The Siena men’s basketball team showed glimpses of fierce pressure defense last year.
Through two games this season, they’ve shown a good long, hard look at it.
For the second game in a row, the Saints kept up the defensive heat from start to finish, bolstered by some stifling work by Edwin Ubiles on Ryan Wittman, and beat Cornell, 74-56, in front of a near-capacity crowd of 7,575 at the Times Union Center on Saturday night.
Ubiles’ individual shutdown was reminiscent of the job he did against Vanderbilt star Shan Foster in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and the Saints’ overall defense looked a lot like what it did against Boise State on Monday.
The difference this time was that Cornell took better care of the ball than Boise State did, so it took until midway through the second half for Siena (2-0) to put the game away.
After 7-foot center Jeff Foote’s dunk pulled the Big Red (2-2) within 41-37 with 14:51 to play, Siena outscored Cornell, 17-3, including nine points by Kenny Hasbrouck, to go ahead, 58-40, with 8:43 left.
The Big Red, who beat Siena, 83-77, last season, never got closer than 12 points of the lead the rest of the way.
“We stuck to the game plan, which was to stay aggressive no matter what happens, like mistakes, play through them and keep the pressure on them,” said Hasbrouck, who made four of six three-pointers and finished with 22 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“I have to be pleased with our defensive intensity,” head coach Fran McCaffery said. “We kept after them the entire 40 minutes. Last year, we go up there, they shoot 55 [percent] from the field, 57 from the three . . . that couldn’t be the case today.”
Cornell, which played without starting point guard Louis Dale, shot 35 percent from the field and made seven of 24 threes (29.2 percent).
Wittman, the son of former Indiana star and current Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Randy Wittman, was 3-for-8 on threes, but made just four of 17 shots (23.5 percent), after averaging 24.7 points per game in the Big Red’s first three games.
The Saints threw some different people at him, but it was mostly the long-armed, 6-6 Ubiles, who still managed to get 12 points and seven rebounds despite concentrating on his defensive assignment.
“I thought Ubiles on Wittman was a particularly interesting matchup for us,” McCaffery said. “He’s averaging 25 coming in, I think the guy’s got a shot to play in the [NBA], and Eddie did a tremendous job on him.”
“Great players like that, you have to be focused, you have to know where they’re at at all times,” Ubiles said. “They’re going to go to him a lot, so the key is to stay in your defensive stance and always be ready. I wasn’t going to let him get off tonight. He’s a big part of their offense, and if we take him out of the game, we get a win like we just did.”
Wittman scored 11 points in 36 minutes.
His first points came with 8:07 left in the first half, on a three that rattled through to give the Big Red a 16-14 lead.
“They were physical with him, like most teams are, and Ryan didn’t have one of his better nights, and I attribute some of that to Siena did a terrific job on him,” Cornell head coach Steve Donahue said. “He drove the ball well, he shot-faked lot, he got a lot of fouls on them on hand checks, he just didn’t make shots in the lane like he has in the last year and a half.”
Hasbrouck was just starting to get hot, scoring eight straight points on two threes and a runner, when he picked up his second foul with 11:32 left in the first half.
McCaffery pulled him out and kept his captain on the bench for the rest of the first half.
Hasbrouck came out in the second half like a thirsty man stumbling upon an oasis.
He hit threes, got in the lane for floaters or passes that led to easy baskets and generally disrupted Cornell’s passing lanes. He allowed himself a little fist pump as he headed upcourt after hitting a three from the right wing to give the Saints a 58-40 lead.
“I was mad,” he said. “I had just started making shots, then I’m sitting on the bench. Everybody kept saying, when you get in, stay aggressive, and that’s how I played. I wasn’t going to back off. I knew they had trouble guarding the wings, and that was the game plan, drive the ball, dump it down or take it yourself.”
“They’re so explosive that they can get in stretches where they can just deliver the knockout punch,” Donahue said. “We did a very good job of playing good, solid defense and taking care of the basketball, but we didn’t do that in the first four minutes of the second half.”
Sophomore center Ryan Rossiter more than held his own against the taller Foote, with 10 points, 15 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass, three assists, four steals and two blocks.
“He’s tough,” Rossiter said. “He’s really long, he gets into his move pretty quick, he’s got a nice drop step, but coach prepared us well, we watched him a lot on film this week and knew his tendencies.”
Wittman 4-17 0-0 11, Tyler 2-4 0-0 4, Foote 6-10 2-4 14, Wroblewski 1-8 2-5 5, Reeves 5-10 0-0 13, Battle 1-1 0-0 2, Wilkins 0-1 0-0 0, Mullen 0-0 0-0 0, Wire 0-2 2-2 2, Jaques 0-0 0-0 0, Kreefer 1-5 1-2 3, Reynolds 0-0 0-0 0, Hill 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 21-60 7-13 56.
Rossiter 4-6 2-4 10, Franklin 6-7 3-3 15, Ubiles 6-14 0-0 12, Moore 1-6 0-0 2, Hasbrouck 8-17 2-3 22, Downey 3-4 0-0 7, Duell 0-3 0-0 0, Jackson 2-5 0-0 6, Wignot 0-1 0-0 0, Priestley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 30-63 7-10 74.
Halftime: Siena 30, Cornell 26. Three-point goals: Cornell 7-24 (Wittman 3-8, Wroblewski 1-7, Reeves 3-8, Hill 0-1); Siena 7-20 (Ubiles 0-3, Moore 0-3, Hasbrouck 4-6, Downey 1-2, Duell 0-1, Jackson 2-4, Wignot 0-1). Rebounds: Cornell 36 (Foote 9); Siena 45 (Rossiter 15). Assists: Cornell 15 (Reeves 4); Siena 21 (Moore 5). Total fouls: Cornell 14; Siena 19. Attendance: 7,575.