The return began in a less than noticeable manner. As of late, the last week to be specific, observers are now noticing. Siena defeated Manhattan 53-47 on Saturday. The Alumni Day crowd at the Loudonville, NY UHY Center was treated to an upset of a Jasper team a serious contender for the MAAC crown.
The return alluded to centered around coach Jim Jabir. The 58-year-old Jabir has been on the sidelines 33 years. Among his stops was Siena from 1987 through 1990. Jabir came back to the Capital Region from Florida Atlantic. Foregoing sun for the snow but to Jabir, that's all right. The Albany area has always been special to Jabir. In fact his 2015 Dayton team advanced to the regional final at the Times Union Center before being eliminated by UConn. When the Siena job opened last Spring Jabir inquired and ultimately was selected. Jabir was pleased to come back North. Siena administrators and followers were ecstatic on his return. Recent seasons saw Siena struggle.
"The culture here was broken," Jabir told an ESPN-3 commentator following Saturday’s victory. "The first thing we had to do was change the culture. We work on that constantly and the kids have bought in."
Siena began the season with ten straight losses. They earned win number one defeating Iona on the road on January 10th. Next a trip to Poughkeepsie saw the Saints upset Marist. Saturday’s win over Manhattan made it three straight and the Saints’ first home victory of the campaign. Coach Heather Vulin’s Jaspers entered the game 4-1 in conference play with a four game win streak. Suddenly, Siena, at three straight, has the second longest win streak in the Maac. First place Fairfield is on a six game tear.
The Manhattan game was not an artistic success. The game tape might not get to Springfield. Regardless, the Saints found a way to win. They led 33-32 at the half. Entering the fourth period the score was knotted at 40. Neither team scored the first four minutes of the final stanza. Manhattan then scored five unanswered points. They would manage just two more for the duration as Siena closed the game on a 13-2 run to seal the verdict. Siena led by three with 16 seconds remaining. Imani Harris, zero for eight on the season from the charity stripe canned one of two to turn it into a two possession game. Deanna Winston closed out the scoring with two free throws with nine seconds remaining.
Defense did the job. Siena’s zone forced Manhattan into 14 of 58 (21%) shooting. The Jaspers continued to shoot from three, especially in the stretch, despite going 3 of 25 for 12%. Dee Dee Davis, Manhattan’s main offensive threat scored ten points on 4 of 19 shooting. The Jaspers committed 22 turnovers.
Siena shot 34% but stayed resilient throughout. Largely responsible was Ahniysha Jackson scored 11 points off the bench.
"She (Jackson) is an example of what we are trying to sell to our players," Jabir noted. "We want people to step up. Be ready to step up, it’s all a part of the culture we are instilling."
Fairfield is the front runner in the MAAC conference. The league however is balanced. Quinnipiac and Marist are not as strong as in recent seasons. Monmouth and Saint Peter’s have turned things around. Safe to say Siena is involved in that conversation. The record stands at 3-10. Suddenly they are no longer perceived as an easy out. Saturday was proof of that.