There were plenty of interesting numbers in Sunday afternoon’s college basketball game between Siena and Iona, but perhaps none were more significant than 7:12.
That’s the time remaining in the contest when freshman point guard Marquis Wright, the Saints’ floor general and leader on the floor, fouled out. The Saints were leading, 69-65, at that juncture, but the prolific Gaels soon tied the score on an A.J. English three-pointer and took the lead for good on a pair of free throws by Mike Poole en route to an 87-78 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference victory before a crowd of 5,793 at the Times Union Center.
The fact that the Saints were in the lead at all was remarkable, because the Gaels dominated this matchup from the opening tap.
Siena kept fighting back, but the Gaels simply had too much firepower — especially after the Saints’ top playmaker fouled out.
Iona, tied for first in the league standings, sank 15 of 30 shots from beyond the arc, scored 25 points off of Siena turnovers and also connected on 24 of 33 free throws to record its fifth win in six MAAC starts. The Gaels, defending regular-season champions who earned an at-large bid to the NCAAs last year, are 8-7 overall.
Siena, 3-3 in the MAAC and 7-10 overall, saw its five-game home winning streak snapped English, a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard, poured in 31 points, including 5-for-12 from three-point territory and 12-for-15 from the line, while team scoring leader Sean Armand (19 ppg) added 19 points, including 6-for-9 from beyond the arc.
“That’s my game,” said Armand about the Gaels’ three-point proficiency. “I stick to what I do best.”
“This is a tough place to come in here and play,” added Iona head coach Tim Cluess. “They don’t lose at home that often.”
Junior Evan Hymes topped the Saints with 19 points, while Rob Poole produced 16 points and Maurice White added 12. Wright had nine points, seven assists and two steals in 32 minutes.
Although he admitted to some positives, Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos wasn’t thrilled with his team’s overall intensity, especially after Saturday’s mediocre practice session.
“It was a tough game,” said Patsos. “College basketball is a lot about emotional energy, and I thought they had more energy than we did today. They [the Gaels] made their shots. They made 50 percent from three. These guys [the Saints] have to be accountable. We did OK defensively in the second half, but if you don’t know who Sean Armand is when we tell you to guard him from the three-point line, I don’t know what to say. We didn’t have a hard 60 minutes of practice [Saturday], and it’s hard to make this generation understand that you play games the way you practice.”
“Coach is right,” said Poole. “We didn’t have a great practice, and we don’t usually play well in the next game when that happens.”
Iona nailed nine treys in the opening half and never trailed on the way to building several 10-point leads, including a 50-40 edge at intermission. Hymes kept the Saints within reach by scoring 11 consecutive points midway through the half.
Every time Siena made a run, the Gaels counter-punched with a quick three-pointer or drive to the basket before the Saints could set their defense.
Siena finally closed to within 58-55 when Brett Bispring made two free throws with 14:03 left, but Tre Bowman countered with a three-pointer to push the Iona lead to 61-55.
Back-to-back jumpers by Ryan Oliver, including a three-pointer that gave Siena its first lead of the game at 64-62,, and a basket from Javion Ogunyemi on a Isaiah Williams goaltending call put the Saints in front, 66-62.
English buried a three for Iona before Lavon Long converted a layup to push the Saints back in front, 71-69.
That was the Saints’ last lead.
A runner by White cut the Siena deficit to 75-73, and Hymes sank a pair of free throws after Bisping fouled out to once again put the Saints within reach at 78-75 with 1:52 to go.
But English hit the clinching three-pointer with 1:27 left, and Mike Poole made four free throws down the stretch to help the Gaels pull away again.
“We played hard,” said Hymes. “We definitely didn’t play very well defensively in the first half, but I think we played better later on. This gave us some good experience, because we definitely played well against one of the best teams in the league.”
Siena plays at Manhattan Thursday and then plays at Iona Sunday.
M. Poole 1-3 6-6 8, Laury 3-7 1-4 7, English 7-16 12-15 31, Bowman 4-10 1-2 11, Armand 6-13 1-2 19, Gomez 0-0 0-0 0, Williams 3-3 1-2 9, Sledge 0-0 2-2 2, Hines 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 24-54 24-33 87.
Long 1-2 0-0 2, Bisping 1-5 3-4 5, Silas 1-3 0-0 2, Wright 4-8 1-2 9, R. Poole 7-12 1-1 16, Audu 0-0 0-0 0, Ogunyemi 1-2 2-2 4, Oliver 3-6 1-2 9, Hymes 6-11 6-7 19, White 5-7 2-4 12, Wolfe 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 29-56 16-22 78.
Halftime: Iona, 50-40. Three-point goals: Iona 15-30 (English 5-12, Bowman 2-6, Armand 6-9, Williams 2-2, Hines 0-1); Siena 4-11 (Wright 0-1, Poole 1-3, Oliver 2-4, Hymes 1-3). Rebounds: Iona 27 (English 5), Siena 31 (Oliver 6). Assists: Iona 14 (English 4), Siena 16 (Wright 7). Total fouls: Iona 21, Siena 25. Fouled out: Laury, Bisping, Wright. Technical fouls: Patsos. Attendance: 5,793.