Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Super sophomores key to Siena's success

From Tuesday's Print Edition

LOUDONVILLE Ryan Rossiter remembers a conversation he had with his father after the 2007 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship game.

Rossiter had signed to join the Saints the next season, but had just watched Siena fall to Niagara and the Purple Eagles punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

On the drive home from Bridgeport, Conn., to his home on Staten Island, Steve Rossiter told his son the loss could be a good thing for him.

“We were talking about how intense of a game it was and I remember my father saying, ‘it might hurt for them, but it might be a good thing for you because they’ll be hungrier next season,’” Ryan Rossiter said.

Steve then told his youngest son that he would probably play in an NCAA Tournament and it could even be in his very first season.

“I think my dad saw what we had as a team and what we had coming back,” Ryan Rossiter said. “He knew how hard everyone was going to work, so it was definitely a reality and it worked out.”

Ryan played just 22 minutes and had only a single basket in Siena’s two NCAA Tournament games in 2008.

Now, as a sophomore, Ryan is one of the biggest reasons that this Saints squad earned the best seed in program history, a No. 9 and why this Siena team has something last year’s team was lacking; depth.

With Rossiter and fellow sophomore Clarence Jackson emerging into big-time players and the maturation of freshman Kyle Downey and Owen Wignot, this year’s Siena team can go nine players deep.

“I think we can definitely go deeper on the bench (than last season),” Rossiter said. “Josh (Duell) is back, so that will help us down low and I think more guys can contribute at any moment this year.”

Rossiter has posted nine double-doubles this season and leads the team, averaging 7.8 rebounds per game, while Jackson, who earned MAAC Sixth Player of the Year honors, has posted double-digit scoring efforts nine times, including a career-high 28 points against Saint Joseph’s.

“Ryan really got it going early on,” Jackson said. “Then, I fell into it in midseason. Coach (Fran McCaffery) just lets us go out there and play. I think he sees stuff in us and playing is only going to make us both better players.”

Jackson has done a good job filling the role of graduated senior Tay Fisher, who was instant offense off the bench, especially in the huge upset of Vanderbilt.

“You think about his production per minute played and he might be number one in the country,” McCaffery said. “Eight points per game in 14 minutes, I don’t know if anybody does that.”

If Jackson played 31 minutes, or the average of the Siena starters this season, he’d be averaging more than 17 points per game.

“We only lost Tay last year and we got more scorers with me and Kyle and Josh coming off the bench,” Jackson said. “We’re a very deep team. There’s no selfishness, everyone is able to gel and we’re able to be successful.”

Downey and Wignot have both had good games already this year and showed they’re capable of contributing in big situations.

Downey practically won the game at Marist back in January, with a career-high 15 points and two huge 3-pointers in the final 47 seconds of regulation, while Wignot didn’t miss a shot (6-6) in the three games at the MAAC Tournament.

“I don’t know if you can prepare yourself for what they’re walking into,” said McCaffery about his freshman playing in the NCAA Tournament. “You want them to enjoy it, but understand that we need both of them on Friday night.”

The Saints won’t be flying under the radar this time around after what happened last March in Tampa, Fla., but the added depth should help them out against their first round opponent Ohio State.

“With the emergence of Clarence, myself coming off the bench as a senior and some good freshman that are ready to play at any moment, I think that helps us a lot,” said Duell, a senior co-captain.

Rossiter, who has moved into Duell’s starting role this season, is trying to make sure he doesn’t take both he and his teams successes for granted.

“Not too many people get a chance to play in one NCAA Tournament, but to play in two in a row is great,” said Rossiter

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