In past versions of the Siena-University at Albany rivalry, the Great Danes’ toughness and physical presence came into question, especially in the second half.
Such was not the case Saturday night as the Great Danes not only neutralized rugged post player O.D. Anosike for the most part, but also dominated the free-throw line and the boards en route to a rare 69-56 victory over the crosstown rival Saints before an enthusiastic crowd of 10,229 at the Times Union Center.
Six players scored eight or more points for the balanced Great Danes, who improved to 6-2. Siena, struggling to find another inside presence to take the pressure off Anosike, dropped to 2-6.
It’s only the 20th victory for UAlbany in 53 all-time meetings. UAlbany has won only three of the 12 Division I matchups, but this one was special.
“This was a tough, physical game,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “Our guys were the tougher team tonight. Our game plan was that we needed to win all the 50-50 balls, and we had to win the battle on the glass. We were not going to be outrebounded. We also wanted to make Siena defend for a long time, and we made them play five-on-five. Mission accomplished.”
UAlbany won by a relatively comfortable margin despite the fact its top two scorers, Mike Black and Jacob Iati, shot a combined 8-for-28. Black was held scoreless in the first half. But they still ended up scoring 13 points apiece and came up with big plays when the Danes needed them the most.
Perhaps the most important thing the Danes accomplished was to defuse Anosike, who led the nation in rebounding last year at 14.7 rpg and was leading the Saints in both scoring (14.4 ppg) and rebounding (14.7 rpg) again this year. He once again tops the country in rebounding, as well as in double-doubles with seven.
Anosike had just two points in the first half and finished with eight points and seven rebounds in 37 minutes.
“We wanted to limit his touches,” said Brown. “We didn’t want him to get the ball. I told the guys who were guarding him that I didn’t care if they got any rebounds at all as long as O.D. didn’t get them.”
Senior Blake Metcalf, who helped guard Anosike and also produced eight points, said the rebound battle was the key.
“Every day in practice, the main key was rebounding,” said Metcalf. “He’s not the best rebounder in the country by accident. He’s one of the strongest players I’ve ever played against.”
“I wasn’t frustrated,” said Anosike. “Albany played a good game against us tonight. But this is a team [Siena] with a lot of talent, and we still need to find ourselves. We’ve just got to stay focused and not panic. We always feel confident. We got the score down to about six points or so, but then Iati hit a couple of shots and their lead got back up again. I think the turnovers are something we’ve got to battle every game, and we need to play more as a team.”
Siena turned the ball over 18 times, compared to just 11 for UAlbany. The Danes also converted 21 of 24 free-throw attempts, compared to 5-for-7 for Siena.
Despite Black’s shooting struggles, the Danes took a 30-24 halftime advantage.
Iati caught fire in the first 10 minutes of the second half to help the Danes pull away.
After junior John Puk completed a three-point play with 16:05 left to build UAlbany’s lead to 38-32, Iati hit three consecutive shots, a three-pointer, a runner in the lane and another trey, to give the Danes a 46-36 edge with 13:58 left.
Rob Poole almost single-handedly kept the Saints in the game with an outstanding shooting performance in the second half. He scored 17 of his career-high 19 points in the last 20 minutes.
“In the first half, I didn’t bring much to the table, but in the second half, the shots went in, and I was happy about that,” said Poole. “This was a great atmosphere tonight. I’ve never played in front of a crowd more than 500 people in high school.”
Siena cut its deficit down to seven twice later in the second half.
Poole’s three sliced the UAlbany edge to 48-41 with 12:29 to go, but the Danes expanded their cushion back to 12 at 55-43 on a Black three-pointer, to 57-45 on two free throws by Puk and to 59-47 on a driving layup by Peter Hooley.
When Black was called for an intentional foul to Evan Hymes with 1:11 left, Hymes made one of two free throws, and on the ensuing possession, Anosike was fouled. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Trenity Burdine grabbed the rebound and scored a layup to cut the difference back to 59-52.
The Danes then scored the next six points to open some breathing room. They sank eight free throws in the final minute.
“I think our guys know they gave one away to Siena last year,” said Brown. “We didn’t want to get out-toughed this time, and our kids executed our game plan to a tee. We controlled the tempo.”
Brown had some special words for Iati.
“I got a text-message from my father-in-law before the game, and all it said was that it was Iati time,” Brown said. “He loves that kid. That kid gives you a gutsy effort every time out.
“We’re a good team, but we’re a no-frills type team.”
Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro admitted that at least right now, UAlbany is the better team.
“You’ve got to give credit to Albany. They are a pretty good team,” he said. “They are better than they look on tape. Tonight, we got beaten by a better team.”
But Buonaguro said the Siena followers shouldn’t lose faith.
“We’re a very young team, and it’s still early in the season. We’ve played some good teams,” he said. “I would tell our fans to just relax. We’ll be fine.”
Siena travels to Saint Bonaventure Tuesday night. UAlbany hosts Saint Francis (N.Y.) Wednesday night at SEFCU Arena.
Metcalf 3-4 2-2 8, Guerrier 2-4 0-0 5, Puk 1-2 7-7 9, Black 3-15 6-7 13, Evans 1-2 0-0 3, Devlin 1-2 0-0 2, Hooley 2-4 4-4 8, Rowley 3-7 2-4 8. Totals: 21-53 21-24 69.
Anosike 4-7 0-1 8, Burdine 3-8 0-0 6, Silas 0-2 0-0 0, Hymes 4-11 3-4 12, Pole 8-14 2-2 19, Audu 2-2 0-0 5, Oliver 1-2 0-0 2, Leppanen 1-1 0-0 2, Martens 1-3 0-0 2, Bisping 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 24-51 5-7 56.
Halftime: UAlbany, 30-24. Three-point goals: UAlbany 6-20 (Guerrier 1-2, Iati 3-10, Black 1-6, Evans 1-1, Devlin 0-1); Siena 3-12 (Burdine 0-2, Hymes 1-3, Poole 1-5, Audu
1-1, Bisping 0-1). Rebounds: UAlbany 33 (Puk 8), Siena 26 (Anosike 7). Assists: UAlbany 11 (Black 3, Hooley 3), Siena 10 (Hymes 4). Personal fouls: UAlbany 12, Siena 17. Officials: Bob Adams, John Hughes, Gary Tracy. Attendance: 10,229.