Coach Mitch Buonaguro called O.D. Anosike the face of the Siena program.
Anosike now turns his face to what promises to be a bright future.
The coach turns his to an uncertain one.
Top-seeded Niagara (19-12) took control early in the second half and did just enough to prevent any high drama at the end of the game to hold off Siena, 74-62, in the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament at the MassMutual Center on Saturday afternoon, advancing to play Iona in the semifinals today.
Anosike, a 6-foot-8 forward from Staten Island who did not miss a game in four years at Siena, had 13 points and 10 rebounds in his final game.With the loss, Siena (8-24) matched the most losses in a season in program history and perhaps will mark the end of Buonaguro’s three-year stint as head coach, during which the Saints were 35-59 (.376) and were sub-.500 each season.
Anosike, who will be watched by scouts from every team in the NBA at the Portsmouth Invitational next month, knew his final college game was coming soon, but the Niagara game was close and intense enough that any moment of reflection didn’t come until it was over.
“After I came out of the game, I sat there and was able to reflect on some things about the last four years, and the only things that came to mind were positive things,” he said.
That included a decent, though brief, tournament run for the Saints, who beat Marist in the first round and were within six of Niagara with 2:42 left.
Sophomore point guard Evan Hymes, who was 4-for-5 from three-point range and scored 14 points, nailed a three to make it 67-61.
Juan’ya Green answered with a three from the right corner just 35 seconds later.
Green also hit two free throws with 49.3 seconds left to make it 72-62, and Antoine Mason, son of former New York Knick Anthony Mason, who was at the game, polished off Siena with two more free throws with 41.6 seconds left.
Mason scored 21 points, and Green finished with 15.
“Our guys played as hard as they could, and we were right in the thick of it with five minutes to go,” Buonaguro said. “They have two guys, Green and Mason, who have been great all year and were really tough down the stretch.
“I don’t think it was our best game we’ve played all year, but we found a way to win, we made plays when we had to and we’re just happy to be one of the four teams still playing,” Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich said.
“We needed to keep Green and Mason in check in the second half in order to have a chance, and they didn’t hurt us too bad, but they made the plays they needed,” Anosike said. “I think you have to throw the seeding out for every tournament game.”
Siena actually shot better from the field by a substantial degree, 50 percent to 40.4, but was outscored at the free-throw line, 22-9, where the Purple Eagles shot 81.5 percent.
Niagara led at halftime by just 32-31, when the Saints were 6-for-14 from the line.
The Purple Eagles went on a 10-0 run in less than three minutes to start the second half, helped by two of Siena’s 20 turnovers.
The Saints got within two of the lead twice midway through the second half, but never any closer.
Anosike picked up his fourth foul with 8:06 left, but continued to battle in a chippy game that included 37 fouls.
“We were trying to throw the kitchen sink at him,” Mihalich said. “He’s a load, just a hard guy to guard.”
Buonaguro had high praise for his only senior, who leaves Siena as the second-leading all-time rebounder
Besides the basketball numbers, Anosike has been an excellent example to the rest of the team as a student and leader in the locker room, despite a dismal record that included an 11-game losing streak spanning Nov. 18 to Jan. 6.
“To see his progression from his freshman to senior years, he faced double and triple teams every game this year,” Buonaguro said. “He’ll go down as one of the top two or three frontcourt players in Siena history. He’s made his mark not only on the court, but off the court, where he’s excelled in the classroom and has been the face of the program.
“I’ve had a great four years,” Anosike said. “If I had to do it over, I wouldn’t change a thing. I met so many great people and made so many great relationships. Siena has prepared me in so many ways other than basketball. I came here as an 18-year-old kid and leave as a 22-year-old man.”
Buonaguro, who is in the third year of a four-year contract, could be following Anosike out the door.
The 8-24 season was just four years removed from a third straight MAAC championship. He said he’s been utterly preoccupied with preparing the team and hasn’t thought about whether he’ll be fired.
“It’s out of my control,” Buonaguro said. “I’ll get evaluated at the end of the year, as I do every year, and there will be a decision by the university. I’m just going to continue as the coach, I have a contract for next year, and we’ll see what happens. I love Siena, and I want to be there. I don’t think anyone works harder than me at coaching. This is a year when we had a lot of adversity.
“It’s been rewarding, because I think we played our best basketball at the end of the year.”
Anosike 6-8 1-3 13, Burdine 4-10 1-4 9, Hymes 4-6 2-3 14, Poole 4-10 3-4 14, Silas 0-1 0-0 0, Audu 0-0 0-0 0, Brookins 3-6 0-0 8, Martens 1-3 2-4 4. Totals: 22-44 9-18 62.
White 0-0 0-0 0, McCall 1-2 0-0 2, Green 4-14 6-8 15, Tanksley 2-8 4-4 9, Mason 5-8 10-10 21, Cline 4-9 0-1 9, Lemmons 2-5 0-2 4, Thomas 3-4 0-0 6, Jordan 2-7 2-2 8. Totals: 23-57 22-27 74.
Halftime: Niagara 32, Siena 31. Three-point goals: Siena 9-16 (Burdine 0-1, Hymes 4-5, Poole 3-6, Brookins 2-4); Iona 6-21 (Green 1-2, Tanksley 1-4, Mason 1-2, Cline 1-4, Lemmons 0-3, Jordan 2-6). Rebounds: Siena 32 (Anosike 10); Iona 30 (Tanksley 9). Assists: Siena 14 (Hymes 5); Iona 14 (Green 6). Total fouls: Siena 20; Iona 17. Technical foul: Brookins.