In the end, it was worth the wait. Rakeem Brookins made a triumphant return to Siena's active rotation Saturday night, draining a tough fadeaway from just inside the 3-point line with 3.9 seconds left that broke a 52-52 tie and lifted the Saints to a 56-52 victory over Northern Kentucky in San Diego.
Northern Kentucky had a chance to tie or win the game on its final possession, but Evan Hymes alertly fouled Chad Jackson with 1.2 seconds left just before he released a wild 3-pointer that went in and would have won the game for the Norse.
Hymes' foul was just the sixth on the Saints, meaning Northern Kentucky's final chance to tie would come off a sideline inbounds play.
But they never got that chance.
During the commotion that followed Jackson's discounted shot, Northern Kentucky head coach Dave Bezold was assessed a technical foul. Siena struggled mightily from the free throw line all night, making just 9-18 attempts, but Evan Hymes came through when it mattered most, sinking the technical shots to seal the win.
Hymes led all players with 22 points, making 5-9 3-pointers.
Brookins scored 13 points in his first game action since the 2011 MAAC Tournament, and the last two will be talked about for quite a while.
Before his clutch game-winner, Brookins made two free throws to tie the game with 36 seconds left, and then Nate Snodgrass had a critical turnover for the Norse that set up the frantic finish.
The four point differential when the horn sounded marked the largest lead in the second half for either team.
Northern Kentucky led for most of the game, but Siena just enough key plays to deny the Norse their first Division I victory.
O.D. Anosike racked up his fourth double-double in as many games this season with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Brookins and fellow red-shirt sophomore Trenity Burdine were suspended the first three games of the season for violating athletic department policy. Neither played last season due to injury. Burdine logged 24 minutes, three points, five rebounds and two assists in his return. His only basket was a key 3-pointer that tied the game at 47-47 with 5:40 left.
Eshaunte Jones led Northern Kentucky with 18 points. Ethan Faulkner had 10 points and nine rebounds in a losing effort.
All four of Siena's games this season have been decided by five points or fewer, and each has been up for grabs in the final minute. After coughing up leads in the final two minutes of each of their first three games, the Saints handled the late game situations much better Saturday night.
They don't have much time to celebrate the win though as they meet host school San Diego at 1 p.m. local time (4 p.m. Eastern) in their final game of the NUCDF Basketball Challenge Sunday.