A wonderful three-year ride for the Siena men's basketball team came to an abrupt end Friday afternoon when Purdue earned a first-round 72-64 NCAA tournament victory over the Saints in Spokane, Wash.
Your blogger didn't get any closer than from in front of the 42-inch TV screen in upstate New York.
Still, some points to put things in perspective ...
- Despite playing without its best player, 6-foot-8 junior forward Robbie Hummel (knee injury), Purdue looked like the best first-round opponents Siena has faced in the past three years. The Saints had beaten Vanderbilt and Ohio State in first-round NCAA tournament games the past two years.
- Siena is one of just two MAAC men's teams to have played in three straight NCAA tournaments, joining the La Salle teams of 1987-88, 1988-89 and 1989-90.
- Siena led, 32-29, at halftime Friday but failed to counter some effective Purdue halftime adjustments. The Boilermakers started the second half on a 13-0 run that extended to 27-9. By then Purdue had a 56-41 advantage.
The Saints got it back to 66-63 with 1:05 remaining, but the winners made their last six foul shots down the stretch to clinch it.
- Purdue showed why defense wins games, and particularly why 6-3 swingman Chris Kramer was the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year. Siena shot under 30 percent in the second half, and forward Alex Franklin, who had 10 first-half points, was held scoreless in the second half and got off just two shots (one blocked) against Kramer's smothering defense.
- It certainly didn't help Siena that its best long-range shooting threat, Clarence Jackson, did not play. Jackson sprained an ankle in practice a week earlier, and did not get off the bench on Saturday. But, remember, Purdue was without its best player, Hummel.
- The graduating senior class of Franklin, Edwin Ubiles and Ronald Moore is one of the best groups ever to play in the MAAC. Over the last four seasons that group was part of 97 Siena victories, the most in school history and the second-best four-year total in MAAC history. only La Salle (1986-87 through 1989-90) with 100 won more.
- Just an opinion here, but the 1988-89 Siena team (a year before Siena joined the MAAC) remains the best ever to play at the school. That team beat a No. 13-ranked Stanford in the NCAA's first round, and had a regular-season victory at Pittsburgh. The current group was 0-for-6 against "quality" opponents this year, and its best victory was against Northeastern, whose RPI is in the 70's.
- Saturday surely marked the end of an era at Siena. Without the "Big Three," Moore, Franklin and Ubiles, Siena isn't likely to be as dominant in the foreseeable future. Right now, your blogger expects Siena to be picked no higher than No. 4 in next year's conference preseason poll.
And, then, there's the possibility that the architect of Siena's recent stretch of superlative performances, head coach Fran McCaffery, won't be back. There are already attractive jobs open elsewhere, most noteably at Seton Hall, and there are others sure to open in coming days.
Considering his recent success, and that Siena is likelyl to come back to the MAAC pack in the foreseeable future, there has never been a better time for McCaffery to consider other jobs.
If he does leave ... and, that is nothing more than pure speculation on the part of your blogger ... then Siena will be facing an even greater transition than what it will already face.
No matter what, though, there rarely has been a better time for Siena and its fans. It surely has been a great ride, even with such an abrupt ending.