Brett Bisping took it a little personally, and it showed.
The 6-foot-8 sophomore forward from Peoria, Ill., wasn’t recruited by Illinois State, which is located only about 30 minutes from his hometown, and that fact provided extra incentive as he helped lead Siena to a 61-49 victory over the Redbirds in the Collegiate Basketball Invitational semifinals Wednesday night before 3,980 fans at the Times Union Center.
The 18-17 Saints, over the .500 mark for the first time since they were 2-0 to start the 2011-12 season, advance to the best-of-three championship series next week against the winner of the Fresno State vs. Old Dominion game played later Wednesday night.
Siena will host Game 2 next Wednesday night after playing Game 1 on the road. If the series goes to a third game, Siena will host once again, but the game may have to be switched to a different site or date because the TU Center already has something booked.
Bisping poured in 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for Siena to pace four double-figure scorers. Junior Rob Poole connected for 14 points and added four assists, while Ryan Oliver and Evan Hymes came off the bench to produce 11 and 10 points, respectively.
“Brett Bisping has turned into one great player,” said Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos. “I think he took it personally that he wasn’t recruited by Illinois State.
“I guess it crossed my mind a little bit,” Bisping admitted about playing a team from his home state. “I played well in the first half, but I think I got a little inactive in the second half. That kid inside [6-10, 250-pound freshman center Reggie Lynch] is going to be a very good player. I think he blocked my shot three times.”
Bisping and his fellow Saints are thrilled to be playing for a title.
“This is great. This is something we set out to do,” Bisping said. “Nobody thought we’d be in this situation except us.”
“This feels great,” added Poole. “It’s nice to be in a best-of-three series. I’ve never been in one of them before.
“I think we really grew as a team, and it showed.”
Siena was in control throughout, as Bisping scored six points during a 9-0 run to open the game. He scored 14 of his points in the first half.
Illinois State sliced its deficit to seven several times, but could get no closer, despite the strong play of Lynch, who finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.
‘”Anybody want my Final Four tickets, because I can’t go,” said Patsos. “This is a tremendous accomplishment. I love to coach in a series. It’s exciting, because it’s more of a chess match, and no matter what happens, we’re going to play a home game. It’s going to be fun.”
Patsos was pleased with almost everyone, although a few Saints did struggle, like freshman Lavon Long, who scored only two points after scoring a career-high 17 Monday night against Penn State, and center Imoh Silas, who was scoreless in 12 minutes.
“This is great for us,” Patsos said. “No one thought we’d win 18 games.”
Patsos credited the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Siena athletic director John D’Argenio and the fans for helping the Saints play well.
“This was an interesting game,” he said. “We were lucky to be the home team. John D’Argenio and Rich Ensor from the MAAC did a great job helping us to get these home games. And to get this many fans on short notice again was great.
“Our home-court advantage helped us get off to that great start, and without that, Illinois State played us almost evenly.”
ILLINOIS STATE (49)
Lynch 6-12 3-7 15, Lee 2-7 0-0 4, Knight 3-14 4-8 11, Hunter 4-9 1-2 9, Zeisloft 1-6 0-0 3, Keane 0-2 0-0 0, Jones 0-4 0-0 0, Wills 2-6 3-3 7, Stacho 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 18-60 11-20 49.
Long 0-1 2-2 2, Bisping 9-16 2-4 20, Silas 0-0 0-0 0, Wright 0-2 3-4 3, Poole 4-11 3-4 14, Ogunyemi 0-2 0-0 0, Oliver 4-7 0-0 11, Hymes 3-9 2-2 10, Cruz 0-1 1-2 1, White 0-0 0-0 0, Wolfe 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-49 13-18 61.
Halftime: Siena, 31-21. Three-point goals: Illinois State 2-21 (Lee 0-2, Knight 1-8, Hunter 0-4, Zeisloft 1-6, Keane 0-1); Siena 8-22 (Wright 0-1, Poole 3-9, Oliver 3-6, Hyes 2-6). Rebounds: Illinois State 39 (Lynch 7), Siena 39 (Bisping 13). Assists: Illinois State 5 (Lee 2, Keane 2); Siena 16 (Wright 5). Total fouls: Illinois State 17, Siena 19. Fouled out: Hunter, Wills, Long.