Fresno, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 2014 College Basketball Invitational is down to two teams, as the Siena Saints and Fresno State Bulldogs begin championship series play on Monday, at the Save Mart Center.
Game 2 will move to the Times Union Center in Albany on Wednesday and Game 3, if needed on Saturday, will also be in Albany.
For just the second time ever and the first since 1983, Fresno State has reached the championship round of a postseason event. Rodney Terry is building a strong program with the Bulldogs, who at 20-16, are sporting their first winning season in seven years. Terry's squad finished an even 9-9 in Mountain West Conference play, but has successfully navigated this tournament field with wins over UTEP (61-56), Princeton (72-56) and finally Old Dominion (71-64).
Jimmy Patsos' Saints have also had a strong campaign, as their run in the tournament has pushed the team over the .500 mark at 18-17 overall. The 18 wins mark a 10-win improvement over last season. Siena finished 11-9 in the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference this season entering this contest with wins in seven of their last eight games. The Saints moved into the championship round of a postseason event for the first time since joining the Division I ranks (1976-77 season), with wins over Stony Brook (66-55), Penn State (54-52) and Illinois State (61-49).
This marks the first-ever meeting between these two teams on the hardwood.
The Saints jumped all over the Redbirds early on, scoring the first nine points of the game and never looking back, forging their way into the championship round with a 12-point victory at home last week. Brett Bisping continued his strong postseason run with a second straight double-double, posting 20 points and 13 rebounds in the victory. Three other Saints joined Bisping in double-digit scoring, with Rob Poole posting 14 points, followed by Ryan Oliver and Evan Hymes with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Siena shot a modest 40.8 percent from the floor but took advantage of a poor effort from ISU, which delivered on a mere 30 percent on the night.
Strong defensive play and timely scoring has been the recipe for success for the Saints this season. The team comes in averaging a mere 69.1 ppg, but remains competitive by limiting foes to just 69.9 ppg on a meager .412 accuracy from the floor. The team has also enjoyed positives in both rebounding (+2.6) and turnover (+1.4) margins. Poole headlines the play at the offensive end with 14.7 ppg. Bisping has emerged as a frontcourt performer in his sophomore season, as the 6-foot-8 youngster is averaging 11.1 ppg on .515 shooting, while adding a team-best 6.7 rpg to the mix. Lavon Long (9.4 ppg), Hymes (9.1 ppg) and Marquis Wright (8.5 ppg) add some scoring depth. Wright serves as the team's top facilitator, doling out 5.4 apg (led the MAAC this season).
Fresno State held a four-point lead at the break (35-31) and went on to shoot a scorching 57.1 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes to dismiss the Monarchs and move into the championship round. The Bulldogs were just 4- of-12 from behind the arc in the game, but outscored Old Dominion 27-8 at the free-throw line, while forcing ODU into 15 costly turnovers. Four of the team's five starters finished in double figures in the win, led by sophomore Marvelle Harris' 20 points. Freshman Paul Watson poured in 15 points, followed closely by sophomore Cezar Guerrero (14 pts) and senior Tyler Johnson (13 pts).
The Bulldogs are averaging 72.9 ppg and have certainly benefited from a strong showing at the charity stripe this season (.729 - 16.1 made free throws per game). The 6-4 Johnson has evolved into a complete player in his senior campaign, averaging team-highs with 15.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, while ranking third on the team in assists (2.8 apg). Scoring depth is apparent on the roster, with three others boasting of double-digit averages. Harris is a close second on the team at 14.6 ppg, followed by Guerrero and Watson at 12.9 and 10.2 ppg, respectively.