Banged up, outsized and overmatched, the underdog Siena Saints managed to dig deep and find one more stone to sling, playing the role of midmajor David to a power conference Goliath yet again Wednesday night.
This time, the Saints managed to topple Georgia Tech, 62-57, while playing in front of an enthused and vocal crowd of 7,468 fans in Albany’s Times Union Center. The Saints claimed the Yellow Jackets of the Atlantic Coastal Conference as their latest victims, adding their pelts to a growing list of power six conference victims that includes Ohio State and Vanderbilt.
As per his usual, senior Ryan Rossiter anchored the Siena win, contributing 19 points and 13 rebounds to lay the cornerstone for the upset victory. Prior to tipoff, Rossiter’s availability for the game was in question due to a sinus infection, but when his team needed him most, the veteran answered the call of duty.
The Saints also found themselves without the services of senior guard Clarence Jackson, who missed the contest with an ankle injury. “I asked him [about the injury] before the game,” Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro said, “and he said he couldn’t go. It was up in the air until right before tipoff.”
Several reserves played key roles to complement Rossiter’s stellar turn in the win. Forward O.D. Anosike added 11 points, including several rim-rattling slam dunks, and snatched eight rebounds to aid Rossiter in the post. Guard Kyle Downey also added 12 points and six rebounds to the mix, in addition to several key plays snagging vital rebounds or hustling for loose balls. Sophomore reserve forward Davis also contributed some big-time play in an expanded role, chipping in eight points and nine rebounds, with many of them coming in the most opportune of moments.
The contest featured Siena’s first home matchup against a team from a Big Six power conference since 2007, and the disparity was evident from the opening minutes. The Saints found themselves outsized and “out-athleted,” so to speak, playing against the taller, more athletic Yellow Jackets.
On several occasions, various Georgia Tech players threw down thunderous slam dunks, including alley-oops and a putback slams. Yellow Jacket junior Iman Shumpert led the Yellow Jackets’ aerial assault, scoring on a variety of dunks and reverses to tally 10 points on 4-11 shooting. Teammate Glen Rice Jr. led the team with 15 points and chipped in on the glass, adding nine rebounds. Even the normally hostile Times Union Center crowd couldn’t help but ooh and ahh, marveling at the aerial theatrics on display.
After the game, Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt congratulated Siena, a place he previously coached from 1997-2000 where Hewitt made an NIT and NCAA Tournament appearance, on their effort.
“Congratulations to Mitch and his team, they played very hard,” Hewitt said. “We just missed some shots in the second half and just didn’t knock them down.”
In a homecoming game of sorts, however, Hewitt said he found himself as the hunted this time around.
“I thought it would be fun until the ball went up,” Hewitt said. “I thought we gave a great effort, just didn’t do a good enough job on the boards [...] We just had looks and couldn’t make them. It’s that simple. Just one of those things.”
For the game, Siena outrebounded Georgia Tech by a margin of 41-36. Both teams shot similar percentages from the field; Siena made 36.8% of its field goals, while Tech made 24 of 62, good for a 38.7% clip.
Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro credited his team’s defensive success with a switch to a 2-3 defensive zone and a lot of preparation time.
“I spent about six days on fundamentals, guarding the drive [and] blocking out,” Buonaguro said. “I went back to the basics. I went to the back basics of the zone. I thought the zone tonight could be very effective. [Siena assistant coach] Craig Carter did a great job [of] scouting [Georgia Tech]. We knew exactly what they were going to do and we executed [...] The defense tonight was as good as it can be. To hold Georgia Tech to 21 points, an ACC team, in the second half is phenomenal [...] I’ve always liked the zone and I thought it was instrumental tonight.” ”
The victory stands as Buonaguro’s first signature win as head coach of the Saints.
“I’m just elated with the win, [with] how far we’ve come,” Buonaguro said. “I’ve said all along, this team, I really like. I’ve always thought we have a lot of guts and a lot of tough kids. We haven’t beeen healthy. Even tonight we didn’t have Clarence [Jackson] and were still able to win the game. [I've] said all year, we’re a good team and I think tonight we proved it.”
The 2010-2011 incarnation of the Siena Saints has finally shown that it’s ready to play with the big boys.
CONTINUED CLANK: O.D. Anosika sunk his first three throw attempt of the game with 3:25 remaining in the first half, drawing applause from the audience. Anosike has developed a reputation as a notoriously bad free throw shooter…
FROM THE HUNTER TO THE HUNTED: Prior to the game, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt reflected on the time he spent coaching at Siena. “A lot of the energy and the juice that we got came from the crowd,” Hewitt said of his time spent coaching Siena at the Times Union Center. “The crowd has to understand they have a role in this thing too. They have to keep pumping these kids up until they [get their] legs under them.” Hewitt’s remarks proved quite prescient. He was Siena’s coach for its first season of playing all of its home games at the Times Union Center in downtown Albany, back during the 1997-1998 campaign.
IN THE FLESH: Former Siena Saint and area legend Prosper Karangwa was in attendance for Wednesday night’s game…
THE INJURIES KEEP PILING UP: Rossiter was forced to leave the game with about a minute left to play in the first half after a collision with Georgia Tech player Mfon Udofia, who inadvertently smacked Rossiter in the face. As it turns out, Rossiter had been poked in the eye and had his eyelid briefly inverted, but nonetheless managed to return to the court to start the second half. O.D. Anosike scored 11 points, throwing down several two-handed jams, but came up lame after his last. With 7:10 remaining to play, Anosike threw down a two-handed slam, but cluched his hip after landing and collapsed to the floor. The Saints were forced to call a timeout and team trainers attended to him for several minutes as he lay prone on the floor.