Siena defends Metro Atlantic tourney title
It was only fitting Kenny Hasbrouck was swept away by the mad celebration of Siena fans, who carried the senior guard on their shoulders after the Saints successfully defended their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament title.
After all it was Hasbrouck who gave the Saints the big lift they needed, scoring 17 of his 19 points in the second half in a 77-70 win over Niagara on Monday night to earn Siena's fifth NCAA tournament bid.
"Yeah, they picked me up," Hasbrouck said of what happened shortly after the throng of green-and-gold Saints supporters rushed the court. "I was trying to get to the table. I was trying to stand up. They didn't let me."
Hasbrouck was selected the tournament MVP for a clutch and gutty performance in which he shook off a nagging calf injury and a terrible first half. After missing nine of his first 10 shots, the MAAC player of the year scored nine during a decisive 13-1 run that put the Saints ahead 63-51 with 5:17 left.
Ryan Rossiter added 16 points and 14 rebounds for the Saints (26-7), who set a single-season record for most victories at the Division I level. Siena also completed its season with a 17-0 record on its home court, and extended its home winning streak to 21 overall.
Tyrone Lewis scored 22 for the Purple Eagles (26-8), who will be left to settle for an NIT berth. Niagara lost for only the second time in 14 games and squandered an opportunity to match a school single-season record for wins.
Not so fast, Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said, who insisted the Purple Eagles deserve to be part of the NCAA tournament discussion.
"It would be a tremendous honor to be in the NIT, but if Siena's an NCAA tournament team, I think we are, too," Mihalich said. "I think we deserved to get talked about."
The Purple Eagles were good, but not good enough in their inability to contain Hasbrouck and stem his game-changing spark.
Though the Saints never trailed after Edwin Ubiles completed a three-point play midway through the first half, Siena had difficulty pulling away. The Purple Eagles tied the game five times, but could never produce the go-ahead basket, despite numerous opportunities.
Hasbrouck took over hitting a 16-footer to break a 50-all tie.
The key series of plays came on Siena's next possession when Ubiles missed a shot off the side of the rim, and Rossiter dived into the Siena bench, tipping the ball back in play. Hasbrouck completed the possession with an underhanded shot from 6-feet.
Niagara rallied, cutting the lead to 73-67 with 36 left, but ran out of time.
The Purple Eagles blamed the setting - playing at the Saints' home arena, a place where Siena hasn't lost since Feb. 16, 2008.
"It was kind of one of those games where it's the world versus us," Lewis said. "You looked around and all you saw was just yellow and green."
Perhaps, the Purple Eagles should've also blamed themselves for an erratic and impatient offensive performance. Niagara went 9-of-37 in 3-point attempts and failed to push the ball into the paint more often, where it had the height advantage.
"I think we need to recognize when we're not hitting," Lewis said. "We should've gone to the basket a lot more."
Benson Egemonye scored 10 points and added 10 rebounds for the Purple Eagles, who dropped to 2-4 in MAAC championship games. Niagara was attempting to earn its fourth NCAA berth and third in five years.
Hasbrouck celebrated by walking over to his father Jeffrey A. Hasbrouck, who has multiple sclerosis and watched the game - as he always does - from a wheelchair near the bench, and presented him with the globe-shaped MVP trophy.
"I'm going to weight-lift with this," the proud father said, pumping the trophy in his hand. "My son went through everything to come off an injury and lead this team. But that's what it's all about."
There were questions whether Hasbrouck would play after he hurt his right calf and did not return in Siena's 80-65 win over Fairfield on Sunday. Hasbrouck also didn't take part in the team's shootaround earlier in the day.
"There was never a doubt I was going to play," he said. "It wasn't that bad. It was more mental. If I let it get to me, it would've been worse."
Saints coach Fran McCaffery was impressed with his player's perseverance.
"He's amazing. He was in a lot of pain last night, a lot of pain this morning," McCaffery said. "He just said he was going to play. We just didn't know how effective he was going to be. He was pretty effective."