The Siena men's basketball team gave beloved senior walk-on guard Steven Cruz his first career start on Sunday.

Then the Saints played so well that Cruz got back in the game in so-called "garbage time" to score his first point of the season.

The Saints rolled 70-54 over Monmouth in the regular-season finale, a rare easy victory that junior guard Evan Hymes said belonged to his teammate.

"This game was for Cruz," Hymes said.

At the same time, the Saints gave the lively crowd of 8,148 reason to be optimistic as they head into the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament this weekend.

Fifth-seeded Siena (15-16 overall, 11-9 MAAC) takes its first four-game winning streak since the 2009-10 season into a quarterfinal game against No. 4 Canisius on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Springfield, Mass.

Not too shabby for a team that was picked to finish 10th in the preseason coaches' poll.

"We're not satisfied with that," sophomore forward Brett Bisping said. "We're going into the tournament wanting to win."

Bisping finished with 17 points, including 11-for-12 from the free-throw line, and Hymes added 15 points in 17 high-energy minutes.

Afterward, though, much of the talk was about the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Cruz, the Manhattan native whose small stature and friendly personality has made him a fan favorite.

Starting in place of point guard Marquis Wright, Cruz assisted on Siena's first basket, a jumper by Bisping.

Cruz also grabbed a defensive rebound before head coach Jimmy Patsos removed him for Wright to a standing ovation with 17:18 left in the half.

Cruz, Siena's lone senior, was accompanied in the pregame ceremony by his mother, Ani, who had never seen him play in college.

"It was awesome," Cruz said. "It worked out really well. Just getting to see my mom, my cousin, my high school coaches. It was a great experience."

His teammates made sure this would not be a repeat of the eight games in the previous nine that were within one possession in the final minute.

Junior center Imoh Silas was dominant with seven points, 11 rebounds and six blocks, the most by a Siena player since Ryan Rossiter's eight against Manhattan on Feb. 12, 2009.

Silas said the Saints are a different team from the one that lost at Monmouth 63-59 on Jan. 2.

"We've improved tremendously," Silas said. "Now that everybody has confidence in what they can do, everybody understands their roles, it's awesome."

Silas' 3-point play capped a 9-0 run that gave Siena a 38-23 lead with 19:23 to play. Monmouth got no closer than 14 after that and the margin ballooned to 24 (62-38) with 7:39 to play.

Soon the Siena student section was chanting Cruz's name and Patsos gave them what they wanted by putting him back in with 2:57 remaining.

"When I subbed out, I looked at (assistant) Lucious (Jordan) and said, 'We've got to get Cruz back in the game,'" Hymes said.

Cruz made a free throw with 2:31 left for the 10th point of his career.

Junior guard Rob Poole reached a milestone of his own, finishing a textbook fast break on a pass from Hymes to reach the 1,000-point mark for his career.