With hundreds of fans lined up just a few feet away to purchase tickets for Game 2 of the best-of-three College Basketball Invitational finals, which will be played on Wednesday at the Alumni Recreation Center, the Siena College basketball team was preparing Saturday afternoon for the long trip to Fresno State to take on the Bulldogs tonight at 10 in Game 1.
“It’s pretty weird to be playing this late in the season,” said Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos. “We’re lucky to be playing.”
Patsos, ever the basketball historian, said he reminded his players about some of the famous people who came from Fresno State, including former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, who led the Bulldogs for seven seasons, and current Indiana Pacer Paul George.
“It’s important to let the kids know about guys like George, who are playing in the NBA right now,” said Patsos. “This is all about the kids. We’re going to see some sights, like the Golden Gate Bridge, and we’re going to make sure the kids enjoy this trip.
“But it’s going to be like a Tale of Two Cities, because we’ll be playing in a 15,000-seat arena at Fresno State, and then we’ll be coming back here to play in the ARC.”
Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said Saturday that the ARC will seat about 3,600 for Game 2. The bleachers behind the far-side basket won’t be used because of concessions, but there will be more chairs placed around the rest of the court to help make up the difference.
Patsos seemed genuinely excited about playing Game 2, and possibly Game 3, in the ARC, but he pointed out that his team still has an important road game first.
“This will be good for the kids to play here. I’ve been hearing a lot of stories from the alumni and other coaches about what it used to be like playing here,” he said. “And it’s also good for the fans.”
Patsos said he might have to shift his game strategy if he gets behind in Game 1.
“I can’t scream at the kids if we get behind at halftime of the first game, because we still have another game, and maybe two to play. It’s a different situation when you’re playing a series,” he said.
“Fresno State is a very good team. They like to play an up-tempo.”
Most of the Saints are not concerned about the quick turnaround and the long flight to and from Fresno State.
“A three-game series is something new to us, but we’ve all played a lot of summer basketball, where we were playing every day,” said sophomore Brett Bisping, whose 20 points and 13 rebounds helped Siena beat Illinois State in the CBI semifinals.
“We’re all young kids. We’re a little banged up, but so is everybody at this time of year. We’re ready to go.”
Junior guard Rob Poole, the team’s leading scorer at 14.7 points per game, said the Saints have learned a lot over the final third of the season.
“We’ve played 35 or 36 games now, and we’re not the same team we were halfway through the season,” he said. “We’ve been rebounding well and playing good defensively. We’ve also won seven out of our eight last games. We’re playing well right now. It should be a lot of fun coming back here and playing in front of our fans in the ARC, but we still have some business to do in Game 1.”
Freshman point guard Marquis Wright (8.5 ppg, league-leading 190 assists), junior center Imoh Silas (4.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 62 blocked shots) and freshman Lavon Long (9.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg) round out the starting lineup for the 18-17 Saints, who are 16-11 all-time in national postseason tournament play. Junior guard Evan Hymes (9.1 ppg) and sophomore guard Ryan Oliver (4.4 ppg) are two of the key players off the bench.
Fresno State (20-16) has sent 29 players on to the NBA since 1958.
Tyler Johnson (15.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg), a 6-foot-4 senior; Marvelle Harris (14.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg), a 6-4 sophomore; Cezar Guerrero (12.9 ppg) , a 6-1 sophomore; and Paul Watson (10.2 ppg), a 6-7 freshman, are the key players for the Bulldogs, who advanced to the finals with wins over UTEP (61-58), Princeton (72-56) and Old