- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

The Siena men's basketball team arrived at Reagan National Airport yesterday afternoon, but the Saints really didn't need a plane. They have been flying high since an amazing run landed them in the NCAA tournament.

Siena appeared permanently grounded after finishing seventh in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Association regular season. A win or two in the conference tournament would end the season on a high note. The championship seemed out of the question after the Saints' 12-18 regular-season record and placement in one of the MAAC's play-in games.

"We had high expectations coming into the season," Siena forward Dwayne Archbold said. "Nothing good had come out of the season."

The Saints, located outside Albany, N.Y., slumped into their MAAC play-in game against St. Peter's with a three-game losing streak. That's when Siena transformed into Cinderella.

The Saints swept four games to capture the MAAC tournament title and its automatic NCAA bid. The roll continued Tuesday with an 81-77 victory over Alcorn State in the NCAA tournament's play-in game. That allowed Siena to fly into the District as the East Region's 16th seed and first-round opponent for top-seeded Maryland tomorrow at MCI Center.

Although the Saints are 26-point underdogs, "we're not going to go in there and let them walk over us, no matter what seed they are," said Archbold, who leads the Saints with a 20.0 scoring average and 7.1 rebounds. "We don't fear these guys. We see them on TV all the time. I don't think we will go into the game with any intimidation at all."

Siena (17-18) is brimming with confidence under first-year coach Rob Lanier, even if it is the only team in the NCAA field with a losing record. The Saints also only the second team to win an NCAA game with a losing record, the first to post four victories to win the MAAC tournament and only the eighth team in any conference to pull off that difficult feat.

Archbold is the Saints' centerpiece. The versatile senior from Brooklyn, N.Y., was named tournament MVP after averaging 27.8 points over the four games. He has played every position except center and registered 36 points in a quarterfinal victory over Marist before posting 30 in the championship win over Niagara.

"I remember playing him in high school," said Maryland guard Drew Nicholas, a fellow New Yorker who played at Paul Robeson High School. "I don't remember him being that good in high school. He has really developed into a player. He was maybe the third or fourth best player on the team."

Archbold may be Siena's No.1 option, but the team turned around when Prosper Karangwa took over at point guard in the MAAC tournament in an emergency situation. Starting point guard Mark Price was sidelined by a sinus infection and abscessed tooth. Karangwa, an African-born Canadian, was having a nondescript season before running the Saints to the tournament title.

Karangwa totaled nine points and 11 rebounds in the title game. The 6-7 point guard from Montreal took over the NCAA play-in game with Archbold saddled with foul trouble. He delivered several key baskets down the stretch while scoring a career-high 31 points on 12 of 16 shooting and also had nine rebounds and six assists.

"We've been pushing the ball more and getting it inside more," said Saints guard Andy Cavo, who is shooting a team-high 41 percent on 3-pointers. "That's something we haven't been doing all year."

The Saints are averaging 87 points over their five-game winning streak, more than 17 points above their season average. Siena starts a tall if not burly group, led by 6-9, 200-pound senior James Clinton and the 6-6, 190-pound Archbold. Sophomore Justin Miller is the biggest physical presence at 6-8, 220 pounds.

"They are a long team," said Maryland's Juan Dixon, referring to the Saints' arm spans. "But they are not as strong. Hopefully, we'll be able to take advantage of our ability to go inside to Lonny [Baxter] and Chris [Wilcox] and Tahj [Holden] and Ryan [Randle]."

That Maryland is even discussing Siena at this point speaks volumes about how far the Saints have come. The low point of the Saints' regular season was Feb.16 in a 60-57 home loss to Fairfield. Siena's fans showered the players with boos and jeers as they left the floor.

"That was the cap of the season," Archbold said. "It got real frustrating. We were bickering amongst ourselves. People didn't like our coach. We had a lot of adversity. We fell down, but we finally got it together for the MAAC tournament."

Now Siena will shoot for the biggest shocker in NCAA history. No 16th seed has beaten a top seed since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1984 a span of 72 games. The Saints pulled one major upset in the tournament in 1989, when they were the East's 14th seed and shot down third-seeded Stanford 80-78.

"Anything can happen," said Cavo, who brought his camcorder and plans to videotape the entire trip. "It's been a great ride, and we've been enjoying every minute of it. A lot of teams aren't playing basketball and we are. [Maryland is] talented. But it's just five-on-five basketball. We have nothing to lose."

Notes Maryland coach Gary Williams was asked yesterday about tomorrow's starting time of 10:10 p.m. "Our guys are really sharp about 10 o'clock at night," he said. "They're not real sharp like at noon last week [in the ACC tournament], things like that. … Our guys like to be out at 10 o'clock at night in D.C. Are you kidding?"

The Terps will hold an open practice today at 6 p.m. at MCI. … Maryland and Siena have never played each other.

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