Coming down to the wire, Siena had begun rallying back, but it was not enough.
The Iona Gaels defeated the Siena Saints in the 2016 MAAC tournament semifinals on Sunday night at the Times Union Center by a score of 81-70, as Iona advances to the MAAC finals.
With just over 16 minutes remaining in the game, Siena found themselves down by 13, as it was 53-40 at that point. They made a rally in the next few minutes, as Nico Clareth nearly single-handedly brought it down to six points in just four minutes, putting the ball in the net from behind the three-point line quickly three times, cutting it to a six point game, and seemingly putting the momentum on Siena’s side.
Iona battled back, once again making it an 11 point game just four minutes later on a three pointer by AJ English.
“Coach (Tim Cluess) just puts confidence in me. He makes me feel comfortable,” English said.
English once again had a huge night, scoring 29 points, with 23 of them coming in the second half. He also shot very well from behind the three-point line, going 5/10.
Isaiah Williams also had a solid night for the Gaels, with 23 points. He also had 11 rebounds, recording a double-double.
“I think it was a team rebounding effort. I think that was huge, and Jordan (Washington) is really starting to become part of our game plan,” Iona head coach Tim Cluess said.
The game started out at a very fast pace, as it was already 17-13 Iona after just five minutes had been played. The pace slowed down, but Iona led 45-31 at halftime. Siena would go on to outscore Iona in the second half, 39-36.
Iona had a big lift, going into the locker room going into the second half. They went on a 17-3 run in the final seven minutes of the first half after Siena had taken a 28-26 lead with 7:40 to play until halftime on a three from Evan Fisher. That was their final field goal of the first half, and the game began to slip away after the Iona run.
Siena was led by the strong play of freshman Nico Clareth, who had 18 points on 7/14 shooting. He shot 4/7 from three-point range, and three of them came in the four-minute rally in the second half.
“Nico’s been a joy to coach this year. He’s a freshman and he’s only getting better,” Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos said.
Siena had four players in double figures, including Clareth. Brett Bisping had 16, Lavon Long had 14, and Javion Ogunyemi had 13. Bisping also had nine rebounds, coming a rebound from a double-double.
Shooting the ball was also a key issue for Siena. They shot the ball only 41.9% for the whole game, and only 52.4% for free throws, going 11/21 on those.
“I know (Javion Ogunyemi) missed some free throws tonight, but and maybe fatigue was setting in a little bit,” Patsos said.
Iona now moves on to the MAAC tournament final on Monday, and they will have a date with one-seeded Monmouth in the MAAC’s new, exciting rivalry for a bid in the NCAA tournament. That game will also be played at the Times Union Center, and will begin at 7 PM.
This game likely does not end Siena’s season, as they are expected to be in a postseason tournament that is not the Big Dance. They have had small-tournament postseason success before, as they won the 2014 College Basketball Invitational, with Brett Bisping being the tournament MVP. The date and location of their next game is not known as of yet.