Albany, N.Y. – Manhattan’s reign is over. For the first time in three years, there will be a new MAAC tournament king after Siena knocked out back-to-back champion Manhattan 89-76 at the Times Union Center Saturday evening.
Siena held control of the score for nearly the entire game (a shade under 37 of the game’s 40 minutes) and led by as much as 16 midway through the second half.
Despite fending off foul trouble, Manhattan made a push to close within three with 5:07 remaining, but a 7-0 Saints run from that point forward helped Siena restore order and bring home the victory.
Here are three thoughts from Siena’s quarterfinal win over Manhattan:
1.) Siena dominated the boards. Brett Bisping needed just 20 minutes to rack up the 13th double-double of his season, and the Saints’ redshirt junior finished with 22 points and 16 rebounds, just two board short of his career high. Bisping averaged a double-double this year, finishing the regular season averaging 15.8 ppg and 10.4 rpg. Both marks lead the team.
Bisping’s presence on the glass helped the Saints dominate Manhattan 46-21 on the boards, including a 19-9 advantage on the offensive glass. Lavon Long added five boards, but it was Javion Ogunyemi whom head coach Jimmy Patsos praised for his work in the paint.
“Javion’s once again doing a lot of unsung hero stuff,” Patsos said of Ogunyemi, who was named MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Friday. “He’s holding the big guy down while Brett and then Lavon go and get the rebounds. Everybody rebounds on our team.”
“Part of the scout was to go inside, and we tried to do that early,” Bisping added. “Not just me, but with Javion and Lavon and everyone, work inside out. I think we had an advantage there and we tried to exploit that as best we could.”
The Saints’ dominance on the boards will be on the line Sunday in their semifinal showdown with Iona, but Siena has the track record on their side. The Saints ranked ninth in the nation in total rebounds this season and have out-rebounded their opponents in each of the last 11 games.
2.) Fond memories for Manhattan’s seniors. Manhattan’s two seniors, Shane Richards and RaShawn Stores, had known nothing but the MAAC championship game in their time as Jaspers. The duo competed in the last three title games, cutting down the nets the last two years.
In a cruel twist of fate that could only be found in college basketball, Saturday happened to be Richards’ 22nd birthday. After posting 27 points in the opening round against Marist Thursday night, the senior was held to 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting with a 1-for-5 mark from long distance.
Stores finished with seven points and four assists, and at one point midway through the second half seemed to roll his ankle. As he struggled to get to his feet and hobble to the Manhattan bench, it appeared that may have been the end for the senior. However, he returned soon after to finish the game and eventually earn an emphatic cheer from the Jasper faithful.
Looking back on the impact those senior have had on the program and their role in building Manhattan from a six win program to perennial contenders for the league’s crown, head coach Steve Masiello will look back fondly on his seniors’ careers.
“They came here when we hadn’t accomplished anything,” Masiello said of Richards and Stores. “Ray came on blind faith, Shane came with an idea of what we were going to do. I think if you evaluate it five years later, 9-2 with these guys in MAAC tournament, two MAAC tournament championships, three seasons of postseason play…if someone said you’re going to get two NCAAs…I would have taken that.”
Praise for Manhattan’s seniors was not limited to their own sideline.
“Can’t say enough about Richards and Stores,” Siena’s Patsos remarked. “Just competitive guys. No one works harder than Shane Richards at getting better in four years since I’ve been in the MAAC. I’ve never seen someone improve from day one til his last game as much as Shane Richards has improved. It’s all due to his own work ethic.”
3.) The showdown before the showdown. Siena managed to take down the two-time defending MAAC champions, and what is their reward? They get to suit up and play Iona tomorrow. Just a quick reminder, the Gaels have also taken part in the last three league title games, winning the tournament in 2013.
“I think as a group we’re looking forward to it a lot,” Ogunyemi said of the matchup with Iona. “They ended our season last year, we split with them this year, and didn’t give them our best shot in the first half last time we played them. As a group I think we’re very excited and we can’t wait to step out on the court tomorrow at 7:00.”
As the second-seeded team in the tournament, the Gaels benefit from an extra day of rest before the semifinals. Iona took down Canisius in the quarterfinals Friday and had the advantage of being able to watch as Siena duked it out with Manhattan on Saturday.
“I don’t think we’re too concerned with that,” Bisping said of Iona’s extra rest. “If they have an advantage, they earned it. It’s not something we can worry about. The ball’s going up at 7:00 tomorrow and nobody cares who had more rest at that time.”
Should the Saints continue to run the gauntlet, they likely will face top-seeded Monmouth in the tournament final. Siena took the loss in both meetings with the Hawks this season, but would have the added advantage of playing on their home floor at the Times Union Center. Monmouth will face the winner of the Saint Peters/Fairfield quarterfinal also held Saturday night.
But as for Iona? Patsos had some tough praise for the Gaels’ star, A.J. English.
“I voted for A.J. English for Player of the Year,” Patsos revealed. “The guy broke my heart. Other than Magic [Johnson] hitting the hook shot at the Garden in ’85…this guy [English] is the second biggest killer in my life, after Magic Johnson.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.