The Fran McCaffery era at Siena began in a dorm room in April 2005. Four grown men living in a dorm room, sustaining themselves on a diet of basketball, basketball and basketball. McCaffery and his assistants had inherited a roster in disarray, so they couldn’t waste time ticking off the checklist most people would assemble after relocating — you know, like finding and moving into a house.
“We had to figure out, okay, who’s staying, who’s leaving, who’s eligible, what pieces do we have, what pieces do we need,” McCaffery said.
Five springs later, McCaffery guided Siena to its third straight NCAA tournament appearance. No MAAC team had won three consecutive league titles since La Salle (1988-1990). Four different programs have won the four MAAC tournaments since Siena’s last championship in 2010.
McCaffery built something special in Loudonville. How?
Many college basketball coaches quixotically preach the importance of a family environment only to see their rosters splinter into cliques — the freshmen, the forwards, whatever they might be. That’s only natural. Coaches can’t reasonably expect all of their players to have compatible personalities.
By all accounts, the Saints were inseparable. They loved each other’s company.
“We were all close,” says Tay Fisher, who played for Siena from 2004-08. “We all hung out together on and off the court. We all did things together. We were a family not only on the court. That’s the thing that separates good teams from great teams is that they’re not only teammates — they’re like family — and coach McCaffery made sure we were like family.”
The McCafferys essentially had an open door policy with the Saints. The team would frequent the McCaffery residence to hang out, watch football and basketball games and play with Fran and wife Margaret’s kids.
“My children loved those guys and wanted to play horse with them or hang out with them when they came,” McCaffery says. “They were so excited when they would come to the house.”
If a player got sick, Margaret fed him chicken soup. Fran McCaffery recalls the time Alex Franklin missed a 2008 trip to Memphis with an injury.
“He was at our house because he had a bad back, and [Margaret] was feeding him and taking care of him,” McCaffery says. “I wanted recruits’ parents to know that if they sent their sons to play for me, we were going to look out for them.”
Injuries and illnesses weren’t the only impetuses for meals at coach’s house. Most times, the Saints needed no reason at all. They headed over in a pack, ordered pizza and lined up for Margaret’s patented specialties — apple cake and brownies — for dessert.
“You ask any of the guys, they’ll remember that in a second. Everyone loved that,” says Ryan Rossiter, who played for Siena from 2007-11. “She always made it for us, made it for the dinners. It was everyone’s favorite part of the night.”
“It was pretty good,” says Josh Duell, a Vermont transfer who suited up for Siena from 2007-09, adding with a laugh, “I had to kind of layoff. I wasn’t a fit athlete like all these other guys were, so I couldn’t enjoy it as much as them.”
Those hours spent at the McCaffery’s house helped foster an unbreakable bond, one where teammates — brothers — could rib Duell about his shape and the good-humored Duell would know it was nothing but love.
“We always had jokes with Duell about his weight,” says a chuckling Ronald Moore, whose affectionate tone doesn’t get lost over the phone from Northern Italy, where he’s playing professional basketball. “He was always worried about what he ate. He was always kind of the old man.”
If Duell was the old man, McCaffery was one of the guys.
“My first encounter with Fran, he was joking around,” Moore says. “He knows how kids are. It was real cool to have a conversation with a coach where he’s joking about me talking to girls, whatever the case might be, partying. He was really a down-to-earth guy. Away from the basketball court he didn’t really bring up basketball stuff. He wanted to know about everything else that was going on in your personal life and school, whatever it might be. I don’t know too many coaches who might be willing to care to that extent. You can talk to him like a friend sometimes more than a coach.”
That’s the relationship McCaffery strived to cultivate with his players.
“Once we’re separated from the court, then I want them to be part of my family,” McCaffery says.
“He does an excellent job separating basketball and life,” says Rossiter, who is playing professionally in Japan. “You could have a terrible practice that day. He could be on you for two and a half hours, but he sees you that night or we have a team function that night, he completely forgets about what you messed up in practice. It makes everyone feel comfortable and that they can be themselves.”
The Saints trusted McCaffery as more than a coach, and their bond off the court strengthened their relationship on the court, where they hung on every word McCaffery said in practice and the huddle. Siena had a knack for winning in dramatic fashion. “They had that clutch gene,” former Rider coach Tommy Dempsey says. Moore, of course, is staked to the program’s most famous moment, his double order of onions that beat Ohio State in the NCAA tournament, but the McCaffery-era Saints overcame many a daunting hole.
“You believed in [McCaffrey] when he said, ‘hey, we’re down 10 with two minutes to go, but we’re going to win this game.’ You believed him,” Duell says.
Kenny’s Killer Mentality
McCaffery deflects the credit elsewhere. His Siena teams, he says, had a world-beating attitude. The development of that mindset began with Antoine “Scoop” Jordan, a holdover from the Rob Lanier regime.
A senior on McCaffery’s first team in Loudonville, Jordan was tough, and took a liking to a freshman from Washington D.C., named Kenny Hasbrouck. Jordan, McCaffery says, saw familiar qualities in Hasbrouck: toughness, grittiness and an assured belief in his abilities.
“[Jordan] really put his arm around Kenny and taught him how to prepare and taught him how to get ready,” McCaffery says. “He was kind of hard on him.”
Hasbrouck won the 2005-06 MAAC Rookie of the Year award after averaging 12.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game. Then Jordan graduated, and Kojo Mensah transferred.
Hasbrouck was anointed leader as a sophomore.
“A lot of times it becomes your team when you’re a senior, but it was Kenny’s team,” McCaffery says of the 2006-07 squad.
Hasbrouck became a beacon of toughness to the loaded freshman class of Moore, Franklin and Edwin Ubiles — the most heavily recruited of the bunch, according to McCaffery.
“[Hasbrouck] brought a lot of attitude to the team,” Moore says.
In that group’s sixth game, Hasbrouck battled a fever and put forth a memorable performance. He scored 22 points in 41 minutes as the Saints beat Albany, 76-75, in double overtime before 11,271 people at Times Union Center.
“He was as sick as any player I’ve ever seen,” McCaffery says. “We put an IV in him. He’s not even there for warm-ups. He’s not there for the pregame talk and going over the scouting report one last time. He walks out on the floor, I sub him into the game and he gets . That’s not coaching, okay? That’s nothing at all to do with coaching. That is a tough guy who wants to win, and just think how his teammates responded to him. They didn’t want to let him down. And they didn’t.”
That became a theme over the years, as the Saints followed Hasbrouck’s example.
“He had a killer mentality, where he could shrug stuff off like a closer in baseball,” Rossiter says. “He could have a terrible first half and absolutely dominate the second half. People learned from that.”
In 2008-09, Siena lost just two MAAC games, the latter a 100-85 setback at Niagara on Feb. 27. Hasbrouck shot 2-for-20 for five points.
The two teams met again in the MAAC championship 10 days later. Hasbrouck was nursing a calf injury, and he missed nine of his first 10 shots. That put him at 3-for-30 shooting in about a 50-minute stretch against the Purple Eagles.
“Then in the second half he absolutely took the game over and just won it for us,” Rossiter says.
Hasbrouck scored 17 of his 19 points in the last 16 minutes. He had nine points in a 13-1 Siena run that spanned three minutes and 30 seconds and gave the Saints a 63-51 lead with 5:09 remaining.
Says Rossiter: “He has that what happened happened, I don’t really care attitude. Now I’m just going to get up and come at you that much harder.”
That essentially sums up how Hasbrouck landed at Siena. Disappointed by the scholarship offers he had received in high school, Hasbrouck enrolled at Maine Central Prep for a postgrad year in 2004-05.
“When he went to prep school, he was still on the radar screen, but I don’t know that he was any more on the radar screen than he was before,” McCaffery says. “I think he kind of had in his mind what he was looking for, and it wasn’t happening for him.”
As Hasbrouck waited, interested programs filled their needs. The 2004-05 college season ended, and McCaffery and his staff arrived in Loudonville and recruited the guard from D.C. Hasbrouck, who was also being courted by Jacksonville, visited Siena on graduation weekend in the middle of May.
“That’s very late in the process,” McCaffery says, “and he didn’t commit to us or sign until probably six or eight weeks later.”
But from the day he finally signed until the day he graduated, Hasbrouck personified the toughness and resiliency that became the staples of McCaffery’s Siena teams.
Josh Duell, Star of the Game
The pervasiveness of those traits and the team’s unity with McCaffery off the court enabled a symbiotic relationship between the players and their coach in practices and games. To outsiders, McCaffery frequently appeared on the sidelines as a petulant, irascible lunatic. “Outside looking in, somebody might say he was a little crazy,” Moore laughs. Christopher Lloyd’s Dr. Emmett Brown in “Back to the Future” seemed crazy, too, but he, like McCaffery always had a plan. “He definitely has his moments where he really gets fired up, but everything is calculated,” Rossiter says.
McCaffery berated his players for fundamental mistakes such as setting a screen too early or forcing a pass. If they didn’t box out or drive strong to the bucket, they got an earful from their coach.
“I just have a firm belief that if you’re going to get on one of your guys, it better make sense to him,” McCaffery says. “Even if you’re saying it loudly, it better make sense because if he thinks, well, this guy’s just yelling at me to yell, then we just took a step backward.”
Moore says the players always understood.
“Shortly after that, he would let us know he loved us and wanted the best for us,” Moore says. “We never took it as hard criticism because we knew how he really felt, and he was just trying to motivate us to do better.”
The tactic worked. McCaffery recalls Siena’s 79-67 upset of Robin Lopez and No. 20 Stanford on Nov. 17, 2007 — Brook Lopez was academically ineligible for the first nine games that season.
“That’s a win that everybody sort of forgot,” McCaffery says, “but we don’t win that game without Josh Duell, and I buried him early in the game because he wouldn’t shoot the ball. Think about it, I’m yelling at him to shoot: ‘I put you in to shoot. I want you to shoot. I’m setting you up. You’re going to make those shots.’”
His words were prophetic. As Siena did so frequently under McCaffery, the Saints corralled a miss and raced up court, holding a 47-46 lead with about 10 minutes remaining. Duell, who had attempted — and missed — just two shots, caught a pass from Chris De La Rosa behind the 3-point line. Emboldened by McCaffery’s demands, he let fly. Bang. Fisher buried a trey on Siena’s next possession, and then the ball found Duell again. He splashed in another 3-pointer, giving Siena a 56-46 lead. Stanford did not shrink the gap to single-digits again until the final minute, and Duell finished with 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field.
“He blows the game open and the roof’s coming off the place and he’s the star of the game afterwards,” McCaffery says. “He’s going against Lopez. Josh Duell against Lopez, and Josh Duell is the star of the game.”
Just Another Game
Stanford was the second of four high-profile tests McCaffery inserted into Siena’s non-conference schedule that season. It was the only of the four the Saints won — they lost to Syracuse and Saint Joseph’s in close games before getting vanquished by Memphis, the eventual national runner-up.
“I think Coach Mac knew he had tough guys that weren’t going to get down if we played one of those teams and didn’t hang with them,” says Duell, who earned a law degree and landed a job with a financial advisory firm in the Albany area. “That’s what happened at Memphis, but it was a great experience for us. When we put that together and came back for the MAAC, it was a little different. He knew we wouldn’t take those losses too hard and they’d just help us, and that’s what happened.”
Says Fisher: “After playing Memphis when they have one of the best teams in the country with Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts and then playing Stanford that year with the Lopez boys, once you play Villanova and Vanderbilt it’s like, hey, it’s just another game. There’s no difference.”
Before the Saints faced Vanderbilt and Villanova in the 2008 NCAA tournament, however, they needed to secure the MAAC’s automatic bid. The quest was far from easy. They won a pair of games in early February thanks to the clutch gene Dempsey, the former Rider coach, noted. First, Hasbrouck forced overtime on a late layup against Marist, then Duell beat the buzzer and Dempsey’s Broncs not even 48 hours later.
But they couldn’t hit the big shots in their next two games, falling in overtime to Loyola Maryland and by one at Manhattan. In the latter, Hasbrouck had a good look for a buzzer-beating winner, but his stepback from the right side rimmed out.
“When a guy like him, he’s so used to making those big plays, misses, it’s a shock,” Duell says.
That was Feb. 18. The Saints did not lose again until March 23.
They almost did not get that far.
Jimmy Patsos’ Greyhounds held a 17-point lead late in the first half of the MAAC semifinal. With the home crowd at Times Union Center on their side, though, the Saints battled back into the game with Hasbrouck scoring all 17 of his points after the break. They finally evened the score on Alex Franklin’s putback with 1:13 left. Siena forced a miss on the ensuing possession, and, given the circumstances, drained the clock after an initial push wasn’t available. As the shot clock wound down, Hasbrouck put the ball on the deck and penetrated the lane.
Says Duell: “I just was floating around when Kenny drove to the hole. Any time a player like him drives to the hole he draws three or four guys.”
Rather than force a tough shot, Hasbrouck had the presence of mind to dump the ball down to Duell, whose layup with 19.4 seconds left gave Siena its first lead since early in the first half.
“The biggest part of that whole game, after that happened, Alex Franklin blocked a wide-open layup with five seconds to go,” Duell says. “That kind of goes under the radar because of the big moment Kenny had, but Alex saved the game.”
It was Fisher’s turn for the big moment the following night, his 22nd birthday and the Saints’ championship clash with Jason Thompson and Rider. The teams had split the season series, and Rider torched Siena for 59 first-half points in an 89-75 win at Times Union Center on Feb. 2.
Through the first 13 minutes that Monday night in March, neither team led by more than four points. They seemed destined for another tight finish, like the one at Rider on Feb. 10, when Duell’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer lifted Siena.
Then Fisher scored 13 points in a three-minute stretch, and Siena took a 38-27 lead. The birthday boy finished with 21 points, leading the Saints to their first MAAC championship under McCaffery, a 74-53 throttling of Rider.
“It was a great night for me, and then the team was just so happy not only that we made it but because we did it all together as a team,” Fisher says. “We all hung out after that. It was one of those birthdays that you never forget.”
Recalls Dempsey: “We had a couple moments where I thought we could have gotten back in the game or taken a lead, and they always made the big play in the big moment. That’s what I thought defined that group, and eventually they pulled away and the place was rocking. It was a great college basketball season for our team, but we ran into a little bit of a bus in the finals against a team that had really come into their own.”
It’s Siena, Not Sienna
Six days later, the Saints gathered to watch the NCAA’s Selection Sunday show.
“We have the big party, we invite everybody, you know how fun that is,” McCaffery says. “As a coach, to watch your players enjoy that with their families, it’s everything you want to experience. Your name comes up, everybody jumps up, everybody’s hugging. It’s like you won it again.”
Their name popped up next to Vanderbilt, a No. 4 seed hailing from the powerful SEC. Siena would face the Commodores in Tampa Bay on March 21 in one of the first round’s last games. Vanderbilt was led by Shan Foster, the SEC Player of the Year who had just notched the 1,998th point of his career, and A.J. Ogilvy, a 6-foot-11 Australian center for whom the Saints had no physical match. Not even four weeks earlier, Foster dropped 32 points as Vanderbilt upset No. 1 Tennessee.
That all added up to Vanderbilt entering the Friday night game as the prohibitive favorite over Siena.
“No one knew about us,” Fisher says. “People were spelling our name with two Ns, like the car [Toyota’s minivan].”
Siena introduced itself to the college basketball world with a barrage of 3-pointers and McCaffery’s patented high-pressure, fast-paced style of play. The Saints never trailed, and, again, it was Fisher who created separation by burying three 3-pointers in three minutes to give Siena a 26-13 lead. By halftime, Siena held a 46-34 advantage.
“We went into that game not wanting it to be close, going right at them from the beginning,” says Fisher, who scored 19 points and sank all six of his 3-point attempts. He attributes the Harlem Globetrotters career he has forged directly to that performance.
Foster scored 11 points in that first half, surpassing the 2,000-point mark for his career. If the Commodores could ride him in the second half, they would have a solid chance of overcoming the deficit.
Edwin Ubiles would have none of that.
Even as a sophomore — on a team with Hasbrouck, no less — Ubiles was Siena’s leading scorer at 17 points per game. The athletic 6-foot-6 wing could almost effortlessly pour in 20 points. “He makes things look so easy because he’s so good,” Duell says. But McCaffery needed something more valuable than buckets from his 6-foot-6 wing, who matched up inch-for-inch, pound-for-pound with Foster.
“I said Eddie, personally I’ve watched 14 games,” McCaffery remembers. “I think you’re better than [Foster]. I know he’s the SEC Player of the Year — and I still think he’s better than Shan Foster — but he believed he was better than Shan Foster. I said, ‘if you take the SEC Player of the Year out of the game, they can’t beat us.’ That’s what he did.”
Foster scored just two points after the break, and Siena pulled away for an 83-62 win. “That messed up everybody’s bracket,” Fisher says. “That’s what we wanted to do.” And while Hasbrouck torched the Commodores for 30 points — “He was out of his mind,” Rossiter says — Ubiles was the unsung hero, reinforcing the selfless attitude that characterized McCaffery’s Siena teams.
Says McCaffery: “It would have been easy for Edwin to say, ‘wait, I want to be a first round draft pick. I want to get 30. Why is Kenny getting 30?’ Because I need you to shut down Shan Foster so we can run into the locker room and jump on top of each other.”
Ubiles, who is playing professionally in Puerto Rico, was all for it.
Though the Saints wouldn’t get another opportunity to celebrate that March — No. 12 Villanova knocked them out two days later — the win over Vanderbilt would be far from the most dramatic victory in program history.
Why the Slipper Fit
Other than the Vanderbilt upset, one thing about the 2007-08 season stands out in Duell’s memory.
“The jump Ronald, Alex and Edwin made from freshman to sophomore years,” he says. “Everybody tells you that’s the biggest jump, but man those guys turned into all-league players in one year. They were never scared to go out and play with the best.”
Ubiles joined Hasbrouck on the All-MAAC First Team, and Franklin was a second teamer. Moore, who did not receive any accolades as a sophomore, averaged 8.6 points, 5.3 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. Their complementary skill sets stimulated growth in each other and fostered a cohesive unit that flowed with the ease of midnight traffic on I-87.
Not only did Hasbrouck and Franklin go on to win MAAC Player of the Year awards and forge high-level pro careers, but so did Rossiter, a freshman on that 2007-08 team. Clarence Jackson, another freshman who Rossiter says scored 34 against Dionte Christmas and Temple in a secret scrimmage, would eventually become an all-league player and pro overseas.
“We also had a guy that led the nation in assists (Moore), and then the other guy (Ubiles) scored more points than all of them,” McCaffery says. “It’s not only that we were able to get those guys there, but their skill sets blended. It’s what everybody tries to do, but rarely can you assemble that much talent at one place and have them all sort of be in their primes together. That’s what we had.”
“Their pieces fit,” Dempsey says. “Their best players were all guys that played different positions, so they had the good inside presence [in Rossiter]. They had Ubiles who was the ultimate wing player in college basketball, with the great size and athleticism and flashing ability. They had Hasbrouck, who was a great shooter but could also do a little bit more than that, and Franklin at power forward, and they mixed in some other big kids that were good role players at that time. Then they had the point guard that made it all work in Ronald Moore.”
“That is rare, to get that much talent at one place,” McCaffery says.
With its entire 2007-08 roster intact — minus Fisher — the Saints were the favorites to cut down the MAAC tournament’s nets in 2008-09. They had a stiff challenge in Niagara, a team loaded with talent capable of making the MAAC a two-bid league. They also had a veritable target on their backs. Everyone wanted to upset the defending champs, and they would try anything that could aid their chances.
The Saints’ race through the league — they went 16-2 in 2008-09 — was emblematic of the pace at which they played. Sleeping on them for one second could lead to an easy bucket.
“Just as much as a team gets down on themselves after a miss, they like to pat themselves on the back after a make,” Rossiter says, “so I remember times where a team would score on us and before they even crossed halfcourt, we had already hit a layup on the other side.”
Rossiter remembers a game at Niagara — Feb. 27, 2009, the same night Hasbrouck shot 2-for-20 for five points in a 100-85 Purple Eagles win — when the Saints’ opponent pulled a trick out of its sleeve to slow them down.
“We come out at halftime and we see a guy on a ladder changing the net to a brand new net,” says Rossiter, inferring the Purple Eagles wanted a stiffer net to cradle their made baskets and slow down Siena’s break. “Coach Mac sees this, and he almost threw the guy off the ladder in the middle of the gym.”
The tactic hardly worked, as Siena broke out for 54 points after halftime. Niagara, however, held on for the win.
Other teams weren’t as lucky, even when an upset appeared imminent. Such was the case at Marist that Jan. 15. The Red Foxes, who would finish the season 10-23, led by 14 points with 3:20 left. Siena outscored its hosts 23-9 through the end of regulation and won, 91-85, in overtime.
“We appreciated how hard teams were coming at us,” McCaffery says. “We never overlooked an opponent. We respected that we may go over [to Marist] and get that kind of game from them.”
And despite everyone’s best efforts and all the pressure heaped on Siena to repeat, the Saints breezed through to the MAAC championship game for a rematch with Niagara. Hasbrouck had his memorable second half, and, once again, the Saints cut down the nets.
Had Siena lost to Niagara, the Saints likely would have received an at-large bid. However, that would have altered fate, preventing the most historic call in program history from materializing at the lips of a broadcasting legend.
Onions! Double Order!
The venerable Bill Raftery has proclaimed, “Onions!” after many a clutch shot, quite literally referring to a player’s testicular fortitude with the pressure ramped high. If you’ve got balls, in Raftery’s lingo, you’ve got “Onions!”
Had Raftery called every Siena game during the Fran McCaffery era, he would have had plenty of opportunities to shout the iconic catchphrase before Siena’s first-round clash with Ohio State in the 2009 NCAA tournament. There was the time Rossiter calmly sank two foul shots with two seconds left, as Siena overcame an 18-point second-half deficit to win at Saint Joseph’s, and there was Ubiles’ jumper with four seconds left that beat Iona, 69-68. Duell once nailed a trey with 1.3 seconds left to beat Jason Thompson and Rider, 80-77. His layup with 19 seconds remaining in the Saints’ 2008 MAAC semifinal against Loyola Md. was the winning touch on a 17-point comeback. Hasbrouck also had his “Onions!” moments, beating the buzzer for a 61-60 win over Iona in 2007 and forcing overtime on a layup at Marist in 2008.
There were other moments, too, and none involved Ronald Moore forcing an overtime or sinking a game-winner.
The guard from Conshohocken, Pennsylvania did both against Ohio State, with Raftery on the call.
In overtime against the eighth-seeded Buckeyes, ninth-seeded Siena needed just one stop to gain possession with a chance to win the game. Evan Turner, the eventual No. 2 pick in the 2010 NBA draft, had the ball in his hands for Ohio State, but Siena forced him into a tough stepback from the right wing with about 15 seconds left and the Buckeyes clinging to a 63-62 lead. The shot missed, but B.J. Mullens got a fingertip on the rebound over Hasbrouck and flung a one-handed pass to P.J. Hill up top as he fell out of bounds on the baseline.
Moore had no choice. He had to foul Hill.
Ohio State’s point guard sank both foul shots to extend the lead to 65-62 with nine seconds remaining. McCaffery had called timeout before Hill’s foul shots to set up a play, designed for Hasbrouck to get a 3-point look in the right corner.
“I knew when coach drew it up, I didn’t want to tell him, but I kind of had a doubt that it was going to work to begin with,” says a chuckling Moore.
Moore took the inbounds pass and raced up floor. Hasbrouck cut across the baseline and used a Ubiles pick of Turner to get to the corner. Ohio State, however, switched the screen. William Buford draped Hasbrouck, leaving Moore with one option.
“Ohio State, being the smart team they are, decided to switch it,” Moore recalls. “I was seeing that develop as Kenny was going to the corner, and with not much time left, I had to make an instinct play. We needed a three.”
Hill, playing the pass, had sagged off Moore just enough for Siena’s floor general to get a clean look from the right wing. As the shot sank through the net with 3.5 seconds left, Raftery, in near disbelief, shouted, “Ohhhh, onions!”
Ohio State misfired on the other end. Moore, who had missed nine of his first 11 shots, had forced a second overtime.
“Ronald can miss 10 in a row, and he still feels like he’s going to make that 11th shot,” Fisher says. “That’s just the type of person he is.”
A forgotten tidbit about the second overtime is that Moore missed one of his two foul shots with 35 seconds left, opening the door for Turner to stake the Buckeyes to a 72-71 lead with 18 seconds remaining. The junior more than made up for the miss at the stripe.
Needing just one point to tie and a bucket to win, Ubiles flashed to the high post on Siena’s last possession. Moore couldn’t safely feed him the ball, so Ubiles slipped out to the left wing to catch a pass. As he dribbled back inside the arc, he had two options: take a difficult shot or kick the ball out. Time was winding down, but he had enough for the latter.
“Everybody in the building thought Ubiles was going to shoot that ball,” McCaffery says, “and had he shot the ball and missed and we had lost, nobody would have said a word to him. It would have been essentially a 2,000-point scorer taking a shot.”
But by putting the ball on the deck, Ubiles had drawn Buford towards the lane, leaving Moore open on the right wing. Ubiles passed him the ball.
“It was from the same spot,” Moore says. “In my mind, I was like, ‘I just hit one from right here, why not go for it again?’”
So, again, Moore rose. Buford closed late, and Rossiter battled under the hoop for a potential game-winning putback.
“Luckily I didn’t need to,” Rossiter says.
The ball settled in the net with 3.9 seconds left. Ohio State called timeout, and Raftery graced the air with a phrase that has become timeless at Siena: “Ohhhh, onions! Double order!” Moore raised his arms above his head. Franklin and Hasbrouck ran to him and wrapped their arms around his torso. They were just an Evan Turner missed leaner from advancing to the second round for the second straight year.
“That was a classic,” Fisher says.
So classic that Siena fans printed “Onions Double Order” shirts. The following March, when Raftery visited Albany to call Siena’s MAAC championship game against Fairfield, Moore presented him with the shirt.
“Anyone near Siena, if you say ‘Onions Double Order’ they know exactly what you’re talking about,” Rossiter says. “It’s one of those Siena things now that if you’re any sort of fan, you know exactly what someone’s talking about when they say that. It’s a great memory for me. I’m sure you can imagine for Ron.”
“It gives me chills,” Moore says. “It’s a great flashback.”
End of an Era
The end of the Fran McCaffery era at Siena ended in a dorm room, just like it began.
The Saints, who had lost a close game to top-seeded Louisville after beating Ohio State, had won their third straight MAAC tournament a few weeks earlier. In classic Siena fashion, McCaffery’s bunch had overcome a 13-point second-half deficit to beat Fairfield, 72-65, in overtime in the 2010 MAAC final.
The Saints drew a No. 13 seed and a first round date with No. 4 Purdue, which had lost star player Robbie Hummel to an ACL tear in late February. When Hummel went down, Purdue was ranked third in the country. The Boilermakers were talented, though, and had two other future NBA players — E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson — on the roster.
For the first time under McCaffery, Siena failed to advance in the Big Dance. The Saints had cut Purdue’s 15-point lead to three in five minutes, but they couldn’t finish the comeback in the final 60 seconds.
That was March 19.
Despite the loss, McCaffery’s phone rang steadily in the ensuing days. He had built Siena into a mid-major power, and programs across the country courted his services.
The Saints were awoken in their rooms early Sunday March 28. The assistant coaches had been sent as messengers, telling them to gather in the locker room. Team meeting. Nine days after the Saints had Purdue on the ropes. Twenty days after they had won their third straight league championship.
“We all kind of put it together before he got in the room,” Rossiter remembers.
Then McCaffery told his players the news they had dreaded: He had accepted the head coaching position at Iowa. He was leaving Siena.
“Once he said the words, it was almost like a knife to the heart for a lot of us,” Rossiter says.
They appreciated the gesture, though. Not that they expected anything else from McCaffery.
“He wanted to tell us face-to-face that he was taking the Iowa job,” Rossiter says. “He didn’t want us to be watching TV and hear, ‘Fran McCaffery to Iowa.’ That’s just the stand-up guy he is and shows us how much he appreciated us. He thanked us for getting him the job.”
The decision required strenuous thought. The grass — or in Iowa’s case, the cornfield — isn’t always greener, but the Hawkeyes boasted a robust basketball budget in comparison to Siena’s and called the Big Ten home.
“My family loved living in Albany,” McCaffery says. “My wife loved it there. We loved our team. We loved the people we worked for. I was prepared to be the coach there for as long as they would have me, and I said that when I was hired [at Siena] it would take a very special opportunity to ever get me to leave. That’s what I honestly believed [the Iowa] opportunity was.”
It has been five years since McCaffery strolled the Times Union Center sidelines. Last year, he led Iowa to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006. The Hawkeyes are in good position to earn another at-large bid on Selection Sunday.
The Saints, meanwhile, have had just one winning season — 2013-14 — since McCaffery left. They earned the No. 8 seed in this year’s conference tournament and beat Niagara in the opening round, but they’ll need three more wins in as many days to return to the NCAA tournament.
No MAAC team has won consecutive conference tournaments since Siena, though Manhattan, the No. 3 seed, has a chance to defend its 2014 title. Even if the Jaspers cut down the nets Monday night, they would only be two-thirds of the way to matching Siena’s feat.
“Every year something can go wrong,” Duell says. “Injuries can happen, things happen that you can’t control. At Siena, we were just fortunate that we were able to stay relatively healthy, everybody was on the same page, we had a special group of kids. It’s something that you don’t see all the time, and that’s what made it so special.”
“It,” McCaffery says, “was an amazing ride, no question.”
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