The Siena Saints have been calling various stretches of the schedule a new chance to get the season turned around.
The Saints still haven’t done that, and are down to one last precious chance.
Siena finished the regular season by losing to Iona, 80-61, at the Hynes Center on Sunday afternoon, and will tie the program record for losses in a season with the next loss.
That could come as early as 7:30 p.m. Friday, when the ninth-seeded Saints (4-14, 7-23) will play No. 8 Marist in the first round of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference toournament at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass.
Siena, four seasons removed from a three-year reign as conference champs, lost 24 games in 2004-05.
“I’m not even talking about disappointment right now,” head coach Mitch Buonaguro said. “I’ve got to get the team ready for the MAAC tournament. It’s a new season, the league is really even and my emphasis now is getting ready for Marist.”
“We’ve got some things we want to clean up in the next few days,” senior forward O.D. Anosike said. “Turnovers have been an issue all year.”
The Gaels (11-7, 17-13), who clinched the No. 4 seed and will play No. 5 Canisius at 4:30 on Saturday, had five players in double figures, led by senior guard Momo Jones with 16 points.
Iona had 25 assists against 10 turnovers, and Siena had 13 turnovers in the first half, when the Saints fell behind, 38-21. Siena finished with 20 turnovers.
Buonaguro went to a three-quarter-court trapping zone in the second half, and Siena went on a 17-5 run to cut it to 47-38 on a pretty play by Trenity Burdine, who caught an alley-oop pass from Evan Hymes and redirected it to Anosike for an easy layup.
Iona head coach Tim Cluess called a timeout with 14:15 left, and the Gaels buckled down from there, scoring the next 10 points to quiet any thoughts of a Siena comeback.
“We got them out of sync with a little three-quarter-court trap, but our problem all year has been consistency with avoiding turnovers,” Buonaguro said. “We look good in the game, and then we have stretches when we don’t. We had a really good stretch, like we normally do, and then a bad stretch when they got the lead back up.”
Siena’s defense did a good job limiting Iona’s top two scorers, Jones and Sean Armand, to a combined 4-for-14 from three-point range, but each made a key basket in the 10-0 run.
Jones scored easily in transition off a turnover, and Armand hit a three with 7:59 left to give the Gaels a 64-43 lead.
“We just woke up and played,” Cluess said. “I thought they went to sleep in the second half. They went in the locker room all giddy, and came out like that. We told them, ‘Listen, this is a good team, they’re going to come back and fight.’
“Their record maybe isn’t as good as what they would like, but they’re Division I ballplayers, they have some athletes and they have some guys with pride. So our kids woke up and ran through the press after that instead of being nonchalant about it.”
“When you open up the floor that much, they’re a good offensive team with quick guards, and you have to get in the lane,” Anosike said. “They’re going to find guys. The press worked for a while, and then they made plays.”
Anosike finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, and Davis Martens had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
While Siena was preventing Jones and Armand from having huge scoring games, senior Curtis Dennis came off the bench and made three of four three-pointers and scored 11 points in the first half to help Iona take the 17-point lead.
His points all came in the final 6:53 of the half as the Gaels turned a 23-16 lead into 38-21.
“He was on our radar,” Anosike said. “He hit some big shots. They were penetrating and kicking out to him. He’s an excellent shooter. We identified that, but couldn’t close out. We wanted to button up Momo and Armand, we just couldn’t get to Dennis.”
“That was just my teammates finding me, and I was able to knock down shots,” Dennis said. “I’m glad I was in a rhythm.”
The other first-round game on Friday will pit Fairfield against Saint Peter’s.
The Siena-Marist winner will face top-seeded Niagara at 2:30 on Saturday, and the Fairfield-Saint Peter’s winner will play No. 2 Rider at 7:30.
The other quarterfinal game on Saturday is Loyola against Manhattan at 9:30.
Anosike 6-9 5-6 17, Silas 1-3 1-4 3, Burdine 2-5 1-1 6, Hymes 3-12 1-2 10, Poole 3-9 0-0 9, Audu 1-4 0-0 3, Hopper 0-1 0-0 0, Leppanen 0-0 0-0 0, Martens 5-8 3-4 13. Totals 21-51 11-17 61.
Ridley 7-12 0-0 14, Laury 5-9 3-4 13, Jones 7-17 1-1 16, Sledge 0-0 2-4 2, Armand 4-12 0-0 11, Anderson 1-2 0-0 2, Boateng 0-1 0-0 0, Gomez 0-0 0-0 0, Bowman 1-2 0-0 2, Moikobu 3-3 0-0 6, Dennis 5-8 0-0 14. Totals 33-66 6-9 80.
Halftime: Iona 38-21. Three-point goals: Siena 8-25 (Poole 3-8, Hymes 3-10, Burdine 1-2, Audu 1-4, Hopper 0-1); Iona 8-23 (Dennis 4-7, Armand 3-9, Jones 1-5, Ridley 0-2). Rebounds: Siena 32 (Martens 10); Iona 34 (Ridley 9). Assists: Siena 14 (Burdine 4); Iona 25 (Laury, Sledge 5). Total Fouls: Siena 10; Iona 13. A: 2,525.