Kanika Cummings’ dad taught her the shot last summer.
As if it was a bottle of fine wine, Cummings finally had to ask herself, “What are you saving it for?”
The junior from Monroe, Conn., uncorked a difficult baseline fadeaway from 15 feet to start a series of big shots that helped sixth-seeded Siena (13-17) hold off Fairfield, 52-48, in the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference women’s tournament at the MassMutual Center on Friday afternoon.
Cummings averaged 4.5 points per game this season, but scored seven in the final 8:29, each one crucial to the victory.
The No. 3 Stags (17-13) had a chance to tie it with a three-pointer with 17.2 seconds left, but the Saints smothered Fairfield on the perimeter, and Ciara Stewart forced Katelyn Linney to pivot fruitlessly into a travel with 4.1 seconds left.
That gave head coach Ali Jaques her first conference tournament victory as a head coach, and sent Siena into a semifinal game against No. 2 Iona (19-11) at 9:30 this morning.
“It was an extremely hard-fought game, and I’m really proud of our team’s ability to finish the job,” Jaques said.
Siena led almost the entire game, but Fairfield was never far out of it.
The Stags scored five straight points to cut it to 42-40, and it appeared as if Siena was going to have an empty possession.
That’s when Cummings buried the fadeaway on the right baseline with a hand in her face.
Jaques said it was a perfect illustration of why the Saints nicknamed Cummings “Clutch.”
“Actually, my dad helped me on that over the summer. After not using it once during the season, I might as well use it now,” Cummings said. “I guess . . . I don’t know, I just go out and play and have fun, and if the shot goes in, yeah, you can call me Clutch.”
“Kanika is a player who has had every excuse to quit this year because of her knee, and she refused to do so,” Jaques said. “She’s not afraid to take big shots. When the shot clock was winding down, we had the ball in the right person’s hands.”
Cummings had reconstructive knee surgery after last season, and may have further work done on her left knee when this season is over.
Because of her shooting, and 17 points and nine rebounds from
senior Lily Grenci, that won’t happen for at least one more game.
“We just kept focusing on getting one defensive stop after another without looking at the scoreboard,” Grenci said.
After Cummings gave Siena a 44-40 lead, she hit a pullup in the lane for a 48-43 lead, and benefitted from good ball movement to nail an open three-pointer from the right corner to make it 51-43 with 3:00 left.
“I just went out and tried to help my team,” Cummings said. “My knee has been bothering me, but you just play through it. You get used to it. Advil is my friend right now. You want to play so bad, nothing can stop you.”
Siena’s free-throw shooting was unusually shaky down the stretch, but Fairfield failed to capitalize, and lost several defensive rebounds.
Alexys Vazquez, who scored 15 points for Fairfield, hit a three to cut it to 51-48 with just under a minute left, and the Stags appeared to have possession when Cummings missed a three at the shot-clock buzzer, but Linney and Brittany MacFarlane lost it over the baseline.
Fairfield called a timeout with 17.2 seconds left and tried to get a shot for Vazquez, then Katie Cizynski, but couldn’t find any room to breathe against Siena’s defense.
Linney couldn’t get a shot against Stewart, and dragged her foot while spinning to look for someone to pass it to.
“Our defense was switch, switch, switch, and you knew you had to get on their shooters, because they’re pretty clutch,” Colonie High School graduate Tehresa Coles said.
“Coach [Joe] Frager has every trick up his sleeve,” Jaques said. “They’re very disciplined and set really good screens, and it was great communication, great effort on the defensive end by our players.”
“We tried to get Lexi open on a misdirection going left and bringing her back through, basically an elevator, a gate screen,” Frager said. “If that wasn’t available, we wanted Katie popping back, but they switched. I thought Lexi had a quick look at it, but maybe she thought she was a little deep to get the shot off. I would’ve preferred she pull the trigger there, but what are you going to do?”
Siena advanced to the semifinals for the third straight season.
A No. 6 seed has never advanced to the final of the MAAC tournament. The 6 has reached the semifinals six times, three by Siena.
The Saints split the regular-season series against Iona, winning at the ARC on Jan. 31, 70-54, and losing in New Rochelle on Feb. 24, 71-47.
The Gaels reached the semifinals with a 76-37 win over Canisius in which MAAC Player of the Year Damika Martinez nearly equaled the Griffs’ total, with 36 points.
Stewart 2-2 1-3 5, Mullings 1-4 2-4 4, Grenci 7-17 0-2 17, Zarotney 1-4 0-0 2, Coles 3-4 2-3 8, Krogh 0-0 0-0 0, Kelly 0-1 0-0 0, Cummings 5-11 1-2 12, Sole Anglada 2-9 0-0 4. Totals: 21-52 6-14 52.
Akon-Akech 0-4 0-0 0, Linney 1-9 0-0 3, Vazquez 5-10 0-0 15, Obi-Tabot 5-8 4-4 14, Cizynski 6-11 1-1 14, Ball 0-0 0-0 0, DaCruz 1-5 0-1 2, MacFarlane 0-1 0-0 0, Schatzlein 0-5 0-0 0. Totals: 18-53 5-6 48.
Halftime: Siena 31-27. Three-point goals: Siena 4-14 (Grenci 3-6, Cummings 1-4, Sole Anglada 0-4); Fairfield 7-24 (Linney 1-7, Vazquez 5-10, Cizynski 1-4, DaCruz 0-1, Schatzlein 0-2). Rebounds: Siena 35 (Grenci 9); Fairfield 36 (Obi-Tabot 12). Assists: Siena 7 (Stewart 3); Fairfield 11 (Cizynski 3). Total fouls: Siena 12; Fairfield 14. Fouled out: Linney.