DAYTON, Ohio (AP)—Experience isn’t going to help Siena this time.
The upstart Saints called upon every microsecond of their NCAA tournament history—and got two dramatic shots from their overlooked point guard—to pull off a double-overtime victory over Ohio State in the first round. Their tournament-tested starting lineup was on the floor together for the final 24 minutes of the 74-72 win, playing their best under the biggest pressure.
Now comes the real pressure, the kind that starts at the baseline and doesn’t relent for the full 94 feet.
Even experienced teams come unglued against Louisville’s full-court defense. It’s a big reason why the Cardinals (29-5) are the tournament’s top overall seed, the driving force during their 11-game winning streak.
It’s something the Saints (27-7) have never experienced.
“It’s hellacious pressure on the ball,” Siena coach Fran McCaffery said.
Their point guard, the one no one recruited in high school—not even Siena at the outset—because he was so small, will be the one in the middle of the mayhem.
Ronald Moore was still smiling Saturday, a few hours after he became a national star when he made the two biggest shots against the Buckeyes. Although he missed all four of his shots from behind the arc in regulation, he made a 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left in the first overtime to keep the game going.
He hit another 3 from the same spot with 3.9 seconds left in the second overtime, putting the Saints ahead to stay. McCaffery wrapped him in a hug, lifted his 160-pound frame off the floor and carried him across the court after Siena got a first-round win for the second year in a row.
Instead of calling a timeout to diagram a last shot, he let Moore run the show.
“There’s nothing that I could set up that would put us in position to win (better) than to inbound the ball to Ronald Moore and let what happens happen, and he won the game for us,” McCaffery said.
Moore’s shooting isn’t going to be the difference-maker against Louisville on Sunday. It’ll be his choices.
Louisville is ninth in the nation in steals with 9.3 per game and fifth in blocked shots. The Cardinals press full-court, aiming not so much to rattle opponents as to wear them down. Senior guard Andre McGee locks onto the ball handler, and the long-armed players at the back of the press make sure no one gets a layup even if they break through.
They change the press depending upon how the opponent reacts and keep running in fresh players so it doesn’t lose its intensity. Usually by the second half, teams are worn down and the Cardinals are on a game-turning run.
“It’s definitely my best (pressing team) at Louisville,” said coach Rick Pitino, in his eighth season. “I think that it’s a different type of press we’re using now than some of the other presses we’ve used. We don’t trap as much as we run and jump and change positions.”
And flat-out wear people out.
Siena played one of the toughest nonconference schedules—Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh, Kansas—to get ready for tournament time. Their starting five held its own against the nation’s best all season. Their biggest weakness—lack of depth—will be the biggest factor in the second round.
With 14:27 to go in regulation against Ohio State, McCaffery put his starting five on the floor and didn’t substitute again. If he goes too long with his starters against Louisville, they’ll have a full-blown, full-court meltdown.
“I definitely think it will be a factor,” Moore said. “With so many different guys that can play, they don’t really drop off. We’re mainly having five core guys that play the majority of time for us. It definitely will be tiring.”
If Louisville gets its way, Moore’s quick spurt will be kaput by the second half. He’ll get to know McGee, who chases the guy with the ball everywhere around the court, trying to stay close enough that he can feel his breath and share his sweat.
“It just picks everyone else’s intensity up,” said McGee, who had five steals in a first-round win over Morehead State. “Sometimes I get a little too involved in it. The pass gets thrown to another player, and I go ahead and guard him. He passes to another guy, and I just switch off and guard him, too. I run everywhere I can.”
When there’s a sense that the other team is starting to feel the heat, it becomes even more intense.
“We pressure people 40 straight minutes as hard as we can, and eventually they’re going to break down,” guard Preston Knowles said. “Even if it’s their best player, they’re going to break down. And when we see that, we go for the kill. We can tell they’re tired; you can see it in their eyes. That’s when we really turn it up.”
And send them home.
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