, we run our offense and we feel like no one can stop us.”
“We’ve got a lot of depth, and we know that whoever comes in, there isn’t going to be a slack-off,” Hasbrouck said.
women face niagara
In the first half of a double-header at the TU Center, the Siena women will play Niagara at 4.
The game provides the Saints with an opportunity to separate themselves a little more from the bottom of the standings. Siena is 2-4 in the MAAC and 6-10 overall after winning at Loyola on Friday, 67-57.
Laura Menty scored a career-high 28 points for the Saints to push her average to 20.1 points per game.
Niagara is 1-5 in the MAAC and 3-14 overall.