Fran McCaffery is no stranger to the Palestra, having played his college basketball for Penn, and knows that the old building often has seen the impossible comeback in its eight decades of existence.

McCaffery was in the front row for the latest one tonight, watching his Siena Saints perform that unlikely rally to the dismay of St. Joseph's.

The Hawks held an 18-point lead early in the second half but saw their offense rendered ineffective by Siena's clawing press, and the Saints came all the way back for a 75-74 victory before a crowd of 6,128.

Ryan Rossiter, a sophomore forward, gave the 7-4 Saints the victory by sinking two free throws with 2.4 seconds to play. Garrett Williamson missed a 35-foot heave at the buzzer for St. Joe's (5-6).

Hawks coach Phil Martelli pointed to the numbers after the game. The Hawks were only 6 of 10 on free throws, committed 19 turnovers - seven by guard Darren Govens - and got just two rebounds from center Ahmad Nivins, who had been named Atlantic Ten Conference player of the week earlier in the day.

"The numbers always speak," Martelli said. "If we're giving up 70 points, we're in trouble. Our starting guard had seven turnovers. Our best player had two rebounds. It's just the numbers. It's a game of numbers. It showed all the warts that we have."

The Hawks were in control of the game after outscoring Siena, 17-4, to start the second half. A layup by Idris Hilliard put St. Joe's on top, 61-43, with 15 minutes, 6 seconds remaining.

But Siena turned up its three-quarter-court zone press a couple of notches and St. Joseph's couldn't get into its offense. The Hawks went without a field goal for more than nine minutes, missing six shots from the field and committing nine turnovers, after Hilliard's last basket.

"We came out of character," Martelli said. "We got ahead of ourselves. We had that look of panic."

The Saints kept chipping away. They used a spurt of 10 straight points to get to within 65-62 with less than 61/2 minutes remaining.

Siena took the lead, 71-70, on a three-pointer by Edwin Ubiles with 4:04 left.

Hilliard, who finished with a career-high 20 points, gave St. Joe's its last lead, 74-73, on a hook shot with 1:27 to play. The Hawks had a chance to extend their lead when Tasheed Carr went to the line for a one-and-one with 9.5 seconds remaining, but he missed the front end.

The Saints got the ball inside on their final possession, and Rossiter was fouled by Govens going to the hoop. Rossiter, a 62.5 percent shooter from the line, swished through both tries.

Nivins added 15 points for the Hawks, who placed their entire starting five in double figures.

Clarence Jackson, a sophomore guard from Cherokee High in South Jersey, led Siena with a career-high 28 points and Ubiles added 12.

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.