When the final buzzer sounded Friday afternoon in Spokane, Washington, it no longer mattered that the Siena College Saints were the reigning 3-time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) basketball champions. It no longer mattered that they had been a trendy pick to pull off a first round upset for the third straight year, so much so that President Obama included them in his bracket. What mattered was that the Purdue Boilermakers, out of the Big 10, justified the faith of their fans and themselves.
All week long, one of the key issues was that Purdue was missing its star, Robbie Hummel, lost for the season when he blew out his knee last month. However, that was negated when Siena's Clarence Jackson was held out with an ankle injury. Siena had gotten to the 2nd round in each of their previous NCAA tournament appearances. They beat another Big 10 team, Ohio State, last year, and in 2008, they blew away Vanderbilt, from the SouthEastern Conference (SEC). This time, though, it was Siena who was on the verge of being blown out. Keaton Clark hit a pair of 3-pointers to start the 2nd half, propelling Purdue to a 20-5 run. Down by as much as 15, Siena ended up losing, 72-64. They made it exciting, going on a 10-0 run of their own late, but Purdue, well aware of the reputation the Saints had garnered the last couple of years, held in the waning moments.
Most of the TV analysts & pundits had Siena pencilled in for a 2nd round meeting with Texas A & M, out of the Big 12. New York Daily News college sports columnist Dick Weiss had Siena as one of the three things he was sure of on Friday. To say that the Saints' bandwagon had been filled to capacity would be an understatement. They weren't the only team the upstate region was rooting for, of course, not with Syracuse also in the tournament, and let's not forget emerging star Jimmer Fredette, from Glens Falls, now the leading scorer for Brigham Young University, who torched Florida for 37 points on Thursday.
The season, however, may not be over for the Saints' faithful. Former Siena star Kenny Hasbrouck signed a 10-day contract with the NBA's Miami Heat, but as of press time, he hadn't seen any game action. Here's to hoping Hasbrouck does get to play, which would make him the first Siena player to ever appear in an NBA game. As for the current Saints, they will still be able to defend the MAAC title next season, their home winning streak at Times-Union Center now at 38 in a row and counting. Will they make it 4 NCAA appearances in a row? We'll know for sure in a year's time. For the most devout of fans, next year just can't come soon enough.