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TU Center echoed like days past for Siena

TU Center echoed like days past for Siena

It was ear-splittingly loud
TU Center echoed like days past for Siena
Nico Clareth of Siena knocks the ball away from Iona's E.J. Crawford on Monday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

ALBANY — It was a different kind of loud.

The echo, though, was the same.

The year 2010 wasn't that long ago in some ways, but in terms of the Siena men's basketball team's standing in the MAAC, it was ages ago. Or so it seemed.

That year, the Saints drew more than 10,000 to the Times Union Center for the MAAC Tournament championship game, familiar territory for Siena as not only its home court, but also as the game the program was built to play in perpetuity, year after year. Or so it seemed.

Siena beat Fairfield in overtime, and moved on to the next big thing, as Siena tended to do.

On Monday, the TU Center drew a crowd of 7,608, of which 1,723 were gold-clad students, of which 1,723 were stationed right behind us on press row.

It was ear-splittingly loud, something we haven't heard here in a long time, and had a different pitch, perhaps because these kids were experiencing fresh, unexplored territory and were compelled to express themselves with fresh voices.

Like 2010, the game went into overtime, but the Saints couldn't quite get the upper hand in the extra period and fell to Iona 87-86, a deceivingly close score considering Siena senior Marquis Wright chucked in a 3 at the buzzer.

Speaking of history, it may as well have said "I-own-ya" instead of "Iona" on the front of the Gaels' uniforms Monday night.

For the record, the Gaels have beaten Siena eight straight times at the TU Center, and are 9-0 against the Saints in the MAAC Tournament, dating back to a 95-90 overtime Iona win in 1991, when the gym was still called the Knickerbocker Arena.

The Gaels have now defeated the Saints three times in the MAAC championship game since 1998.

And at least one hunk of evidence blows a hole in the debate over whether the MAAC should play its tournament in Albany on Siena's home court, thus giving the Saints an unfair advantage. (Eighteen of the 28 MAAC tournaments have been played in Albany.)

Of the nine victories by Iona over Siena in the tournament, seven have occurred here.

So at least one Siena opponent probably doesn't have a problem with it.

The last time Siena made the championship game, winning this game had become as close to old hat as you can get in a conference that goes through mini-runs of dominance as rosters cycle.

Led by legends like Kenny Hasbrouck, Edwin Ubiles, Ronald Moore, Alex Franklin and Ryan Rossiter, the Saints won their third straight MAAC tournament in 2010.

Since then, coach Fran McCaffery left for Iowa and the Big Ten, and the program went through some messy seasons, until Jimmy Patsos, in his fourth season as head coach, kept a promising team glued and patched together during the regular season and coaxed a beautiful postseason run out of it that fell two points short in the title game.

So, no, maybe it wasn't old hat back in 2010 (because it never got old, for one thing), but it was expected, Siena's rightful place in the NCAA Tournament as the MAAC representative for a solid stretch there.

This year's team appeared to be good enough to make a run, and Saints fans had been salivating for another shot at a championship since Patsos came here four years ago.

Siena clearly had a homecourt advantage on Monday.

You could hear it. I can still hear it.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 395-3148 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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