ALBANY -- Sandro Carissimo made a layup with nine seconds left, and Siena failed to get the ball into its star, O.D. Anosike, on the final play as Vermont survived, 54-53, to open the season before 6,779 at the Times Union Center Friday night.
Siena stormed out to a 20-4 lead, but Vermont gradually got back in it to trail by just 30-24 at halftime. The Catamounts didn't get their first lead of the game until there was 5:10 left, 47-46.
Anosike finished with 10 points and 17 rebounds, but scored just four points after the Saints' 20-4 run in the first 11 minutes of the game. It didn't help that he made just two of 11 free throws; Siena as a team was 11-for-24 from the line.
Siena played without Rakeem Brookins and Trenity Burdine, who are suspended for three games, and lost point guard Evan Hymes for an important stretch of the second half when he was wheeled into the lockerroom suffering from severe cramps in his left calf.
He made it back to the floor, but his calf was still bothering him. Carissimo got past him for the winning layup with nine seconds left. Vermont tipped away the inbounds pass, costing Siena some important seconds.
After a timeout with 6.7 seconds left, Rob Poole passed in to Hymes, who dribbled into the frontcourt and passed it to freshman Rich Audu above the free throw line. He tried to lob it down low to Anosike, but Brian Voelkel left his man and intercepted the pass to end the game.
"It's pretty frustrating," Anosike said. "This is a team we thought we could beat."
"I debated in the timeout to put Rob Poole in Rich Audu's spot, which I probably should've done," Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro said. "But I was afraid to get the ball inbounds. I didn't want a freshman to throw it in. To put a freshman in that position, that's my fault. That's not Rich Audu's fault."
Siena exploded for a 20-4 lead as Vermont made just one of its first 15 shots, but the Catamounts settled down and gradually got back in it by halftime. The second half became a tight, low-scoring battle, made even more tense for Siena by the Saints' 6-for-17 performance from the free throw line in the half.
"Our free throw shooting ultimately did us in," Buonaguro said. "They're not a team that rattles. If you get up, 20-4, on them, they play the same way. So I expected them to come back. The problem we had was, when we missed the free throws, we couldn't get the lead to six or seven. It kept staying at two or three."
Hymes scored 15 points, and Poole had 13. Luke Apfeld led Vermont with 16 points, and Carissimo scored 11.
Hymes said he should be fine to play at Navy on Sunday.
In the afternoon, Siena received a verbal commitment from 6-foot-8 forward Javion Ogunyemi of Troy High. His final college choices were down to Siena and James Madison, coached by former Siena guard Matt Brady.
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference released its preseason coaches poll and player awards. Loyola got seven of 10 first-place votes and was picked No. 1, and the Greyhounds Erik Etherly was picked player of the year. Siena was picked sixth.