Forward O.D. Anosike has been so clearly the Siena Saints’ fulcrum that it’s easy to overlook all the moving parts around him.
He’s the only senior and one of the best players in Siena history, so it’s natural to try gauge how every development in this historically dismal season reflects on his legacy.
But the rest of the team has plenty at stake, too, and on Friday night they acted like it.
Anosike had one of the most well-rounded games of his career, and got plenty of support from a variety of angles as Siena defeated Marist, 70-64, in the first round of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament at the MassMutual Center.
Sophomore shooting guard Rob Poole made five of seven three-pointers, several on kickout passes from Anosike, forward Davis Martens continued his late-season surge with 10 points and four rebounds and small forward Trenity Burdine made the biggest basket of the game.
Not to be overlooked was a return to the lineup by guard Rakeem Brookins, who played a rocky, but soldier-like 20 minutes after being out three weeks with a back injury, as well as a usefully muted performance from point guard Evan Hymes, who took just two shots in the first half and committed just one turnover in 32 minutes.
“I try to tell them that this is about us,” Anosike said. “I’m the lone senior, and sometimes, you can get caught up in the fact that this is ‘my’ last game, but these guys don’t want to go home, either.”
The next loss by Siena (8-23) will match the worst number of defeats in a season in program history, but the only thing on their minds now is the quarterfinal round.
Siena, the No. 9 seed, will take on No. 1 Niagara at 2:30 this afternoon.
Anosike finished with 24 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks with just one turnover, and his five assists led the team.
Burdine made the shot of the game when he took it hard to the basket from the right wing against Chavaughn Lewis (24 points) and 6-foot-10 senior Adam Kemp to give the Saints a 67-64 lead with 29 seconds left.
Lewis missed a three-pointer, and after Anosike made one of two free throws with 20 seconds left, Jay Bowie was way short with a three, and Lewis shot an air ball.
Anosike finished the scoring with authority on a breakaway slam.
“We played really well down the stretch,” Siena head coach Mitch Buonaguro said.
“Trenity is a glue guy for us right now,” Anosike said. “He’s a slasher, and he’s one of our best perimeter defenders.”
The Saints and Red Foxes (10-21) were close all the way, with Marist taking a 56-52 lead with 5:53 left on a three-point play by Lewis.
Poole, who was 7-for-11 and scored 19 points, made a three to cut it to 56-55 and another to tie it at 60-60 with less than four minutes left.
“We were running a set that I thought was open,” Buonaguro said. “He was coming off a couple screens, and it was working, so we stuck with it.”
“O.D.’s passes made it a lot easier for me to hit the threes,” Poole said. “I hit the first one and felt good the rest of the night.”
Brookins made two free throws, the second of which prompted Buonaguro to yell “Yeah!” from the bench, to give Siena a 62-61 lead with 2:53 left, and Poole made a tough double-clutch banker in the lane to go up 64-61.
Bowie tied it with a three, and Burdine made one of two free throws for a 65-64 lead with 1:01 left.
He made his tough drive on the next possession, after Anosike had rebounded a Lewis three-pointer that rattled out.
“There’s pressure on everybody in the tournament, no matter what the circumstances,” Anosike said. “You can’t make excuses, and at the same time have to realize that it’s now or never.”
Kemp had his way with Siena in a 76-74 Marist win on March 1, scoring 24 points and grabbing 14 rebounds, but he was held to 13 and eight on Friday, as Martens and Imoh Silas chipped in on defense to help Anosike late.
“Kemp’s an animal,” Anosike said. “We tried to take away his strengths, force him off the block and make him make plays from about eight feet, because once he’s got it from four feet, he’s unstoppable. Everything he got, we made it tough on him.”
Hymes is averaging 10 shots a game, but didn’t attempt one until midway through the first half and took just five. He had four assists.
“He controlled the team and ran the offense,” Buonaguro said. “That’s what I asked him to do. He bought into that.”
Siena faces another high-scoring team today.
Niagara beat the Saints twice this season, 87-64 at home and 78-69 in Albany.
“They’ve got a high-octane offense, so we have to try to slow them down and make them defend,” Anosike said. “Our mindset was that Lewis, [Devin] Price and Kemp, they’ll get theirs tonight, but we can’t let them get 30.
“It’s the same thing with Niagara. Juan’Ya [Green], [Antoine] Mason, they’re tremendous scorers, but if you hold them in the high teens, you have a chance to win.”
Anosike 9-21 6-8 24, Burdine 2-4 4-6 8, Hymes 1-5 1-2 3, Poole 7-11 0-0 19, Silas 1-2 0-0 2, Brookins 1-5 2-3 4, Martens 4-4 1-3 10, Bisping 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 25-52 14-22 70.
Morton 1-6 0-0 3, Bowie 5-12 4-4 16, Curry 2-3 1-1 5, Lewis 8-21 6-7 24, Kemp 5-8 3-5 13, Price 1-5 0-0 3, Thomas 0-3 0-0 0, Prinsloo 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 22-59 14-17 64.
Halftime: Siena 32, Marist 31. Three-point goals: Siena 6-10 (Hymes 0-2, Poole 5-7, Martens 1-1); Marist 6-21 (Morton 1-3, Bowie 2-6, Lewis 2-7, Price 1-4, Thomas 0-1). Rebounds: Siena 36 (Anosike 12); Marist 29 (Kemp 8). Assists: Siena 13 (Anosike 5); Marist 13 (Lewis 5). Total fouls: Siena 16; Marist 17. Fouled out: Kemp.