Veteran Canisius survived 21 lead changes and made the big plays down the stretch to edge past Siena 71-65 in the MAAC Quarterfinals Saturday afternoon in Springfield. Brett Bisping scored a career-high 21 points in the loss for the Saints.
"I want to thank our fans," Siena coach Jimmy Patsos said after the loss "It was a great atmosphere here."
Siena took its final lead, 61-60, on Rob Poole's three-pointer with 4:02 left. Chris Manhertz made two free throws on Canisius' next possession and MAAC Player of the Year Billy Baron followed with a steal and a three-pointer to push the lead to four. Siena got within a bucket twice on Bisping layups, but the Griffs scored on their final eight possessions to secure their first semifinal berth in 12 years.
The Saints contained Baron much better than they did when he scored 40 points in Canisius' triple-overtime win in Albany, but he still led five players in double figures with 17 points and added six assists and five steals. His layup with 16 seconds left and the shotclock running down ended Siena's chances.
"Billy Baron is a class act," Patsos said. "He's a heady player."
The Saints led 34-33 after a wild first half with 14 lead changes. Canisius scored the first six points of the second half to take the lead, but Siena never went away. Neither team led by more than six points, and after trailing by that many, the Saints used a 12-2 spurt to take a 56-52 lead with 7:26 to play.
Bisping made 9-14 field goals and grabbed nine rebounds, finishing off a sensational sophomore campaign.
"Brett has been one of the most improved mid-major players in the country," Patsos said.
Walk-on Steven Cruz is the only senior on Siena's roster. Canisius starts four seniors.
The Saints exceeded expectations, finishing fifth by two full games after being picked 10th in the Preseason Coaches' Poll. In the process, they captured the hearts of Siena fans - many of whom made the drive to Springfield.
The season was a major step in the right direction for a proud program that had fallen on hard times after winning three-straight Championships from 2008-2010.
"I am looking forward to next year," Patsos said. "We have everybody back. We add Patrick Cole. I love Siena. Its been a great ride."