The irony of the Siena College basketball team’s loss in the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament Sunday couldn’t have been more obvious — or painful.
On Friday, as a distinct underdog against Vanderbilt, it seemed the Siena squad could do no wrong. They pushed the ball up the floor at will — dribbling, finding the open man and shooting with great confidence — and kept Vanderbilt off balance from the opening tip. In a tournament round marked by numerous upsets, Siena scored perhaps the biggest of all, beating Vanderbilt by 21 points.
Just 41 hours later against Villanova — a team seeded 12th in the tournament’s Midwest region vs. Siena’s 13th — the Saints looked almost as discombobulated as Vanderbilt had looked against them: Couldn’t run, couldn’t hit the three-pointers, could barely hit the foul shots: a complete transformation into an altogether mortal team. About the only positive was that, despite being down from the opening tip, the Saints refused to quit — briefly trimming the Wildcats’ lead to single digits late enough in the second half to be considered still in the game. And though that run under 10 points lasted only a few seconds, Siena still didn’t capitulate, ultimately bowing by just a dozen points.
So what happened? Villanova was clearly the better team Sunday — just as Siena had been two days earlier. Having seen the Saints’ strengths on display Friday, the Wildcats seemed better prepared to deal with them defensively than Vanderbilt had been. Maybe it was nerves or fatigue, or maybe the fairy dust had simply worn off, but for whatever reason, the Saints were never able to gain the least bit of momentum without Villanova answering. Just the way Vanderbilt had been unable to answer Siena on Friday.
But the Saints have nothing to be ashamed of — far from it. They had a great season, with the best record in their conference; then they won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament and pulled off that beauty of an upset in the NCAA opening round. Next year, with all but senior Tay Fisher expected to return, one can only expect more of the same — excellent basketball.