Siena battled back from 25 points down, using a 17-0 run to take a 73-72 lead on Brett Bisping's tip-in with 3:37 left, but A.J. English and Iona found an answer. English scored a game-high 32 points, including two key three-pointers late, and the Gaels held on for an 87-81 victory at Times Union Center.
Iona secured a top two seed in the upcoming MAAC Championships. Siena can finish no better than the three seed.
"It was a great, entertaining basketball game," Siena coach Jimmy Patsos said. "When I took this job three years ago I said I was going to bring entertaining basketball to the Times Union Center, and that was an entertaining game."
It didn't start off that way for Siena fans.
Iona made 10-13 three-pointers in the first half, and led 53-28 after English's layup before settling for a 57-36 lead at the break.
"I don't think us as players were ready to go," Bisping said. "That's on us as players. The sooner we can figure that out, the sooner we can go from being a good team to a great team."
Bisping and the Saints figured it out at halftime, and nearly pulled off the impossible. Siena used a 7-0 run to close within 61-47, forcing an Iona timeout, and got within nine on Ryan Oliver's three just five minutes into the final stanza.
The Gaels scored seven of the next nine, taking a 72-56 lead on two English free throws with 11:01 to play, but then Bisping and the Saints went to work.
Siena scored the next 17 points, electrifying the Times Union Center, and grabbing their only lead of the game on Bisping's go-ahead basket.
Bisping had 17 points and grabbed 18 rebounds for the second straight game, continuing his dominance of the MAAC. Javion Ogunyemi and Lavon Long tied for a team-high with 18 points, as the Saints muscled past the Gaels inside after getting starting big men Jordan Washington and Isaiah Williams in foul trouble.
"Up until that point I don't think we were engaged defensively," Bisping said. "During that stretch, everyone was talking, everyone was pointing."
But Siena's lead lasted just four seconds. English rose up for a long three on the Gaels' next trip to stop the run. Long tied the game with a power move on the Saints' next trip, but Iona answered with a decisive 10-1 run.
English's three-pointer from the right corner with 1:36 left pushed the lead to 82-76 and effectively sealed the outcome.
"I thought if there was one guy we were going to guard at the end of the game it would be A.J. English," Patsos said. "We took the lead and then we ran back and forgot to cover the Michael Jordan of our league."
Siena travels to play at Fairfield in another key conference game that could determine third place Wednesday night. The Saints need a victory in one of their final two games (at Fairfield, or home vs. Quinnipiac Sunday) to secure the No. 3 seed. The No. 3 seed opens MAAC Tournament play Saturday, March 5 in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. The 4/5 game follows at 9:30 p.m.
"I'm really proud the guys came back, and the fans really helped us," Patsos said. "We have a really big game at Fairfield and nobody is going to feel sorry for us."