NEW ROCHELLE — Nico Clareth came back.
And so did the Siena men’s basketball team.
Trailing by 13 in the second half, the Saints chipped away at Iona’s lead and pulled out an 81-79 victory at the Hynes Athletics Center on Tuesday night.
The game marked the return of Clareth, Siena’s talented but enigmatic sophomore guard, who had been on indefinite leave of absence from the team for the last seven games.
He provided a spark with 14 points and eight rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench.
Siena took a 68-67 lead with seven minutes to play on two free throws by Lavon Long, and was sharp from 3-point range and the free throw line in the final two minutes to beat the second-place team in the MAAC.
Senior guard Marquis Wright had a tough night from the field, but hit a 3 at the shot-clock buzzer for a 75-72 lead, and freshman Ahsante Shivers nailed a 3 from the right forner for a 78-74 lead.
Iona’s Deyshonee Much made two free throws to tie it at 78-78, and the Gaels went ahead 79-78 with 17.3 seconds left on Jon Severe’s free throw.
Wright drew a blocking foul, made both free throws, and Siena got it back when Severe caught a pass with his foot out of bounds. After Shivers made the front end of a one-and-one with 3.5 seconds left to make it 81-79, Iona called time out, and McGill’s off-balance 3 at the buzzer wasn’t close.
Siena improved to 8-6 in the MAAC and 11-14 overall, and the Gaels fell to 9-5 and 16-9.
Javion Ogunyemi scored 17 points for Siena, and Lavon Long had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Ricky McGill finished with 21 points, and Severe scored 17.
Clareth entered the game 7:06 into the first half and was an instant factor, scoring nine points and grabbing four rebounds in five minutes before heading to the bench for a break.
The first half was close throughout, until Iona got a little breathing room when McGill hit a shot from beyond midcourt at the buzzer to give the Gaels a 43-33 lead.
Severe scored 14 points in 16 minutes of the first half for Iona, which made 45.7 percent of its field goals while the Saints were 30.6 percent.
Clareth had been on an indefinite leave from the team since Jan. 14, a day before Siena won at Fairfield. The Saints were 4-3 since Clareth left the team. Including Saturday’s upcoming game at Marist, Siena has six games left before the start of the MAAC tournament.
Prior to his return on Tuesday, Clareth’s last game was the only scoreless one in his playing career with the Saints.
In a Siena win Jan. 12 against Quinnipiac, Clareth played a career-low three minutes. After that game, Patsos had questioned if Clareth was “all in” this season for the Saints and that his sparse playing time that night was not related to the health of his right knee, which was surgically repaired during the offseason.
“He just wasn’t ready to play,” Patsos said that night. “I didn’t think he was ready.”
Clareth responded to his coach’s words that night by saying he’d need to improve — “I have to show him that I am all in,” he’d said — but then left the team before
Siena’s next game.
Before leaving the Saints, Clareth had experienced more downs than ups during the 2016-17 season.
He was suspended for three games early in the season for a violation of athletic department rules. On the court, he mostly struggled through the 13 games he played as he’s worked to rehabilitate his right knee.
After setting the Siena freshman record for points in a season and winning the MAAC Sixth Man of the Year award for the 2015-16 campaign, Clareth averaged 12.4 points per game on 34.3 percent shooting this season.
Ogunyemi 5-11 7-7 17, Long 5-12 4-4 14, Wright 6-17 2-2 16, Shivers 4-7 1-2 11, Clareth 5-12 2-2 14, Bisping 3-8 2-2 9, Smithen 0-0 0-0 0, Fisher 0-1 0-0 0, Friday 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-68 18-19 81.
McGill 9-14 1-1 21, Severe 5-12 5-6 17, Cassell Jr 2-8 2-3 6, Crawford 5-12 0-0 12, Much 3-7 3-4 9, Washington 3-5 5-6 11, Bessick 0-0 0-0 0, Williams 1-2 1-2 3, Svandrlik 0-0 0-0 0, Casimir 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-61 17-22 79.
Halftime: Iona 43, Siena 33. Three-point goals: Siena 7-17 (Shivers 2-2, Wright 2-4, Clareth 2-7, Bisping 1-3, Fisher 0-1); Iona 6-22 (McGill 2-4, Severe 2-4, Crawford 2-5, Casimir 0-1, Cassell Jr 0-4, Much 0-4). Fouled Out: Bisping. Rebounds: Siena 45 (Long 11), Iona 29 (McGill 6). Assists: Siena 15 (Wright 9), Iona 15 (R.McGill 7). Total Fouls: Siena 18 (Bisping 5), Iona 17 (Bessick, Washington 4). Attendance: 1,518.
NEW ROCHELLE — Nico Clareth came back.