ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Giovanni Emejuru scored the go-ahead layup with 18.9 seconds remaining, and the Saints forced a huge turnover on the ensuing possession, as Siena Basketball overcame a late rally to hold off Holy Cross 73-71 in the season-opener at MVP Arena.
Reigning MAAC Rookie of the Year and Preseason Second Team All-MAAC selection Michael Eley posted career-highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds to register his first collegiate double-double for Siena, which improved to 4-1 in season-openers under head coach Carmen Maciariello. Fellow sophomore Zek Tekin added a career performance of his own with 16 points to go along with four assists for the Saints, who improved to a perfect 9-0 all-time at home vs. Holy Cross.
Bo Montgomery led three Crusaders in double figures with 17 points for Holy Cross, which shot just 3-12 from the free throw line as opposed to 16-21 for Siena in a two-point contest. Joe Nugent added 12 points on 4-5 shooting from distance for the Crusaders, who lost despite shooting 53% from the field including 10-20 from three.
Meeting in the season-opener for the second straight season, the Saints jumped on Holy Cross early. Siena, which led for more than 38 minutes on the evening, scored the first seven points of the season and ultimately built as much as a 12-point lead in a strong first-half showing. The Saints were +11 on the glass in the opening stanza, fueling a 10-0 advantage in second-chance points which proved to be the difference in a 38-28 halftime lead.
Siena kept the Crusaders at arm’s length for most of the second half, but Holy Cross shot 62% in the final stanza to hang around. The Saints still led by as many as nine, 69-60 with 4:49 remaining, but the Crusaders put together an 11-1 response to take their first lead of the game at 71-70 on a Joe Octave layup with 1:26 left.
Following alternating empty possessions by both teams, Tekin drove out of a timeout and dished to Emejuru who finished the tough go-ahead layup in traffic. Siena then got a huge stop on the defensive end, forcing a pass out of bounds with 6.1 seconds to go. After the Saints made a free throw, Holy Cross had one final chance, but DeAndre Williams look at the potential game-winning three was off the mark as the Saints survived.
Emejuru scored nine of his 11 points during a key second-half performance for Siena, which also improved to an impressive 62-21 all-time in home-openers, including 4-1 under Maciariello.
The Saints will now head south for their next four games, three of which comprise the Sunshine Slam. Sina returns to action when they head to Virginia to take on Atlantic 10 foe Richmond in a Sunshine Slam campus site game Saturday at 8 p.m.