ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Canisius sure didn’t play like the worst team in the conference.
At least, not at first.
The No. 11 Golden Griffins, saddled with the lowest seed in program history, raced to an early double-digit advantage before flatlining in the second half against No. 6 Siena, falling 58-48 in the first round of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament on Tuesday at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.
Siena (11-19, 9-12) advances to face No. 3 Fairfield (15-14, 12-8) in the quarterfinals at noon Thursday.
Canisius (5-25, 4-17 MAAC), which closed the season on a four-game losing streak, graduates four seniors, all of them starters – guards D’Jhai Patterson-Ricks and Anna Sweny, forward A.J. Timbers and guard/forward Shannon Conely.
“I’m very proud of them today,” Canisius coach Scott Hemer said. “They came out, they didn’t hide from being the 11th seed. They came out and took the underdog mentality and was the first team to punch. I certainly give them a lot of credit for that. That’s not always easy to do.
“Many of our players have logged some pretty heavy minutes. We’ve been a little low on the rotation down the stretch and they’re tired. But they came out, they played strong, they stuck to the game plan and we got some nice breaks out of the gate, got a good jump out of the gate and felt pretty good about ourselves. But I do think at the end of the day, fatigue played a big part of it.”
Timbers, who had 14 points at halftime, finished with a team-high 16 points and 11 rebounds.
“They were denying me the ball (in the second half),” Timbers said, “so I wasn’t going to force my offense. Instead, I decided to make sure my teammates got touches.”
Patterson-Ricks also had 16 points, six assists and six steals for the Griffs.
Junior forward Danielle Sanderlin, named to the All-MAAC third team, had seven points and nine rebounds.
Rayshel Brown had a game-high 20 points and nine rebounds to lead Siena. Sabrina Piper added 16 points and nine boards, Amari Anthony had 10 points and Tobulayefa Watts had eight rebounds and five blocks.
Canisius led Siena 18-8 after the first quarter, when the Griffs used a 14-2 run to take an early double-digit lead while holding the Saints scoreless for more than four minutes during that stretch.
The Griffs, who led by as many as 13 points, kept the Saints at arm’s length throughout the second quarter, and Timbers hit a pullup jumper at the buzzer to give Canisius a 32-22 lead at halftime.
Siena climbed back into the game with a 7-0 run in the third quarter, slashing the Canisius lead to five points at 34-29, before Patterson-Ricks drilled a 3 to temporarily stem the rally.
But after trading several buckets, the Saints continued to push, rattling off 10 consecutive points to take a 44-41 lead at the end of three quarters. Margo Peterson hit a 3 to give the Saints their first lead since the opening minutes of the game.
Patterson-Ricks responded with a 3 to knot the score at 44-44 early in the fourth quarter, but Canisius was unable to recapture the lead. The Griffs were held scoreless for more than seven minutes, while Siena scored 11 consecutive points, turning a one-point lead into a commanding 58-46 advantage inside the final minute of play.
Canisius was 0-for-11 from the field, missed seven free throws and committed two turnovers during that stretch.
“I felt like we were the last seed, and we came out strong, so one thing I’ll remember is we never gave up,” Patterson-Ricks said. “We kept fighting through the adversity.”
Canisius also lost both regular-season games against Siena, falling 68-63 on Jan. 11 in Buffalo and 72-43 on Feb. 1 in Loudonville, with both contests part of a nine-game losing streak.
The Golden Griffins have struggled through 11 consecutive losing seasons overall and 11 consecutive non-winning years in conference play. (Last season, the Griffs went 9-9 to notch the No. 5 seed in the conference tournament.) They have not reached the MAAC semifinals for 11 straight years.
Hemer has a 16-43 record in two seasons as head coach.
“We’re going to be very young (next season). Very young,” Hemer said. “We’ve got a bunch of freshmen this year that didn’t play, a couple of other underclassmen who will be coming back and a handful of new faces. At the end of the day, coming into next year, the one thing that we have to prioritize is being more consistent with habits that will lead to success. …
“It has to be a focus of ours moving forward in order to bring in a new nucleus and put them in a position to have more consistent success than what we had this year.”