Siena found itself in a barrel going over Niagara Falls on Friday night.
Unlike the daredevils who have challenged one of nature’s spectacular wonders, though, the Saints have an opportunity to jump back in line and try this ride again.
Following an 87-74 loss to Niagara that ended a 15-game winning streak and dropped Siena (14-1, 21-5) from the unbeaten ranks in conference play, the Saints get a quick turnaround with a 2 p.m. game today at Canisius that represents the second of four straight road games heading into the closing stretch of the regular season.
By virtue of Iona’s surprising loss at home to Manhattan on Friday, the Saints clinched sole possession of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season title, having already achieved the comfort of knowing they have the top seed in the MAAC tournament.
You have to go all the way back to Dec. 12 — still 13 shopping days ’til Christmas — to find a loss on Siena’s 2009-10 season, and all the way back to last season to find a MAAC loss, also at Niagara.
Siena rebounded pretty well from that one, beating the Purple Eagles in the tournament championship game, so today they expect to regain the winning formula.
“We’re not going to harp on this loss,” junior center Ryan Rossiter said. “We’ll think about what we could’ve done better tonight, and then forget about it tomorrow morning, because it’s on to Canisius.”
“Hopefully, what we’ll do is move on from here and get better,” head coach Fran McCaffery said.
“This loss will kind of wake us up a little bit,” senior small forward Edwin Ubiles said. “We’ve just got to be prepared for the next game and try not to let it happen again.”
In the Golden Griffins (7-8, 12-14), Siena will be running into a team scrapping for position in the standings.
Canisius, which beat Marist on Friday to stop a three-game losing streak, is tied with Niagara and Rider for fifth place.
The Saints beat the Griffs on Jan. 11, 82-70, in a game marked by a hard play in which guard Robert Goldsberry toppled Siena’s Alex Franklin while rebounding a miss.
According to the Buffalo News, Goldsberry might miss this game due to injury because of another controversial incident Friday in which he got tangled up with Marist’s Kory Bauer and hit the deck, drawing an intentional foul that led to the ejection of Red Foxes head coach Chuck Martin.
After today’s game, the Saints play at nationally ranked Butler next Saturday in the ESPNU BracketBusters and then travel to Rider to face another team interested in knocking off Siena, just on principle, but also trying to gather momentum and a better seed heading into the conference tournament.
“It’s an opportunity to see how good we are,” McCaffery said. “Can we go on the road and beat a team [Niagara] that’s playing like this. We knew what kind of effort we were going to get from them, and it was an opportunity to play a team on the road of this caliber to see, can we keep doing what we’ve been doing. That’s the standard we’ve tried to set for ourselves.
“Now, we didn’t get it done, and we’ve got to turn around at 2 o’clock on Sunday and try to do it again. But after we’re sitting here at 21-4 and having sewn up the regular-season championship, you look and say, we’ve got four road games in a row against four pretty talented teams. All right, we’re oh-for-one. Let’s see how we do in the next one.”
“We’ll just have to regroup and bounce back on Sunday,” Rossiter said. “Canisius is playing really well, so we have to be ready for them.”
McCaffery predicted “mayhem” at the Gallagher Center, and he got it.
The unusual boxscore included 24 offensive rebounds for Siena, including a combined 14 by Rossiter and Franklin, but 20 personal fouls and an 11-to-16 assist-to-turnover ratio.
On the other side, Niagara had 22 assists, in large part because the Purple Eagles made the extra pass and found themselves with many dunk opportunities that they capitalized on and relished in front of their raucous fans and a national television audience on ESPN2.
Energetic Niagara made Siena’s defense look slow-footed.
“We were really slow reacting when the penetration came, and, quite frankly, that’s been a problem all year, so it wasn’t just tonight,” McCaffery said.
“Any time you put in a performance like this, you don’t want to dwell on it,” Rossiter said. “You just want to get right back on the court, put it past you and fix the mistakes that you did make and put this one behind us. If we think about this one too much, we might not be focused on Canisius.
“Right now, it’s, honestly, forgotten. Coach came in and said, ‘It’s over with. You have to understand what you did wrong to improve on it, but it’s on to Canisius now.’ It’s over with, and we don’t want to turn one loss into two losses.”