March 4, 2012
The clock struck midnight for Manhattan at 12:36 a.m. Sunday morning, but Cinderella is still dancing at this ball. Siena topped the Jaspers 84-82 in an overtime game too good for words. We'll try our best.
Owen Wignot scored a career-high 22 points in the 121st game of his career - none bigger than his long 3-pointer from the left wing to tie the game at 78-78 with 8 seconds left in regulation.
"Owen has been a great player in our program," Siena coach Mitch Buoanguro said. "It was his moment."
The drama was just getting started.
Manhattan had a chance to win the game, and seemed certain to do so when Kidani Brutus' runner circled around the rim three times before spinning out. It was the only break the Saints needed.
Siena played the final 4:17 of regulation and all of overtime with just five players after senior leader Kyle Downey fouled out. They also had to endure Manhattan's tenacious full court press for 45 minutes. Oh, and All-Rookie point guard Evan Hymes labored through the game with a left knee injury that kept him out of the starting lineup.
It didn't matter.
The Saints willed their way to a win, somehow someway.
Walters got things started in overtime with a putback, and Siena never trailed again. That's not to say things didn't get interesting. Wignot had Siena's only other field goal of the overtime, a floating 8-footer after the Jaspers tied the game. George Beamon's jumper with 1:33 to play made the score 83-82, and after Wignot hit 1-of-2 free throws, Manhattan had the ball again with a chance to tie or win.
Walters blocked the Jaspers' first attempt with six seconds left, but the rebound volleyed out-of-bounds off Siena. The Jaspers got two more chances from up close, but Emmy Andjuar's twisting layup was long, and Rhamel Brown's putback was too.
When the buzzer finally sounded, Siena exhaled and celebrated. Their reward: a date with Loyola at 4:30 p.m. in the semifinals - their 12th trip to the Final Four in the last 15 years, and 17th in 23 Tournament appearances.
"That was one of the greatest wins I've ever been a part of," Buoanguro said.
It's the fifth time in the last six years the Saints have defeated Manhattan in the MAAC Championships, and the second straight year they've done so in overtime. This loss likely won't end Manhattan's season this time. The Jaspers are the most improved team in the nation, and with 20 wins, they'll likely be playing in the postseason somewhere.
As good as the end of the game was, the beginning may have been better.
The Saints led 41-39 at halftime after shooting 56% from the field. The Jaspers shot 57% from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes, making 8-14 3-pointers including six of their first seven. Beamon had all five of his 3-pointers before intermission and led all players with 24 points.
Manhattan led 5-0 after a 3-pointer to start the game, a steal and a dunk. They took their biggest lead of the game, 26-18, on a 3-pointer by Mohamed Koita with 12:05 left in the half. Siena scored 12 of the next 14 points to tie the game at 29-29, and Wignot's jumper with 33 seconds left gave them the lead.
Siena has had a tendency to wear down late in games this year, especially away from home. Manhattan has a tendency to wear you down.
"Well try to enjoy it, but our guys are excited for the semis," Buoanguro said. "Our energy and legs are important, hopefully we're ready."