The temperature outside was in the teens, but Edwin Ubiles said he felt like he was playing summer ball again.
Deja vu took another form, too, insofar as Ubiles was benched for being late for a team meeting, then tore up Siena’s opponent.
The senior small forward made 11 of 19 shots and scored 25 points in 31 minutes as the Saints defeated Niagara, 83-65, before a sellout crowd of 8,065 at the Times Union Center on Saturday afternoon.
First-place Siena improved to 12-4 overall and 5-0 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, dropping Niagara (3-2, 10-7) into third place.
The Saints led by just one point at halftime, then protected the ball better and cut off Niagara’s path to the offensive glass in the second half, which eliminated much of the Purple Eagles’ scoring chances.
Meanwhile, Ubiles, who was replaced by sophomore Kyle Downey in the starting lineup and sat out the first 7:27 of the game, found his groove and scored from a variety of spots on the floor. He was 6-for-9 in the second half for 15 points, including 10 during a 17-4 run early in the half that gave Siena a 59-47 lead and control of the game for good.
In a matchup of the two highest scoring teams in the conference, Ubiles found his comfort zone. Once he got in the game, that is.
“They play like a pickup style, run-and-gun, shoot, go rebound, go get it . . . it just reminds me of summer league all over again, and that’s always fun,” he said. “In the summer, you’re able to just go out there and play your game that you know you can play. That’s what they kind of force you into.”
Ubiles was benched last season against UAlbany, then came in and scored 23 points to lead Siena to a 71-64 easy win.
Saturday’s game didn’t get easy for the Saints until the second half, when they held the Purple Eagles to 23.5 percent from the field.
After dribbling the clock down on the final possession of the first half, Ubiles clanged a three off the rim with two seconds left to send the teams into the locker room with Siena leading, 42-41.
Alex Franklin, who scored 21 points for the Saints, picked up his third foul on a charge just 1:36 into the second half and came out of the game, but the Saints immediately went on their big run that started with a sneaky baseline reverse by Ubiles, followed by a three from Downey, a beautiful spin move by freshman O.D. Anosike and a pullup jumper by Ubiles after shedding Demetrius Williamson with a blurring crossover dribble.
The Purple Eagles made four free throws, but went 7:46 between field goals before Anthony Nelson made a three to bring Niagara within 59-50 with 11:30 left.
Niagara never got closer than seven points of the lead after that.
“They were getting too many second chances,” said Siena center Ryan Rossiter, who had 15 points and 12 rebounds. “Every loose ball, every tipout, it always went to them. We didn’t get on the floor. In the second half, we started holding them to one shot, getting all the loose balls.”
“The first half, we were playing hard, and the second half, we weren’t,” said Tyrone Lewis, who led Niagara with 21 points. “We just let them do whatever they wanted and made them feel comfortable. They didn’t change their defense or anything, we just weren’t tough enough.”
“I’m disappointed in the second half, but I guess you’ve got to give them credit, they’ve got a lot of ways to beat you,” Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich said. “If it’s not one guy, it’s another, and you don’t have a lot of room for error when you play these guys.”
Siena held Bilal Benn, who came in averaging 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, to seven points and seven rebounds in 36 minutes.
He was 3-for-12 in the game and didn’t score a point in the second half, a clear indication that Siena had shut down the offensive glass.
“He does a great job of slicing to the hoop when Nelson drives,” Rossiter said. “If we can stop Nelson, we can kind of stop him a little bit at the same time. But guys like that, he just doesn’t back down, he doesn’t stop, so you have to keep bringing it to him. “
“It shows the effort we made on team defense, how we can control one player,” Franklin said.
“Maybe we’ve got to find a way to get him the ball a little bit more, something like that, but I don’t know, because it certainly wasn’t him,” Mihalich said. “He didn’t have one of his better nights.”
Even after Ubiles was firmly entrenched in the game, Downey’s day wasn’t done, as he shifted to the two guard in place of starter Clarence Jackson, who was 2-for-7 in 18 minutes.
The 6-foot-2 Downey played a clean 29 minutes that wasn’t flashy from a statistical standpoint, but matched what is expected of him, a steal or assist here and there, some points and a few rebounds.
“He’s out there to defend and get on the glass,” Siena head coach Fran McCaffery said. “In a game like this, you’ve got to go get the ball. Clarence was just a little bit sideways. He missed some shots and he was fumbling it a little bit. I put Kyle in, and unfortunately for Clarence, once I put Kyle in, we were better, and we stuck with that lineup.”
“Kyle’s been great lately, especially in practice,” Rossiter said. “His shot’s been falling a lot more lately, he’s been getting up a lot of extra shots, and I think he’s playing with a whole new confidence. He gives us a whole new dimension on the court. He has a tremendous sense of toughness on the court. You’ll never see him get outhustled or outmuscled. He just goes out there and plays as hard as he can.”
Williams 2-2 0-0 4, Benn 3-12 0-0 7, Garrison 4-12 2-2 10, Lewis 6-16 5-5 21, Nelson 5-10 2-3 15, Cooley 0-0 0-0 0, Gillette 0-0 0-0 0, Williamson 0-8 0-0 0, Edwards 4-7 0-0 8. Totals: 24-67 9-10 65.
Rossiter 5-9 5-5 15, Franklin 5-5 10-14 20, Downey 2-5 0-0 5, Jackson 2-7 0-0 4, Moore 2-10 0-0 4, Anosike 3-5 0-1 6, Ubiles 11-19 3-3 25, Wignot 1-3 2-4 4. Totals: 31-63 20-27 83.
Halftime: Siena 42, Niagara 41. Three-point goals: Niagara 8-23 (Benn 1-3, Garrison 0-1, Lewis 4-9, Nelson 3-5, Williamson 0-5); Siena 1-10 (Rossiter 0-1, Downey 1-3, Jackson 0-1, Moore 0-1, Ubiles 0-3, Wignot 0-1). Rebounds: Niagara 36 (Benn 7); Siena 43 (Rossiter 12). Assists: Niagara 13 (Nelson 9); Siena 11 (Moore 7). Total fouls: Niagara 18; Siena 14. Attendance: 8,065.