He may not be quite as animated as he was in the early days of his Loyola (MD) coaching career, but Jimmy Patsos is still Jimmy Patsos.
It took until the second half for some of the uninitiated Friday night at Webster Bank Arena to notice Patsos was quite different than most other coaches that prowl the visitors’ coaching box. With Siena – who has had a rough time of it this season after winning the CBI last season and being picked second in the MAAC preseason poll in October – struggling to start the second half, Patsos burned a time out and appeared from the other side to aim most of his vitriol at sophomore Javion Ogunyemi, who had missed a layup and didn’t get back down the court as quickly as Patsos would have liked in the opening seconds after halftime.
With injuries, Ogunyemi has had to play a bigger role than Patsos probably thought this season, Friday was his eighth start and he is the man for the moment (and likely for the foreseeable future) at center for the Saints. He didn’t even sign with Patsos at Siena, but Mitch Buonaguro, partly to be close to his ill mother (who sadly died before he played in a college game). He stuck with Patsos, but as the finger started pointing in his direction and the face got red, the Fairfield fans muttered what has been heard at many a Jimmy Patsos game over the years, “Boy, that other coach is kind of crazy, huh? Look at him!”
Soon after, though, Siena – which trailed by as many as 12 in the second half – started to chip away at the Fairfield advantage. And who was leading the way? Javion Ogunyemi, of course. Ogunyemi finished with 15 points, six rebounds, and two big blocks, while the rest of his teammates helped to do just enough for Siena to pick up a big MAAC road victory, 68-67, moving them to 2-1 and tying them with Fairfield.
“I just said to Javion, ‘Your guy laid his in and then you didn’t lay yours in’, and then we fouled, so I said ‘What are you doing?’ because he has like the highest GPA. I told him, ‘You understand what’s going on, we need you to battle for us.’ Brett (Bisping) and Imoh Silas, they’re here with us traveling but they’re not going to play this year I don’t think. So then he said, ‘Alright, I’ll do something. You don’t have to yell at me.’ I gave him my Aesop fable. ‘When it’s all said and done, was more said than done?’ I said, ‘Don’t tell me, do it.’ And he went out and did it. He went out and just played.”
Patsos isn’t for everyone, of course. Sadly, the definitive piece on him is lost to whatever website heaven The Mid-Majority is. His team’s will always battle, and in a wide open MAAC, the squad that grinds out wins like Siena did Friday may be in good shape to post a great finish, even if they have to hobble their way to it. And with the MAAC Tournament back in Albany, Siena will always be a factor in March.
“See, I like sports,” the Patsos stream of consciousness drifted to. “We talked about Ohio State football last night. They were down, they didn’t quit, they came back. Keep learning from it, keep learning from it. Sydney has (Fairfield) playing well. Gilbert’s tough, Sidibe’s good and those young guys and Johnston making threes. We didn’t quit. We didn’t give up.”
Grit and toughness will only get Siena (5-7) so far. There are still many holes to plug, especially on defense, where the Saints still rank 329th in defensive efficiency, 313th in defensive rebounding (35.9%) and 346th in putting teams in the foul line (59.2 FTA/FGA). Fairfield, which was shooting just 38.4% from the field, shot 23-for-44 (52.3%), although they only rebounded 6 of their 21 misses, and the one thing the Saints do well on defense – cause turnovers – paid dividends, as the Stags turned it over 17 times in 65 possessions.
Sophomore Lavon Long returned to the lineup, after missing three games with a high ankle sprain, and chipped in 12 points in 24 minutes.
“Lavon wasn’t supposed to play tonight,” Patsos said. “This morning, he said, ‘I don’t think so, coach, let’s wait.’ Then in warmups, he said, ‘I want to do it.’ Then after the first four minutes, he just yelled at me and said, ‘Put me in.’ This is a league game. We’re growing up. We’re far from perfect, but we’re getting there.”
Meanwhile, it was a tough loss for Fairfield (4-9), who has now dropped four straight overall after winning its first two MAAC games. In addition to giving up a 12-point lead, the Stags had some chances to win late. Fairfield led 66-63 with three minutes left before two Ogunyemi buckets in 25 seconds gave Siena the lead. Trailing by one point with 37 seconds left, Amadou Sidibe came down with a big rebound, but fell and traveled.
Even with all that, Marcus Gilbert went to the foul line with a chance to tie with 5.7 seconds left, but missed one of two.
“One play difference,” Gilbert said. “We just have to finish and get that one play toward our side.”
The Stags have already played four overtime games in addition to this one and may be the poster child for the balance in the league, and with 17 league games still to go stand to be in plenty of one-possession contests the rest of the way.
“There’s going to be a lot of games like this,” Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson said. “What I like is, last year was tough (Fairfield finished 7-25, 4-16 in the MAAC), and I bring it up in my own mind, but we’re totally different from that. In that locker room, we’ve got some guys that are very disappointed about the outcome and they understand why it went that way and they’re getting close to fixing that. I just couldn’t say that last year.”
It was fitting after the final buzzer, that Patsos momentarily hoisted sophomore point guard Marquis Wright over his shoulder. Wright has been the one constant for the Saints (although Rob Poole added 18 more points), and the biggest reason why – even playing at a fairly fast pace (58th), Siena’s turnover rate is eighth nationally (15.2%). Wright had only two of Siena’s nine turnovers Friday, and filled the stat sheet: nine points, six rebounds, five assists, five steals, and one giant hug from his coach after the victory.
Even banged up beyond recognition from the team picked second in the MAAC preseason, Wright may get a few more of those hugs from Patsos before we get to March.