Saints win BracketBuster game in overtime
ALBANY It all depends on your vantage point.
Chris Leppanen started the game, but watched many of the most important moments while sitting in one of the most expensive seats in the house, across the floor from his team in a spot where fans sip beers.
His grandparents were somewhere in the stands for the first time this season, but they don’t see too well. It didn’t matter.
From where Rob Poole stood, his big shot was an air ball. Of course, it swished.
Strange things happened from strange angles to create a bizarre game, but from where the Siena Saints are sitting, their 65-57 overtime win over Radford at the Times Union Center on Sunday was perfect.
Mired in one of the worst seasons in program history, the Saints (7-21) will take any win they can get at this point; this one came despite any number of improbable circumstances.
“With Chris Leppanen in there, it’s somewhat like a Disney movie,” star forward O.D. Anosike said.
“It was a dig-deep win,” head coach Mitch Buonaguro said. “To win this game with Poole and O.D. going 5-for-27 is pretty amazing.”
Forward Davis Martens came off the bench to have his best game for Siena, with 18 points and nine rebounds, including six points in overtime, when the Saints outscored Radford (12-17), 11-3.
Leppanen, a Christian Brothers Academy graduate from Troy, ran the offense efficiently in the same gym where he has played big games before, but at the high school level. He had seven points, seven assists and just two turnovers before hitting the deck with leg cramps with 22 seconds left in regulation, and did not return.
The Saints won despite losing Anosike, by far the Saints’ best player, to fouls while Siena led by three with 51 seconds left in overtime.
They won despite the fact that their starting backcourt, Evan Hymes and Rakeem Brookins, were in street clothes because of injuries, forcing Buonaguro to start a freshman walk-on at point guard. Leppanen, the only local kid on the roster, got his first college start and played 35 minutes after totaling 52 in the first 27 games.
And the offense-challenged Saints won despite needing to somehow cobble together an eight-point comeback in the final 57.8 seconds of regulation to send it into overtime.
“This game showed our resiliency,” Poole said.
Poole, in an excruciating shooting slump since coming back from the flu, missed all but two of the 14 shots he attempted, but the two makes came during the 10-2 run to force overtime. Of course.
His tough runner and free throw cut it to 52-47 with 44.2 seconds left, and after the Highlanders’ Rashun Davis missed the front end of a one-and-one, Anosike tipped in a Poole miss.
Siena pressed, and Radford heaved a long pass to Brandon Holcomb, which gave Martens time to recover, but he was called for a block when Holcomb caught it and made a move to the basket, a call that sent Buonaguro screaming and stomping up and down the sideline.
Leppanen, meanwhile, was crumpled on the sideline with leg cramps, and he simply stayed where he fell instead of crossing the court to the bench and to watch the closing moments, eventually hoisting himself into a prime seat while trainer Greg Dashnaw iced his leg.
That’s where he saw Poole’s three go through to make it 54-52, a shot Poole said he didn’t like when it left his hand.
“No. Not at all,” he said. “I went up and kind of clutched a little bit, and shot it. I thought it was an air ball. Luckily, it was all net, so . . . thank God.”
Siena hounded Radford into a timeout, and the Highlanders weren’t any better on the second inbounds attempt, which came from the very spot where Leppanen was sitting and led to a five-second turnover.
Anosike was fouled on a tip-in attempt, and the 52.1 percent free-throw shooter made two with 4.8 seconds left to send it into overtime.
“To be honest, it was a blur,” Buonaguro said. “Poole made a couple of big plays, and I thought we trapped well three-quarters court, which is something we worked on.”
In overtime, Martens’ follow gave Siena a 58-56 lead, and he made two free throws with 44.6 seconds left for a 61-57 lead. Poole made enough free throws from there to hold Radford at bay.
“We showed a lot of heart. And we executed,” Martens said. “Chris Leppanen did a great job running the team, and we kept our heads in it.”
Leppanen was headed to Roberts Wesleyan in Rochester after graduating from CBA, but walked on at Siena to stay close to his mother, who has been sick. She’s better now, and escorted Chris’ grandparents to the game from Troy for the first time this season.
“Neither can see too well, so I don’t think they saw too much action, but I know they heard the crowd going crazy and stuff, and my mom was probably telling my grandmother what was going on, so it was very special,” Leppanen said.
“Chris played excellent,” Anosike said, raising his voice a little on “excellent.” “He ran the team, and got us into our offense under tremendous pressure. He’s the hometown kid, and I can’t be more proud of him.”
Green 3-3 2-4 8, Noreen 1-3 1-2 4, Holcomb 3-4 2-2 8, Davis 2-9 0-1 5, Price 7-21 0-0 18, Brown 0-1 0-0 0, Owens 0-1 0-0 0, Anderson 3-13 0-0 8, Dickerson 0-3 0-0 0, Dyer 0-3 4-4 4, Murphy 1-1 0-0 2, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Wells 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 20-65 9-13 57.
Anosike 3-13 5-9 11, Burdine 4-6 3-4 13, Silas 2-2 0-0 4, Leppanen 3-5 0-2 7, Poole 2-14 7-12 12, Audu 0-1 0-0 0, Martens 6-10 6-7 18. Totals 20-51 21-34 65.
Halftime: Radford 25-23. End of regulation: Tied 54. 3-Point Goals: Radford 8-28 (Price 4-12, Anderson 2-7, Noreen 1-2, Davis 1-4, Wells 0-1, Dickerson 0-2), Siena 4-12 (Burdine 2-2, Leppanen 1-1, Poole 1-6, Martens 0-1, Audu 0-1, Anosike 0-1). Rebounds: Radford 33 (Green 5), Siena 42 (Anosike 14). Assists: Radford 13 (Davis 4), Siena 10 (Leppanen 7). Total Fouls: Radford 26, Siena 15. Fouled Out: Anosike, Dyer, Green. Attendance: 5,768.