Ali Jaques told Lily Grenci that her departing senior would go on to “solve the world’s problems.”
Grenci is departing because she couldn’t quite solve the Iona Gaels on Saturday, although she did everything in her power to do so.
Grenci closed her magnificent Siena basketball career with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the No. 2-seeded Gaels, who ended the Saints’ season and Grenci’s career with a 68-58 victory in the semifinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament at the MassMutual Center.
MAAC Player of the Year Damika Martinez scored 25 points on the heels of a 36-point game against Canisius, and Siena couldn’t squeeze any significant offense out of anyone other than Grenci, the only senior on the roster and a two-time member of the All-MAAC first team.
The loss marked the finale of a 13-18 season that was the first as a head coach for Jaques, who replaced Gina Castelli after 21 seasons.
“I just didn’t want the season to end, because I got lucky with 12 young women who bought in right away,” Jaques said on the interview dais. “As a first-time head coach, there’s nothing more I could ask for. Those 12 were led by this amazing woman sitting next to me who, as I told her in the locker room, she’s going to solve the world’s problems, because she’s capable of it.”
Siena got the jump on the Gaels (20-11) with a 7-2 lead to start the game, but Iona took control with an 18-4 run from there and benefitted from repeated misses from in close by the Saints.
Siena had 12 offensive rebounds in the first half, but just six second-chance points, and finished with 19 offensive rebounds and 10 second-chance points.
Iona, which will face No. 1 Marist for the championship at noon today, led at halftime, 33-24, and threatened to hand Siena its worst loss ever in the MAAC tournament before a late flurry by Grenci got the deficit below 17.
She scored six points to cut it to 68-55, then came out of the game with 1:02 left and was greeted with a long hug from her coach.
After Grenci’s 28 points, only one other Saint, Clara Sole Anglada (10 points) reached double-digit scoring.
“I definitely didn’t want to go down giving up,” Grenci said. “At the end, we put it all on the floor. I wasn’t worried about the points, it was about laying it all out on the court.”
“She’s a great player, and I knew as a senior, she wasn’t going to go down without a fight,” Iona head coach Tony Bozzella said. “But we said if we’re going to lose this game, she could get a certain amount, but we couldn’t let anyone else get 14, or 12. We couldn’t let them get easy baskets. And even though we did have 19 turnovers, for the most part, they didn’t lead to easy baskets. No one else hurt us.”
“That’s been the story all year, and in some respects it’s a strength, because you have anybody can step up,” Jaques said of Siena’s quest for a second scorer. “It’s been a strength, but also a weakness at times.”
The Saints appeared to have found an alternate source of offense when Sole made back-to-back threes to get Siena within 44-36 with 14:09 left.
Of the 23 points scored by Siena
the rest of the way, though, Grenci had 15 and the rest of the team scored eight.
Martinez, meanwhile, made nine of 15 field-goal attempts, including four of seven from three-point range, despite an occasional diamond-and-one defense aimed at her, and she got some support from Joy Adams with 11 points and Aleesha Powell with 10.
The Gaels finished with 17 assists.
“We shared the ball well, and a lot of those came from this young lady making tough shots,” Bozzella said, referring to Martinez. “The girls stayed within themselves. Siena made a couple runs, like a good team would, but we shared the ball, and it’s hard to guard a team that’s sharing the ball. You can’t concentrate on any one player. It’s difficult.”
“You have to score with Iona; they’re very explosive,” Jaques said. “We threw everything we could at them in the first half, we went diamond-and-one to try to limit Martinez, we ran our blizz [blizzard press]. Unfortunately, it came down to us not converting some shots.”
Jaques beamed with pride about her first team and first season as a head coach.
She was able to convince the players to make a significant change in style of play to a more up-tempo, pressing scheme.
“It’s a little fresh right now to talk about the whole season, but as far as our game today, our effort speaks for itself,” she said. “It showed how we just have fought all year long. I can’t say enough about this group. They’re going to be special in my heart for the rest of my life.”
Stewart 1-4 0-0 2, Mullings 0-5 2-2 2, Grenci 12-18 3-7 28, Zarotney 1-4 0-0 2, Coles 2-12 4-6 8, Krogh 0-1 0-0 0, Kelly 0-0 0-0 0, Cummings 1-8 4-4 6, Sole 3-8 2-2 10, Booth 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 20-61 15-21 58.
Jeridore 3-7 0-0 6, D’Angelo 3-5 0-0 7, Powell 3-12 4-4 10, Martinez 9-15 3-4 25, Adams 4-8 3-7 11, Robinson 2-7 2-2 6, Ranger 1-1 0-0 3, Dorcas-Eya 0-0 0-0 0, Hawkins 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 25-55 12-17 68.
Halftime: Iona 33, Siena 24. Three-point goals: Siena 3-12 (Grenci 1-1, Coles 0-3, Cummings 0-3, Sole 2-4, Booth 0-1); Iona 6-13 (D’Angelo 1-1, Powell 0-2, Martinez 4-7, Robinson 0-2, Ranger 1-1). Rebounds: Siena 40 (Grenci 12); Iona 37 (Jeridore 12, Adams 10). Assists: Siena 9 (Stewart, Mullings, Cummings 2); Iona 17 (D’Angelo 6). Total fouls: Siena 18; Iona 17.