WORCESTER, Mass. – It was a surprising scene to end the game. That’s the case not only because it happens so rarely, but also because of who was involved.
As the final seconds of Siena’s 83-71 win at Holy Cross ticked off the clock, Siena head coach Fran McCaffery motioned to all five of his players on the floor toward the exit. At first glance, it might have looked like he was motioning to get the ball across mid-court to avoid a ten-second violation before dribbling out the final seconds, but once the buzzer sounded it was clear that wasn’t the case. The Saints walked right out of the gym without shaking hands with the Holy Cross players and coaches.
Holy Cross head coach Ralph Willard, who did not comment on it after the game, stopped walking towards the bench once the Saints were walking away and looked as dumbfounded as just about everyone else in the gym. McCaffery, who is well-respected among his peers for far more than just his winning ways as a head coach, made it clear why he did that. Like everything else in life, it didn’t happen in a vacuum.
“I was upset at how our guys were being fouled,” McCaffery said. “I’ve got guys bloodied, I’ve got guys with black eyes, I’ve got guys needing stitches. That’s not how the game’s supposed to be played.”
McCaffery noted that last year’s game in Loudonville was similar to this. Alex Franklin missed five games with a back injury after the meeting. Asked if he thought the officiating, which did leave something to be desired, contributed to it, McCaffery said, alluding to Holy Cross, “I think it’s a result of how they play.”
In fact, McCaffery had no real issue with the officials, even though at times he appeared to get a little heated with them, as did Willard. 46 fouls were called in the game, with the Saints whistled for two more than the Crusaders, so the stat sheet alone won’t explain everything. The Saints made three more free throws (25) than Holy Cross attempted (22).
While any tension that was mounting between the teams wasn’t obvious, anytime a game gets as physical as this one was, things can escalate between the teams. That led McCaffery to approach getting help from the officials in a different way.
“I said, ‘what do you want me to do now? What am I supposed to do?’ Because you really don’t want that, you don’t want me to ‘send in a goon’ and all of a sudden there’s a melee,” said McCaffery, who said he had no intention of doing such a thing. “That’s not what we want. But I’d like to know what recourse we had.”
The game was the fourth in a home-and-home series between the two schools. One might first think that this will be it for a while, and the Siena game notes suggest as much since they said that this is the final game of a four-year series. But a Holy Cross source said that the schools have a six-year series and are scheduled to meet next December in Loudonville for the fifth game. It is not known how easily the Saints could get out of the final two games if they desire to, although the schools could agree to put off the next meeting by a year or two.