SPRINGFIELD, Mass. Siena didn’t want Billy Baron at the free-throw line.
So he blew right past it.
The conference Player of the Year drove by freshman point guard Marquis Wright with 16 seconds left to put away the Saints, 71-65, in the MAAC tournament at the MassMutual Center on Saturday.
First-year head coach Jimmy Patsos chose not to foul with Siena trailing by four with 47.2 seconds left, and Baron, hounded by a well-conceived defensive scheme all day, finally found some room to breathe and made the game-winning layup.
That ended a 15-17 season for No. 5 seed Siena that holds promise for next year; No. 4 Canisius (21-11) reached the semifinals for the first time since 2002, and will play No. 1 Iona at 4:30 today.
Sophomore forward Brett Bisping scored a career-high 22 points for Siena, and the Saints held Baron, the third-leading scorer in the country at 24.4 points per game, to 17 on 5-for-12 from the field.
The senior guard made the one that counted, though.
“The Basketball Hall of Fame is right here. What I told our players is the guys up there are there because they could close out games,” Patsos said. “Canisius was better than us. They had five guys in double figures, they made 10 threes, they made all their free throws and we were still right there.”
“They did a great job of taking us out of our rhythm,” Baron said. “It’s one of those grind-it-out games, whereas we like to go fast. We proved a lot to ourselves to get to this point, especially late in the game.”
In a game that featured 21 lead changes and 11 ties, Siena had a 61-60 lead with four minutes left after junior Rob Poole hit a three-pointer from the left wing. Neither team led by more than six.
The senior-laden Golden Griffins, who needed three overtimes to beat Siena in the last meeting, showed the young Saints how to finish a close game, something the Saints had been doing well at the end of the season.
Power forward Chris Manhertz scored to finish a patient possession to give Canisius a 69-65 lead with 1:06 left, and Poole turned it over when his heel hit the sideline as he caught a pass and pump-faked with 47.2 seconds left.
After a timeout, Wright nearly committed a foul on purpose while looking at Patsos for direction, and he called it off, believing that Siena was better off guarding Canisius into a missed shot, driving it down for an easy basket to get within two and then setting up the press.
Baron, who was 18-for-19 from the free-throw line in the triple-overtime game, blew up that whole strategy by dribbling away from a potential double-team and getting deep into the lane. Bisping came over to help but could only scrape the top of the ball as Baron scored easily.
“I did the math,” Patsos said. “The problem was Manhertz made his last four free throws, so who are you going to foul? We had two timeouts left. Score, 10 seconds left, hard press all the way, make them throw it, turn it over. The jump ball was ours. Everything was going our way. You can’t foul Baron, but when Manhertz made his four in a row, I said, ‘Who are we going to foul?’ ”
Baron made it 71-65, and Siena fumbled away any chance at a shot that likely wouldn’t have mattered, anyway.
Poole, the Saints’ leading scorer, was 5-for-12 from the field and scored 14 points while guarded by senior Chris Perez for most of the game.
“He was on Poole like there was no tomorrow,” Canisius head coach Jim Baron said.
Manhertz, another senior, had missed some time with a broken nose, but was a force on the offensive glass and finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“Manhertz was a beast down there, and we really couldn’t stop him,” Poole said. “We’ve been finishing those games, but they’ve got a great player in Billy Baron. We just couldn’t finish down the stretch.”
“We knew they were going to try to take the ball out of Billy’s hands, and other guys stepped up,” Jim Baron said. “Having Manhertz, he really made the difference in the second half.”
“Baron’s willing to say, ‘OK, it’s not my day, fine,’ ” Patsos said. “That’s a sign of a winner.”
Wright 3-6 0-0 7, Long 3-8 3-4 9, Bisping 9-14 3-3 22, Poole 5-12 2-2 14, Silas 1-1 0-2 2, Ogunyemi 0-0 0-0 0, Oliver 1-4 0-0 3, Hymes 2-4 2-2 7, White 0-0 1-2 1, Wolfe 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-49 11-15 65.
Lewis 3-8 2-2 10, Baron 5-12 4-6 17, Manhertz 3-7 4-6 10, Perez 6-11 0-0 13, Jor. Heath 4-7 0-0 11, Robertson 0-0 0-0 0, Valenti 2-2 3-3 8, Raney 0-1 0-0 0, Jos. Heath 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 23-48 15-19 71.
Halftime—Siena, 34-33. Three-point goals—Siena 6-17 (Poole 2-6, Hymes 1-2, Bisping 1-2, Wright 1-3, Oliver 1-4), Canisius 10-22 (Jor. Heath 3-6, Baron 3-7, Lewis 2-7, Valenti 1-1, Perez 1-1). Rebounds—Siena 24 (Bisping 9), Canisius 30 (Manhertz 11). Assists—Siena 15 (Wright 6), Canisius 11 (Baron 6). Total fouls—Siena 17, Canisius 16. A—2,716.