Lavon Long did not see the court until Siena’s fourth game of the season, but it is the embattled senior who could make the difference in the Saints’ final games of the year.
A native of Baltimore, Long is just one of a talented quartet of seniors that has guided the Saints to a MAAC tournament semifinal showdown with top-ranked Monmouth Sunday afternoon.
Suspended for the first three games of the year due to a violation of team rules, Long ranks fourth on the squad with 13.0 ppg during the 2016-17 season, but has reached another level down the stretch run.
Over the Saints’ last ten games, Long has averaged 15.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. His presence and flexibility helped Siena accumulate a 6-3 record to end the regular season, solidifying its position in the top half of the MAAC.
Although fellow seniors Marquis Wright (16.5) and Javion Ogunyemi (13.4) outdo him in points, Long’s versatility has him in the conversation at the team’s MVP. The 6-7 Long is second-best on the team in both rebounds (6.3) and assists (2.6) per game.
“Lavon’s defense and leadership once again came through,” head coach Jimmy Patsos said following Saturday’s 78-66 quarterfinal win over Fairfield.
Long accounted for 17 of the Saints’ points, and added four rebounds to go along with two assists. The senior shot 6-9 from the field, boosting Siena’s 46.2% mark for the game. For the year, Long has shot 53.1% from the floor, fifth-best in the league and fractions of a percentage behind teammate Ogunyemi.
In Saturday’s win, it was Long’s versatility which helped guide the Saints to victory, but Ogunyemi’s clutch moment that kept Siena in a comfortable position through key moments.
Siena held an 11-point lead at halftime, but midway through the second stanza, Fairfield’s Jerry Johnson pulled the Stags within five. Thanks to Ogunyemi, that was as close as the Stags would get, as the 6-foot-10, 243 pound senior drilled just his eleventh career 3-pointer to stem the tide and provide his team some breathing room.
Like Long, Ogunyemi was stellar from the floor, shooting 7-11 for the game. He led the Saints with 24 points, and added nine rebounds.
“I just tried to go get some easy opportunities,” Ogunyemi said. “I thought my teammates did a great job finding me.”
As they have all year, the Saints will turn to their troupe of seniors to lead them again into battle, this time against #1 seed Monmouth in a Sunday semifinal scheduled for 4:30, just seventeen hours after Saturday night’s final buzzer.
“You can see when Javion is going to play really well, and now he has to play well again tomorrow,” Patsos said Saturday evening, praising the senior’s mental acumen in the process. “I’ve discouraged him from being a coach, but I will hire him one day if I’m the coach here at Siena and he’s available.”
Fellow fourth-year players Marquis Wright and Brett Bisping joined Long and Ogunyemi in double-figures with 12 apiece. Bisping added 11 rebounds for his thirtieth career double-double, and Wright dished out five assists.
Dynamic sophomore Nico Clareth could support the effort Sunday, but would likely be unavailable for a finals appearance should the Saints prevail. Patsos revealed Saturday night Clareth had been dealing with an ankle injury sustained in practice earlier in the week, and once pushed to game action would be too sore recover in a 24-hour period.
Whether or not Clareth sees game action, the Saints will have the services of their veteran force, and that should be enough to at least make the game a battle.
“Going into tomorrow’s matchup, I’m just thinking we’ve got to win,” Long added. “We got knocked out in the second round too many times. Being a senior, it’s really going to hurt if we don’t come out with the win. I’m just thinking work hard, go in, leave it all on the floor.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.