Who says Siena can’t play to a crowd?
The Saints, who spent much of the last month playing before empty seats, knocked off No. 13-ranked Stanford, 80-78, Thursday in the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. East Regional when Marc Brown capped a 32-point performance by making two free throws with three seconds left.
The victory marked the fifth time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 that a 14th-seeded team in a regional had beaten a third-seeded team.
“I was very concerned that we weren’t going to play fast and loose like an underdog should be able to play in the NCAA tournament,” Siena Coach Mike Deane said. “As it turned out, it was very much like a home game for us.”
Siena (25-4) played its last nine games before empty arenas and had two games canceled because of a measles outbreak at the Loudonville, N.Y., school.
But as the Saints took an eight-point lead in the first half, they quickly got the 12,000 fans at the Greensboro Coliseum on their side.
“You guys are making a bigger thing out of that than our players,” Deane said of the crowd. “I think it helped us perform today. I think it made us quicker and got us excited. When you’re playing, you’re not really all that concerned about it.
“We were going to play this game like it was our national championship game. I think we may act like that tonight, then get ready for Minnesota tomorrow.”
Siena, champion of the ECAC North Atlantic Conference, pulled away early, but Stanford (26-7), the Pacific 10 Conference runner-up, came back to tie it, 37-37, when Terry Taylor hit a three-point shot just before halftime.
Stanford scored the first two baskets of the second half, but the Saints went on a 24-4 binge during which they hit five three-pointers and made a three-point play to take a 61-45 lead with 12:10 left.
The Cardinal scored 13 straight points in a 21-5 run that tied the score, 66-66, when Todd Lichti dunked after a steal with 6:36 left.
The game stayed close and Siena led, 78-76, with 54 seconds remaining when Brown was fouled and missed the front end of a one-and-one. He missed again 20 seconds later, and Stanford’s Adam Keefe was fouled on the rebound. Keefe made both free throws to tie the score.
Brown worked the clock down and got a one-on-one matchup against Lichti. He drove the right baseline, was fouled by Lichti and sank both free throws.
“I tried to just bother him from behind,” Lichti said. “I ended up bumping him on the head and the ref called it.”
Taylor’s 75-foot desperation shot hit the backboard as time ran out.
“It’s very disappointing to end the season playing that way without giving ourselves the opportunity to play some more,” Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery said.
“We just didn’t play a complete game, the type of game you have to play in the NCAA tournament. Too many holes, too many weaknesses, too many mistakes, and I think that tells the story.”
Keefe scored 22 points, including the last 12 Cardinal points. Lichti, who went out briefly in the first half with an injury, had 17 and Taylor scored 11. Jeff Robinson added 20 points for the Saints.
It was the first NCAA defeat in history for Stanford, which went 3-0 en route to the 1942 title in its only other appearance.