The Siena Saints rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit to hand the Fresno State men’s basketball team a 61-57 loss in Game 1 of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) Championship Series Monday night at the Save Mart Center.
“They came out and the glaring differences in the game were the offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities,” Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry said. “There were times throughout the course of the game where they outcompeted us, and we didn’t respond tonight like we have over the course of the second part of the year.
“Give them a lot of credit. They came out, and they competed very hard. We could’ve done a little bit better job of taking care of the basketball, but even with all that we were in position to win the ballgame.”
The ‘Dogs (20-17) and Saints (19-17) were neck-and-neck until early in the second half. The ‘Dogs accumulated a 10-point lead after sophomore Cezar Guerrero drove in for an easy layup to make it 36-26.
The second half was a different story as the ‘Dogs weren’t able to handle Siena’s defensive pressure and, consequently, saw their lead fade away.
Receiving second-chance opportunities due to their potent offensive rebounding and capitalizing on a couple Fresno State errors are what fueled the Saints’ comeback. The ‘Dogs saw their lead vanish after a Marquis Wright go-ahead jumper made it 50-49 with 7:29 left in the game.
Leads were exchanged within the next minute and a half. However, Siena stayed motivated and rode its momentum to take the lead back for good with a Lavon Long layup.
The Bulldogs had an opportunity to tie the game or even go for the win as they had possession of the ball with 13 seconds left on the clock. Sophomore Marvelle Harris drove down the lane with two seconds remaining to try to get a shot but was called with a charging foul, giving the Saints the ball and ending the ‘Dogs hopes of tying the ballgame.
“I think we could’ve done a better job in terms of when the ball was inbounded of getting to our spots better,” Terry said. “They’re one of the few teams that caused problems for us against pressure. Tonight, for whatever reason, we didn’t handle it the right way even though we knew it was coming.”
Capitalizing on Fresno State’s turnovers was another factor that provided new life for the Saints late in the game. The Saints forced 16 turnovers and outrebounded Fresno State 39-29 (17-5 offensively).
Guard Cezar Guerrero tallied a game-high 15 points and added six rebounds and five assists.
“Unfortunately today wasn’t our day, and the ball didn’t roll for us,” Guerrero said. “What we need to improve on [for Game 2] is inbounding the ball, make our free throws and handle the pressure a little bit better.”
Long was one of three Saints in double figures, as he recorded a team-high 13 points.
The ‘Dogs will head to Loudonville, N.Y., where they hope to even the series. Game 2 will be played on Wednesday, and Game 3, if necessary, will take place on Saturday.
“Right now, it gets down to who wants to execute, who wants to continue to play and who wants to outcompete each other,” Terry said. “They’re going to be ready to play, and they’re going to have a great home-court advantage with a hostile crowd.
“I’m excited about the opportunity and I think our guys are excited about the opportunity. We’ve played well on the road this year. We have to go in there and outcompete them.”