The Rahk stops here.
On Friday night, “here” was the left wing in front of the Siena bench, where Rakeem Brookins hesitated, believing a timeout was imminent, then pulled up to hit a three-pointer with eight-tenths of a second left.
With one shot, the 5-foot-10 redshirt sophomore from Philadelphia stopped an 11-game losing streak, beating first-place Canisius at the buzzer, 57-54, in front of 5,986 at the Times Union Center.
After having not won a game in 55 days, the Saints went into a frenzy, most noticeably 59-year-old head coach Mitch Buonaguro, who leapt in the air, dislodging his shirttails, and ran around the court a la Jim Valvano, fumbling through hasty handshakes with the Golden Griffins before sprinting up the tunnel, pumping his fists.
“It’s definitely a great win in so many ways,” senior forward O.D. Anosike said with relief.
“Well, this is, to say the least, a great win, under the circumstances . . . 11 straight losses, playing arguably the best team in the league, with our backs to the wall down 10,” Buonaguro said. “It shows a lot about what this team is made of.”
Siena improved to 3-13 overall and avoided what would’ve been the first 0-5 start in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference since joining the conference. The Saints’ zone defense held the Golden Griffins (3-2, 10-6), a long-time MAAC doormat that has surged to first place under first-year-head coach Jim Baron, more than 20 points under their scoring average.
The circumstances included several significant player losses for Siena.
Second-leading scorer Rob Poole was out with the flu, and the starting backcourt of Brookins and Evan Hymes both got knocked out of the game late in the first half.
Brookins, who banged his knee, was able to return after halftime, but it took Hymes the first 10 minutes of the second half to recover from getting popped in the right eye, which jammed a contact lens up into his eyelid.
Still, he scored 20 points in 28 minutes on 8-for-12 shooting.
No shot was bigger than the three by Brookins, who was 3-for-9 before swishing the game-winner.
“By far, that’s the biggest shot I’ve ever hit in my life. By far,” he said.
The only moment more chaotic than Siena’s celebration was the sequence in the last 12 seconds.
The Griffs had two shots to win, after Jordan Heath’s three with 46 seconds left was rebounded by Canisius.
Siena freshman Ryan Oliver rebounded Billy Baron’s missed three with 12 seconds left, and he tried to pass to Hymes to his left, but Brookins essentially ran into the pass on his way upcourt and intercepted it.
He dribbled up the left sideline, and with many in the building, including Brookins, expecting a timeout by Buonaguro, play continued.
Brookins took a little hesitation dribble just feet away from Buonaguro, and the coach spun his arm to keep it rolling.
Brookins, struggling mightily from three-point range (20.8 percent) all season, took another dribble, pulled up and buried the shot.
He also had the game-winner with 3.9 seconds left the last time Siena won, against Northern Kentucky on Nov. 18.
“I looked at him, he said, ‘Just go,’ ” Brookins said. “I looked up at the clock and just let the shot fly.”
“Ryan actually outletted it to me, but Rahk got in front of it, and I guess it was Rahk’s night to hit the game-winner, and we’re glad,” Hymes said.
“I really didn’t know what he was doing over there,” Anosike said. “He let it go, he had great arc on the shot, and I thought he was either going to make it or airball it. It was a great shot. In my opinion, with a tie score and a guard as quick as Rahk, I think you should just go for it.”
Perhaps no one was more surprised that Siena didn’t call time than Jim Baron.
“As a matter of fact, I thought it was a timeout,” he said. “They had three coaches calling for it, and the guys on the court, everything was moving forward.”
“I just had a feel,” Buonaguro said. “Rahk is a really good late-game player. I normally do call a timeout. I just had a gut feeling. I thought he had a little bit of an edge on the drive. And he does make tough shots.”
Siena held Canisius’ terrific three-point shooters to 8-for-27 (29.6 percent) and buckled down after the Griffs made seven of their first nine field goals.
The only thing stopping Hymes was the eye injury, and he spent the first 10 minutes of the second half holding an ice pack to his eye until he could handle the brightness of the arena lights.
He was responsible for two of the five threes Siena made in the last eight minutes.
Manhertz 2-8 1-2 5, Jo. Jor. Heath 2-4 0-0 5, Washington 5-15 0-0 12, Baron 4-9 3-4 12, Sosa 5-10 0-0 13, Asprilla 1-1 0-0 2, Groves 1-5 0-0 3, Jos. Heath
1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 21-54 4-6 54.
Anosike 1-4 7-10 9, Silas 2-3 0-2 4, Audu 1-6 0-0 2, Hymes 8-12 0-0 20, Brookins 4-10 3-6 13, Oliver 2-7 0-0 6, Leppanen 0-0 0-0 0, Martens 0-1 0-0 0, Bisping 1-3 0-1 3. Totals: 19-46 10-19 57.
Halftime: Canisius 34, Siena 27. Three-point goals: Canisius 8-27 (Manhertz 0-1, Jor. Heath 1-2, Washington 2-8, Baron 1-4, Sosa 3-7, roves 1-5); Siena 9-23 (Audu 0-3, Hymes 4-6, Brookins 2-6, Oliver 2-5, Bisping 1-3). Rebounds: Canisius 36 (Manhertz 10); Siena 31 (Anosike 7). Assists: Canisius 12 (Baron 8); Siena 9 (Hymes, Brookins 3). Total fouls: Canisius 16; Siena 11. Attendance: 5,986.