Say what you want about the CBI, but Siena and Fresno State battled in a high-level basketball game on Monday night—and we're going to get at least one more.
In Game 1 of the tournament's three-game championship series, Siena overturned a 12-point second-half decifit and escaped Save Mart Center with a thrilling 61-57 road victory.
Ken Pomeroy summed things up:
I don’t remember a CBI being this competitive. I mean, if Siena can win at Fresno State, something something parity.— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) April 1, 2014
Freshman Lavon Long led the Saints with 13 points before fouling out, while Ryan Oliver chipped in 10 off the bench and Rob Poole notched 12, including two game-clinching free throws in the final seconds.
Fresno State had four starters in double-figures, led by Cezar Guerrero's 15 points, but the Bulldogs were done in by turnovers and an inability to grab defensive rebounds in the second half.
Wow... What a game! Siena beats Fresno State 61-57. Saints need to win one of two at the ARC to win CBI Championship.— Liana Bonavita (@LianaBonavita) April 1, 2014
After a back-and-forth first half that saw each team climb out to five-point leads, a tip-in and dunk by Alex Davis on Fresno State's last two possessions pushed the Bulldogs' lead to 32-26 heading into the locker room.
That momentum carried over into the second half, as Fresno State went on an 8-2 run, culminating in a massive dunk in traffic by the 6'9" junior college transfer to push the advantage to 40-28 before the first TV timeout.
The team's official Twitter feed summed up the huge throwdown by Davis, who had 10 points after scoring six total in the previous three CBI games:
Siena wasn't about to go away, though.
The Saints were able to climb back into the game for two reasons: Their full-court trapping defense gave the Bulldogs fits and forced several turnovers, and on the other end, Fresno State simply couldn't keep Jimmy Patsos' squad off the offensive glass.
Midway through the second half, Robert Kuwada put an astounding number on Siena's interior dominance:
Siena has 15 offensive rebounds ...— Robert Kuwada (@rkuwada) April 1, 2014
Marquis Wright's three-point shot with 7:30 remaining gave Siena its first lead since early in the first half. Guerrero punched back with a long three-pointer, but Long responded with six straight points to put Siena ahead, 56-53 with just under six minutes to play.
Siena was dealt a blow on the subsequent possession, however, as Long fouled out for the second straight game.
After Marvelle Harris cut the lead to one, Wright made just one of two free throws and Fresno State had a chance to tie. Following back-to-back turnovers for each team, though, Harris was called for a controversial charge with just 2.4 seconds remaining—the 16th turnover of the night for Fresno State—to hand the ball back to Siena.
Marvelle Harris drives, misses and gets called for the charge. Siena ball with 2.6 seconds to go.— Marek Warszawski (@MarekTheBee) April 1, 2014
Poole then nailed both free throws to ice the game.
Siena now returns home for Game 2 on Wednesday night, with a Game 3 if necessary also at the Times Union Center on Saturday.
If Fresno State wants to avoid early elimination, Rodney Terry's squad will have to better solve the Saints' pressure.
No matter what, though, if Monday's opener was any indication, Game 2 will be an entertaining battle.