Siena tried to put a positive spin on Wednesday’s events, but it was more bad news for the Saints.
On the same day Siena found out it will be without starting guard Rakeem Brookins for at least a month because of another back injury, the Saints lost to Massachusetts, 64-63, on Chaz Williams’ driving bank shot with four seconds left before 5,739 at the Times Union Center.
That dropped Siena to 2-5 heading into Saturday’s rivalry game against UAlbany.
“I said it earlier, I sense a lot of panic around the program; by no means are we panicking,” senior forward O.D. Anosike said. “This is a very good team, we’ve lost some very close games and I’m really optimistic about the season. It’s just a matter of getting over the hump and getting some wins. There’s no need to be down on this team at all, in my opinon. We played really well.”
Not well enough to win.
Siena led by 17 points in the first half and weathered a big run by the Minutemen (3-2) in the second half to regain the lead, 62-58, with 3:46 left.
The Saints managed just one free throw the rest of the way.
Anosike, the leading rebounder in the country, finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds, but made just one of four free throws in the last 2:04 while Siena clung to a small lead.
The Saints lost point guard Evan Hymes with 55 seconds left when he missed a wild shot in the lane and hit the deck clutching his left calf, a victim of leg cramps again. He did not return, leaving it to Rob Poole to guard Williams with Siena ahead, 63-62.
Poole did well to stick with the smaller but speedier Williams, who finished with 23 points.
Williams, Anosike’s former AAU teammate in New York, drove down the right side of the lane and made a difficult banking shot.
After three timeouts with 3.3 seconds left, Trenity Burdine heaved an inbounds pass three-quarters of the court to Anosike, but Jesse Morgan swatted it off to the side as the game ended.
“Rob had been playing really good defense, and I told him to keep him in front of him and make him make a tough shot. And he did,” Siena head coach Mitch Buon-aguro said.
“That’s my fault,” Poole said. “I got a hand up, but he made a tough shot. He’s a great player, and that’s what great players do.”
“That’s a play that we usually run at the end, and coach [Derek Kellogg] has faith in me,” Williams said. “We didn’t call any timeouts, we only had one left, and he left the game in our hands. I just had to go make a play.”
Siena got hot early and benefitted from cold shooting by UMass, which prevented the Minutemen from setting up their press.
Burdine made a three to give Siena a 33-16 lead with 3:11 left in the first half.
“Siena had a great game plan going under our ball screens and switching up defenses and making us beat them from the outside,” Kellogg said. “I was kind of disgusted, and I let them know that. I just thought they were unconfident and didn’t play as hard as we should and could. You can go away and put your tail between your legs, or we can scrap and try to battle a little bit. And we were going to press and try to speed the game up one way or another.”
UMass got within 34-24 by halftime, then systematically chipped away at the start of the second half.
A putback by Sampson Carter put the Minutemen ahead, 44-43, with 11:54 left, the first lead for UMass since it was ahead, 6-5.
“We sped them up a little bit,” Kellogg said. “It wasn’t exactly the way you want to speed a team up, because we took a lot of chances, but we were really trying to do anything to get the game moving some.”
Siena freshman Ryan Oliver hit a three to tie it at 58-58, then Anosike made two free throws and scored on a layup off a chaotic, broken play to put the Saints up, 62-58, with 3:46 left.
Anosike missed an easy layup that led to a basket by Carter to bring UMass within 62-60.
Then Anosike missed three straight free throws after mkaing the first of two with 2:04 left.
The Hymes injury was double jeopardy, because he was unable to get back on defense, leading to Morgan’s transition basket to get UMass within 63-62.
Poole missed a fadeaway, and Anosike’s attempt at a tip-in went out of bounds with 24 seconds left, setting up Williams’ game-winner.
“Really, it reminded me of a tournament game,” Buonaguro said. “I didn’t think either team took a play off. We put together a game plan in one day, and they executed it tremendously. It came down to one play, and they have a great player.
“The team is really upbeat. We just played a team that’s favored to win the A-10 right to the wire.”
“We don’t like to take moral victories, but you have to be excited with the way we played an Atlantic-10 team tonight,” Anosike said.
Brookins had an MRI on Monday that showed protruding disks at L-3, L-4 and L-5. The injury will be treated with aggressive rehab.
Brookins is expected to return to the lineup this season, but not before the Dec. 29 game against La Salle at the earliest.
He missed all of last season with herniated and bulging disks in his back.
Vinson 7-11 2-3 17, Putney 0-5 0-0 0, LaLanne 1-2 1-2 3, Williams 9-22 1-2 23, Morgan 4-15 0-0 9, Esho 2-2 1-1 5, Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Carter 2-6 0-0 4, Riley 1-6 0-0 3. Totals: 21-53 12-19 63.
Anosike 5-10 3-8 13, Burdine 3-5 0-0 8, Silas 0-2 0-0 0, Hymes 5-14 2-3 15, Poole 2-12 5-6 11, Audu 1-3 0-0 3, Oliver 2-2 0-0 5, Martens 2-4 0-0 4, Bisping 1-1 2-2 4. Totals: 21-53 12-19 63.
Halftime: Siena 34, UMass 24. Three-point goals: UMass 7-33 (Vinson 1-2, Putney 0-4, Williams 4-12, Morgan 1-7, Carter 0-2, Riley 1-6); Siena 9-19 (Burdine 2-3, Hymes 3-8, Poole 2-4, Audu 1-3, Oliver 1-1). Rebounds: UMass 43 (Esho, Carter 10); Siena 37 (Anosike 13). Assists: UMass 11 (Williams 6); Siena 10 (Hymes, Poole 3). Total fouls: UMass 19; Siena 9. Fouled out: Vinson. Attendance: 5,739.