|Alex Franklin (10 points) takes a direct flight to the basket and had a hand in Siena's upset. (Scott audette/Associated Press)|
TAMPA - Privately, some Siena players wondered in recent days if their counterparts on the Vanderbilt roster knew any of their names.
If the Commodores didn't, they surely do now.
Kenny Hasbrouck and Tay Fisher personally saw to that, and the Saints have another colossal upset to add to their tiny school's NCAA Tournament legacy.
Hasbrouck scored 30 points, Fisher added 19 on 6-for-6 shooting from 3-point range, and 13th-seeded Siena stunned No. 4 Vanderbilt, 83-62, last night in the first round of the Midwest Regional. The Saints (23-10) never trailed, became the first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference team to reach the second round since Manhattan in 2004, and will play Villanova tomorrow.
"I really don't consider it an upset," Fisher said. "I have confidence in my team and I knew we could hang with anybody in the country."
Until now, Siena's program was best-known for a first-round upset of Stanford in 1989 - a 14 seed over a 3. This one might have been just as shocking, considering it came against an SEC team that reached the round of 16 last year and had aspirations of doing at least that much this year.
But this might not have been a surprise.
After all, it was in Tampa, which might now have a reputation as a bracket-busting sort of town. Earlier yesterday, two other unheralded underdogs pulled off upsets on the same floor where Siena won: No. 12 Western Kentucky beat fifth-seeded Drake and No. 13 San Diego ousted fourth-seeded Connecticut.
Turns out, everything did not go according to the Saints' plan.
"Actually, we wanted to be the first upset of the day," Hasbrouck said.
They'll gladly settle for this.
"It's been a long journey to get here," Siena coach Fran McCaffery said.
A.J. Ogilvy scored 18 points for Vanderbilt (26-8), which got 13 from SEC player of the year Shan Foster - who became the 22d player in SEC history to eclipse 2,000 points - and 10 from Ross Neltner. The Commodores came into the tournament miffed they were widely picked to be a first-round upset victim and insisted they wouldn't look past Siena.
Vanderbilt simply couldn't stop Siena, either.
"All season long, I didn't get this team to play defensively the way it had to play on a consistent basis for us to win, the way we wanted to win," Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said. "Again, 26-8 is not a terrible year. But we just never were consistent defensively and again, that's my responsibility. Completely my responsibility. I just wasn't able to push the right buttons."
The Commodores got two straight baskets from Keegan Bell and drew within 50-43 with 13:20 to play, but never got any closer the rest of the way. Vanderbilt never got its perimeter game going, shooting 4 for 20 from 3-point range, and didn't exploit its size advantage inside.
When Alex Gordon airballed a 3-point try with 1:25 left and Vandy in a 19-point hole, the Commodores knew it was over and stopped fouling, allowing the celebration to begin in earnest.
A team that was 6-24 three years ago when McCaffery arrived is now in the round of 32, a timetable that even the coach finds mildly surprising.
"We were not in awe of what we were going to face," he said. "I think we proved that."
Foster didn't get his first shot until 15:55 remained in the first half, and by then, the Saints were already off and running.
Ronald Moore hit a 3-pointer and Alex Franklin (10 points) scored inside for a quick 15-6 Siena lead, prompting the green-and-gold-clad backers who made their way from New York's capital region to start roaring.
And then Fisher - who hit six 3-pointers in the MAAC championship game, which was Siena's ticket to the NCAAs - began coming up big.
The smallest player on either roster, generously listed at 5-foot-9-inches and 162 pounds, hit three straight threes in a span of 3:45 to stretch Siena's edge to 26-13, and when he made a free throw with 8:15 left in the half, the Saints had a 31-15 lead.
The Saints came in oozing with confidence, in large part because they know the Commodores just aren't the same away from home.
On their own floor this season, Vanderbilt was 19-0, averaging 85.1 points and outscoring opponents by 11.7 per game. Away from home, Vandy dropped significantly in every department - a 7-7 record, a 74.4 scoring average and it was actually outscored by 1.2 points per outing.
"We congratulate Siena," Stallings said. "They were the much better team today."