Not much polish, but lots of grit
ALBANY There was a little duct tape here and there.
There was an unexpected piece that didn’t seem to quite fit, but found a useful spot.
The last few drops of glue were squeezed out of the tube, and the structure wobbled, but held.
Siena’s 66-62 win over Niagara on Thursday wasn’t a thing of beauty, but the team has reached a point in the season where the whole is beginning to look greater than the sum of its parts.
Half the team are pieces first-year head coach Jimmy Patsos inherited, the other half are pieces he brought here, and they’ve gradually meshed heading into tonight’s 7 p.m. game against Quinnipiac at the Times Union Center.
That was illustrated midway through the second half against the Purple Eagles, when Patsos, searching for a spark, sent junior Rich Audu, the least-used scholarship player on the roster, into the game to make something happen.
Audu played just five minutes, but hit a three-pointer to tie it at 41-41 during a stretch in which the Saints gathered themselves to stay in a game that was showing hints of getting away.
After that, no single player took over for Siena, but every single player seemed to contribute something to the project.
Rob Poole, who scored seven of his 15 points in the final nine minutes, made the big pass out of a double team to Evan Hymes, questionable because of back spasms, for a three that gave Siena a 62-61 lead with 38.4 seconds left.
Lavon Long did his best Peyton Manning to find fellow freshman Marquis Wright on a long press-breaking pass from the endline with Siena up by one with 10 seconds left.
Wright made the layup and shrugged off a Niagara timeout to clinch the game with a free throw.
Much of this happened after the ever-consistent forward Brett Bisping, a so-called “glue guy” if ever there was one, had fouled out with 2:06 left.
The Saints aren’t blowing anyone away and are still a work in progress, sometimes forcing Patsos into some improvisational rotations, but they’re winning games that they would have lost last year.
“We have 10 wins, and I don’t think we have anyone winning more than two games for us, in terms of who got credited,” said Patsos after the game, still sweating and a little worked up, looking at a half-crumpled stat sheet.
Audu has only appeared in 12 of 22 games this season and is averaging just over four minutes, but took his job as a Marvin Jordan replica seriously on the scout team in practice, perhaps not expecting to get the call off the bench, but ready when summoned.
The Saints didn’t play well for stretches of Thursday’s game, but cobbled together what they needed when they needed it.
“That might’ve been one of the biggest shots all year,” Hymes said. “To come in, he hasn’t played, hits a big three to tie the game. Credit to Rich. It takes a lot of confidence to come in and hit a big shot, and he made it.”
“Robbie made a great play, drew a double team, and you just have to make open shots,” Audu said. “There’s been different guys all year. Last game, it was Ryan [Oliver]. This team does a great job of coming together with what we need to pull it out.”
“We don’t win that game without Rich Audu,” Patsos said. “I thought we were flat. I said, ‘Really, you don’t think I’ll play him?’ You think I won’t play him? Here we go, let’s go. So Rich Audu wins that game for us emotionally.”
Next man up was Hymes.
Again, it was Siena’s leading scorer, Poole, who made the big pass instead. Patsos also credited Poole with being among those who kept Niagara’s Antoine Mason, the leading scorer in the nation, nine points under his average.
Poole took a handoff into the lane, the Purple Eagles converged, and he kicked it to Hymes to give Siena a 62-61 lead.
“We’re reading each other better and complementing each other,” Hymes said.
Next man up was Wright.
With Niagara pressing fullcourt, Long, a lefty, rifled a long pass over the defense to a streaking Wright, who caught it off one bounce and made the layup while fouled.
A 52.3 percent free-throw shooter coming into the game, he calmly made it a four-point game with 10 seconds left.
Whether Niagara was trying to rattle Wright or not with the timeout, Patsos used the circumstances as a rally point.
“Jimmy went nuts [during the timeout],” Poole said. “He was telling him, ‘They’re trying to ice you, they’re trying to ice you, and you better take this personal.’ And he did, he came out and hit the shot. The whole time, I knew he was going to hit it.”
“I said, ‘I got it,’ ” Wright said.
Next team up is Quinnipiac, which is 7-4 and in the top five in the MAAC, a neighborhood the Saints would like to move into.
For all the heroics at the end of the Niagara game, Patsos came back to Audu, who quietly ignored whatever slowly building hype has begun to embrace this team, and just went about his business.
“He worked hard in practice when everybody around campus and around the city were saying, ‘Hey, Siena’s back.
Everything’s great,’ ” Patsos said. “Siena’s not back. We’re on our way. We’re climbing the hill. We can’t afford not to be emotionally ready. We can’t afford to have bad practices. But I coach 18-22 year-olds, anything can happen.”