LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. — People laughed at Jimmy Patsos, when he took the job as head coach of Siena College’s men’s basketball team one year ago.
The Saints finished ninth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last season, the team’s third consecutive losing season for the first time since 1994 to 1997. Siena finished at 8-24, and coach Mitch Buonaguro was let go. Enter Patsos. Cue the laughter.
But no one was laughing on April 5, when the Saints clinched the first national postseason championship by a MAAC team. Siena beat Fresno State with an 81-68 victory, winning the College Basketball Invitational with a home game at Siena’s Time Union Center.
The victory was the final cap on a season of exceeding expectations. In a Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the Saints were picked to finish tenth out of 11 teams. Instead, Siena finished fifth and earned a bye into the MAAC Tournament Quarterfinals, where they lost to Canisius College, 71-65, before entering the CBI.
The CBI victory was the first time the Saints advanced to the championship of a national postseason tournament, since becoming a Division I team in 1976. This was the program’s 12th postseason appearance — six NCAA and five NIT — and the first since the Saints played in the NCAA Tournament three years in a row, from 2008 to 2010.
The team entered the postseason with a 15-17 overall record and became one of only nine programs that have received an invitation to the CBI with a losing record, a nod to the way Siena played late in the year. The Saints won eight of their final 12 regular-season games and led in the last 10 minutes of regulation in each of their final 13 games.
Past CBI champions include Tulsa, Oregon State, Virginia Commonwealth University, Pittsburgh and Santa Clara. Eighteen teams who played in the CBI went on to the NCCA Tournament the following year, while another 10 have played in the NIT.
All of Siena’s players will return next year. The program’s young roster bodes well for the future. Before coming to Siena, Patsos coached nine seasons at Loyola University, where he led a team that recorded the greatest regular season win in program history and guided the Greyhounds to multiple third place MAAC finishes. After his first year on the job at Siena, Patsos is excited for the future.
Following the Saints’ championship victory, the coach gathered his players for a photograph with a sign that hung in their locker room prior to the game. “First, they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight with you. Then you win.”
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. In the above photo provided by Siena College, Michael Joyce, OFM, is pictured with Saints fans at a recent game.