As they say, it’s like déjà vu all over again. In a scene reminiscent of their win in New Rochelle last season, Siena stormed back from a 13 point second half deficit to upend Iona 81-79 Tuesday night.
The excitement began well before tip, when it was announced Siena sophomore Nico Clareth would be making his first appearance on the court since January 12. Clareth had been on an indefinite leave of absence from the team for the last seven games, but entered Tuesday’s contest off the bench in the fifth minute and finished the contest with 14 points and eight rebounds.
“We don’t cast our family members aside,” Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos said after the game. “We might be mad at our family members, but we never cast them aside.”
Patsos revealed that he had met with Clareth on the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday, where they discussed his potential return to the team. From there, he was invited back to practice on Monday and allowed to accompany the team on the trip to New Rochelle.
“I actually said weeks ago that when Jimmy plays us here, he’s going to have Nico playing, so I was clairvoyant on that one,” Iona head coach Tim Cluess joked after the game. “I know Jimmy likes to come to New York fully loaded.”
Iona held the lead for 33 of the game’s 40 minutes and pushed their advantage to 13 on Jordan Washington’s three-point play with 13:18 remaining. However, three seconds later Lavon Long threw down a dunk which sparked a 15-3 Siena rally over the next 4:44, and brought the Saints back within one with 8:31 to play.
Siena did enough to hold off Iona late, with Marquis Wright leading the way. The senior point guard accounted for nine of the Saints’ final 13 points of the game including the game-winning free throw, but freshman Ahsante Shivers had plenty of room to shine as well.
The rookie knocked down a triple with 1:19 remaining to give the Saints their largest lead of the night at four, and added the game’s final point on a free throw in the waning seconds.
“I’ve always felt like the more dirty work you do, the more shots go in,” Patsos said. “Maybe [Shivers’] shot went in because he was doing all of the dirty stuff. We need a glue guy, and it’s him. Shivers is a MAAC player, body-wise. With him in there, it just gives you another threat.”
The come from behind victory brought back memories of the Saints’ last visit to New Rochelle, where they came back from 12 points down with 11:27 to play and defeated Iona 81-78. In that contest, Clareth led the way with 20 points while then-juniors Brett Bisping and Javion Ogunyemi added 19 apiece.
This year it was Ogunyemi leading the way with 17 points. Wright narrowly missed a double-double with 16 points and nine assists while Lavon Long matched Clareth with 14 and added 11 boards to complete his tenth career double-double. Shivers ended the night with a career-high 11 points.
“A lot of things we did last year, we did this year,” Ogunyemi said after the game. “We realized we just had to put minutes together where we could get stops. You’re not going to shut them down the whole game. You’ve just got to try to win each four [minute stretch] and get crucial stops.”
The Gaels were led by sophomore Rickey McGill, who again flirted with a triple-double on 21 points, seven assists, and six rebounds. Jon Severe added 17, while E.J. Crawford and Washington contributed 12 and 11 respectively.
McGill gave Iona a spark with a highlight reel ll-courfut heave at the end of the first half which sent the Gaels into the break with a 10 point lead. The sophomore also found the ball in his hands in the waning seconds, but his would-be game-winner bounced off the rim at the final horn.
“Teams can go in every different direction right now, this league is this close,” Cluess added, holding his fingers centimeters apart. “A play or two, whoever shoots the ball a little better on a given night, whoever makes the right play at the end of the game, you see what’s going on within the league. It’s great competitive-wise, but if you don’t bring your A game, you’re losing.”
With the loss, Iona falls to 9-5 in league play ahead of their trip to Buffalo. Monmouth now holds a three game advantage atop the conference standings while Siena moves into a three-way tie for third place with Canisius and Saint Peter’s. The Saints travel to local rival Marist on Saturday.
Clareth was not made available to the media after the game.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.