As the Siena men's basketball team left the court for the final time Sunday afternoon in Springfield following a 70-60 loss in the MAAC semifinals to second-seeded Loyola, the partisan crowd rose in unison to show its appreciation.
Make no mistake, 14-17 seasons will rarely be considered successful at Siena. Especially after the Saints established themselves as the class of the league with a memorable run of three-straight titles from 2008-2010.
Consider this year the exception to that rule.
"It was emotional after the game," Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro said. "I love this team and what they represent."
Siena played with the heart and determination it has all year Sunday, a characteristic that won over a skeptical fanbase that wrote this season off for dead before it started. In the end, the numbers game finally caught up to the Saints.
Playing just 16 hours after Siena's thrilling 84-82 overtime win over Manhattan concluded early this morning, the Saints fell victim to a determined Loyola team that advances to its first Championship game since 1994.
For a while it seemed there might be some magic left on Siena's sideline. The Saints built an early 14-6 lead after an Owen Wignot 3-pointer. Wignot ended his career with a 16-point performance, matching the second highest output of his career. The highest came when he keyed Siena's win with 22 points last night. In 10 MAAC Tournament games, he shot 65% (32-48) from the field.
Wignot's effort was surpassed only by classmate Kyle Downey who had 12 of his team-high 17 points in the second half. Throw in Brandon Walters eight points, and Siena's seniors combined for 41 of the team's 60 points.
It wasn't enough.
Loyola shot 51% from the field and 54% from 3-point range. The Hounds were even better in the second half, making 54% of their field goals and 63% of their tries from distance.
Loyola had just 11 points 11 minutes into the game, and was really struggling against Siena's active zone. But an 11-2 run gave the Hounds a 22-18 lead with 5:32 left, and Siena never regained the lead.
The Saints trailed 32-29 just over three minutes into the second half, but the Hounds scored 12 of the next 14 to push the lead to double figures and led by seven or more the rest of the way.
The key sequence in the game came after Siena reeled off five straight points to close within 47-40, but the Saints missed two chances to cut the lead to five, and the crowd never got a chance to get back in the game.
Erik Etherly led four Greyhounds in double figures with an inspired 21 points. Shane Walker and Robert Olson each had 12 and Justin Drummond chipped in 10.
OD Anosike finished off his remarkable junior campaign with 13 points, but had a season-low five rebounds, perhaps feeling the effects from Saturday night's draining victory.
Freshman point guard Evan Hymes made just 2-of-10 field goals, but his effort typified what this Siena team represented. Hymes had five assists and just one turnover, playing with a badly bruised left knee that kept him out of the starting lineup.
"My first two years, we were expected to win," Downey said. "This year we got the most out of this team, and exceeded eveyones expectations. Out of the four years I've been here, this is the team I'm most proud of."
Considering the Saints' success Downey's first two years, that statement carries a lot of weight. It's a season that has everyone looking forward to what comes next."
"I'm excited about next year," Anosike said. "We've got guys coming back. The future of Siena basketball is bright."