Like most children of the Capital Region, I grew up a Siena basketball fan. I was born at a good time, coming to the age of fandom right at the beginning of five MAAC Tournament championships and NCAA Tournament bids in 12 seasons. I usually made my way to the Pepsi Arena-turned-Times Union Center, one of the most impressive gyms in the Other 24, a couple times a year for high school or college games.
My most vivid memory from those games, in fact, comes not from one of Siena's wins but from a blowout loss. Mid-Majority hero Taylor Coppenrath and Vermont visited near Christmastime in his senior year, a time when Siena happened to have only eight available players. Facing the imposing Coppenrath, the Saints got into foul trouble quickly, and three of those eight players were gone after 33 minutes, leaving a surprisingly thrilling finish to see if Siena would finish the game with five men on the floor.
But, as we all know, times change. I moved away from home for a new love, one more passionate and more involved than the last. I still had fond feelings for my first team, of course, watching the MAAC tournament games from afar as they won their final conference title. But my heart truly lay with my new school, a lifelong partner bound by student and, in the future, alumni ties.
This year, however, my fandoms were reunited, as my new team played my old team in my old arena, when I was already back in my old town for the holidays. My vantage point was a little different, the videoboard was newer and the promotions were more energetic, but despite all that, I felt right at home as the game tipped off.
Thursday's Siena roster actually looked much like the one Coppenrath decimated almost exactly seven years ago -- only seven Saints on scholarship were available, and only six played. But the outcome was much different. Princeton was surging (five wins in six games) and Siena was falling (seven losses in eight), but the Saints of Thursday night looked like a different team than the one I'd been reading about.
Both teams were expected to rely on their top forwards, Ian Hummer for Princeton and O.D. Anosike for Siena, but each frontcourt played much better defense than offense, leaving the guards to light things up. For the hosts, it was speedy point guard Evan Hymes, who zipped around the court for 22 points and five assists; for Princeton, it was T.J. Bray and Doug Davis, who combined to make 11 three-pointers on 22 attempts.
Siena all but announced its plan to the crowd: pack the paint with a 2-3 zone, dare the Tigers to shoot from deep and rely on Anosike and others to get all the rebounds. Basically, it worked. Practically every Princeton possession ended with an attempt for a #superhoop, but even though the shots were almost always open and many dropped, Siena still hung around. Then a 12-0 run in the second half flipped a six-point Princeton lead to the other side, and the hosts kept scoring whenever the lead was threatened.
Anosike threw down a couple of #omgdunx in the final minutes, sending the crowd home happy. Despite a few late three-pointers, the Tigers couldn't replicate the magic of last year's overtime win at home -- in which they overcame a six-point deficit in the final minute of regulation -- making for a bittersweet (okay, mostly bitter) end to my personal reunion.
at SIENA 63, PRINCETON 59 12/22/2011
PRINCETON 6-7 (0-0) -- T. Bray 5-10 1-2 15; D. Davis 8-18 0-0 23; I. Hummer 6-16 2-2 16; P. Saunders 0-5 0-0 0; B. Connolly 1-3 0-0 2; M. Darrow 1-1 0-0 2; J. Comfort 0-1 1-2 1; D. Koon 0-1 0-0 0; J. Sherburne 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-55 4-6 59. SIENA 4-7 (0-2) -- K. Downey 4-13 7-10 15; E. Hymes 7-13 7-8 22; O. Anosike 5-15 2-5 12; O. Wignot 3-8 0-1 7; R. Poole 2-4 0-3 5; B. Walters 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 22-55 16-27 63.
Three-point goals: PRIN 13-31 (P. Saunders 0-5; D. Davis 7-14; J. Comfort 0-1; I. Hummer 2-3; T. Bray 4-8), SIE 3-8 (O. Wignot 1-2; E. Hymes 1-4; R. Poole 1-2); Rebounds: PRIN 33 (B. Connolly 8), SIE 32 (K. Downey 10); Assists: PRIN 14 (T. Bray 7), SIE 12 (E. Hymes 5); Total Fouls -- PRIN 20, SIE 10; Fouled Out: PRIN-I. Hummer; SIE-None.