ALBANY — One win from playing for a berth in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
That’s the situation for Siena College, which topped Rider 87-81 on the strength of an incredible shooting night Saturday at Times Union Center in the MAAC tournament quarterfinals. The Saints made 28 of 43 overall shots and 12 of 21 from downtown. In the second half, Siena made 17 of 21 shots.
“Just so much fun,” Siena head coach Jamion Christian said. “The guys just played with so much joy and so much excitement.”
Siena’s 65.1 shooting percentage was a program-best for a MAAC tournament game, surpassing when the Saints made 55.8 percent of its shots against Niagara in a 1992 game.
“When they’re open and they’re hitting it like that, I can just keep kicking it out to them and everybody’s enjoying it,” said Siena freshman Jalen Pickett, who had six assists.
Siena went ahead for good on a layup from Pickett with 4:52 to go, and that score started a 9-0 run that included a fast-break dunk from redshirt senior Kevin Degnan.
“Deg’s dunk really brought the roof off the place,” Siena freshman Sloan Seymour said.
After that 9-0 run, Siena maintained at least a four-point lead and led by as many as 11 in the final minutes.
Senior Evan Fisher led Siena with 22 points, while Pickett had 20 and Seymour scored all 18 of his points on 3s.
“It’s tough to break their press, but once we broke it, I could just find a gap and make them pay,” said Seymour, who made 6 of 8 shots from 3-point range.
Siena will play top-seeded Iona in Sunday’s 6 p.m. semifinal. The Gaels are the three-time defending MAAC champions, have a pair of All-MAAC first-team selections in junior E.J. Crawford and senior Rickey McGill, and are led by Tim Cluess who won this year’s MAAC Coach of the Year award. Iona and Siena split their regular-season matchups, each winning on the road.
“They’re a great team. We knocked them off at their place. They knocked us off at our place,” Pickett said. “So we’ve just got to come in, play our game, play our style, hopefully get the crowd involved again, listen to Coach, and it should be a great battle.”
In Sunday’s other MAAC tournament semifinal, No. 6 Monmouth will play No. 2 Canisius at 8:30 p.m.
Both Rider (No. 4, 16-15) and Siena (No. 5, 17-15) finished the regular season part of a four-way tie for second place. Rider was the MAAC preseason favorite, while Siena was picked to finish last in the preseason coaches poll. The Saints topped the Broncs in their lone regular-season matchup.
Christian said he didn’t use those preseason predictions to motivate his team prior to Saturday’s game.
“By now,” Christian said, “I think we’ve proven that we deserve to be here.”
Siena started its season 5-10 before winning 8 of 10. The Saints split their final six games of the conference season, in which they surprisingly contended for the MAAC regular-season championship after finishing 8-24 last season.
The Saints started fast against Rider and made their first five shots, four of which were 3-pointers. Siena led by as many as seven points in the first half, but it committed nine turnovers to mitigate an 11 of 22 overall shooting performance. A late 3 from Seymour, though, got the Saints into intermission with a 30-29 lead. Fisher led all scorers in the first half with 11 points.
Rider received 22 points from Tyere Marshall. The Broncs shot 31 of 67 from the field, but grabbed 17 of 39 potential rebounds on Siena’s defensive glass to help themselves to 27 second-chance points.
Siena will have a short turnaround before playing Iona. While Iona had Saturday off, Siena played until 11:28 p.m.
Fisher said the Saints won’t be lacking for energy Sunday night.
“I think we’re going to be ready to go against Iona,” Fisher said.
And beyond that one.
“Job’s not finished,” Seymour said. “We still got two more games. We’ve got to take care of business.”
Camper 1-2 0-0 3. Pickett 6-9 7-8 20, Seymour 6-8 0-0 18, Fisher 7-11 7-8 22, Degnan 5-9 1-2 13, Smithen 3-4 4-5 11, Huerter 0-0 0-0 0. Ratliff 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 28-43 19-23 87.
Allen 3-10 3-3 12, Eke 0-0 0-0 0, Durham 5-11 0-0 12, Vaughn 4-7 4-5 12, Jordan 6-15 1-2 14, Scott 3-8 2-4 9, Cisse 0-0 0-0 0, Marshall 10-15 2-3 22, Williams 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 31-67 12-17 81.
Halftime score: Siena 30, Rider 29. Three-point shooting: Siena 12-21, Rider 7-23. Rebounds: Siena 24, Rider 32. Assists: Siena 17, Rider 11. Turnovers: Siena 13, Rider 10. Total fouls: Siena 13, Rider 21. Fouled out: Camper. Attendance: 5,336.