With his team down 69-68 at the Smith Center Tuesday night, Siena senior guard Marquis Wright stumbled to the line with less than two minutes remaining in a tight game.
He missed both of his free throws, squandering a crucial chance at regaining the lead.
Redshirt junior Jaren Sina then found an opening, took the ball to the basket and layed it up. The shot rolled off the rim and into freshman Arnaldo Toro’s hands. The 6-foot-8-inch forwarded converted on a difficult basket and gave the Colonials a three-point edge.
From there, the Colonials (2-0) never looked back, able to hold on for the final minute and defeat the Saints (1-1), 77-75, in the opening matchup of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.
“You don’t always gain all that much from comfortable wins, I think for good or bad your character is going to be revealed in tough situations,” interim head coach Maurice Joesph said. “I think it is a character building win against a good team. I’m proud of our guys.”
Sina led GW with 16 points while junior guard Yuta Watanabe (13), graduate student forward Tyler Cavanaugh (12) and freshman center Collin Smith (11) all contributed double-digit scoring totals.
After a lackluster opening frame, the second half saw Sina’s best performance thus far this season.
With only 12 minutes remaining in the game and GW trailing by 5, the Seton Hall transfer hit his first shot of the game. Sina would go on to score 10 points and give his team the seven-point lead in a span of just three minutes.
“Jaren as an experienced player came out and recognized some things and understood where he could attack and went on a run of his own there,” Joseph said. “I am proud of our guys and proud of Jaren after a shaky first half.”
Both sides shot solid percentages from the field – GW with 44.3 to Siena’s 44.8 – but the Colonials had the clear advantage on the boards leading 46–20 overall and 16–9 on the offensive glass thanks to a deep and athletic frontcourt.
Cavanaugh played 38 minutes and went body-to-body with Siena’s post players all game. However, after Smith picked up two fouls in the first three minutes, Joseph was forced to bench him.
With slightly increased minute shares, Toro, freshmen forward Kevin Marfo, and graduate student guard Patrick Steeves picked up the slack.
Even sophomore forward Collin Goss was able to find the scoreboard with a career-high four points on 100 percent shooting.
“Toro, Marfo and Collin Goss all played really well. They came in and gave us an unbelievable spark of energy,” Joseph said. “All of those guys did a great job coming in and giving us a spark.”
The entire first half of the game was tight. Neither side shot particularly well in the opening minutes. The Saints started 1-for-8 from the field, missing a couple wide-open shots and allowing the Colonials to take a small lead.
Wright netted 16 points in the first period and highlighted deficiencies in GW’s defense all game long.
There ended up being 8 lead changes before the Colonials eventually took the 34–33 lead at the halftime buzzer.
Along with Sina, GW was able to look for more offensive firepower from Smith in the second half. The first-year center scored all 11 of his points in the latter half and provided a imposing inside presence before fouling out with three minutes left.
After only making 2-of-12 three-point attempts in the first half, the Colonials worked the ball into the paint more often and hit 3-of-7 from distance in the final 20 minutes.
Siena trailed by as many as eight points with 15 minutes on the clock but was able to go on a 17-4 run and quiet the small crowd at the Smith Center.
Despite several contentious moments down the stretch, GW was able to focus, maintain a consistent offense and finish 18-for-23 from the charity stripe.
“They made some tough shots at the end, but we are a young team and we are growing up fast. I think we faced adversity and I think we passed the test,” Sina said. “Every game we are trying to get better, and today I thought we got better.”
GW will return to action on Thursday for its second and final home game of the CBE Classic against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.