The longest season in Siena College basketball history ended with fans storming the court and smiling Saints climbing a ladder to snip off souvenir pieces of net.
An unlikely scenario, to be sure, especially for a team picked to finish just 10th in its own league in November.
Sparked by tournament Most Valuable Player Brett Bisping’s 20 points and nine rebounds, Siena bounced Fresno State, 81-68, to capture the best-of-three Collegiate Basketball Invitational championship series finale Saturday at the Alumni Recreation Center.
It was the first national championship for 20-18 Siena since the 1950 National Catholic Invitational, and its only national crown since upgrading to the Division I level in 1976. Siena not only became the first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference school to win a national postseason event, but the Saints also secured their 19th 20-win campaign.
“I’m really proud of the school, the fans and the community,” said first-year Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos, who pulled out a sign kept on the locker room wall with a quote from Gandhi. It read: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight with you, then you win.”
Patsos said all four things happened during this up-and-down season, which saw the Saints start out 2-7. Their 12-win improvement over last year’s 8-24 record is among the best turnarounds in Division I this season.
The Saints, who were ripped, 89-75, in Game 2 of the championship series Wednesday night at the ARC, looked like a completely different team on Saturday, when their suffocating defense stymied the Bulldogs until the final four minutes. Fresno State finally made a late run to cut the deficit to nine (74-65), with 1:31 left, but the Saints pulled away again at the line.
Siena held Fresno State (21-18) to just 18 percent shooting in the first half, quite a contrast to the 76 percent the Bulldogs shot in the opening 20 minutes Wednesday night.
“We protected our house today,” Patsos said. “Great leadership starts at the top. We got great leadership from [Siena president] Father Kevin [Mullen] and from [athletic director] John D’Argenio. I’m labor, not management. Our motto is about the banners, and what’s been going on here for the last 35 years. This is a community thing. Most of the credit belongs to the players.”
“This is a real nice win, especially since we were picked 10th in our league,” said junior guard Rob Poole, who poured in a game-high 23 points to go along with six rebounds and three assists. “Winning this championship meant a lot to us. There was a lot of hard work along the way.”
Freshman guard Marquis Wright added 12 points, five rebounds and four assists for Siena, which held a 46-34 advantage on the boards over the Bulldogs, who ended up shooting just 30 percent for the game.
FRESNO STATE (68)
Davis 1-3 2-6 4, Harris 2-11 4-4 9, Johnson 5-13 8-10 20, Guerrero 5-11 5-6 17, Watson 1-10 2-2 4, Owootoah 0-0 0-0 0, Edo 0-1 0-0 0, Giddings 0-1 0-0 0, Huddleston 4-10 4-7 14. Totals: 18-60 25-35 68.
Long 3-8 2-2 8, Bisping 7-15 4-6 20, Wright 2-7 8-10 12, Oliver 2-4 1-2 6, Poole 5-10 12-16 23, Ogunyemi 2-3 0-0 4, Hyme 0-3 2-2 2, Cruz 0-0 0-0 0, White 2-2 0-0 4, Silas 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 24-53 29-38 81.
Halftime: Siena, 39-22. Three-point goals: Fresno State 7-23 (Davis 0-1, Harris 1-4, Johnson 2-5, Guerrero 2-5, Watson 0-4, Huddleston 2-4); Siena 4-10 (Bisping 2-3, Wright 0-1, Oliver 1-2, Poole 1-3, Hymes 0-1). Rebounds: Fresno State 34 (Johnson 10), Siena 46 (Bisping 9). Assists: Fresno State 8 (Davis 2, Harris 2, Owootoah 2), Siena 14 (Long 4, Bisping 4). Total foulus: Fresno State 28, Siena 25. Fouled out: Harris, Huddleston, Wright. Attendance: 2,788.