ALBANY It’s the thought that counts.
The kids gave their fans an ugly sweater and a home-made card for Christmas on Monday night.
The Siena Saints are better than Hofstra, but let the Pride hang around, making their fans sweat out a 67-59 victory in just the third game of the season on their homecourt and the first in almost five weeks.
With no student section and no cheerleaders, at least 5,941 people were not at the mall when Siena glued some strands of string and glitter to a piece of construction paper and handed it to their family, with pride.
The big play was a three-pointer by freshman Marquis Wright to answer a three by Hofstra and give Siena a 56-51 lead with 4:30 left in what was another foul-filled game.
Siena’s lead was three when the final mandatory media timeout stopped play with 2:08 left, at which point head coach Jimmy Patsos took the opportunity to remind his team that the season of giving was upon them.
“We haven’t played at home in, like, 30 days,” junior guard Evan Hymes said. “It was great to see the fans come out and support us. Coach wanted us to go out and play hard and win for them. He said, ‘Look at these fans. They come out and support you guys, so go out and play hard.’ We owe it to them.”
“They came here for us, so play hard for them,” freshman Maurice White said.
Siena did play hard, although what that produced was sometimes ragged, which could be understandable, considering the Saints had not played — anywhere — since Dec. 8.
That was an unsightly loss at Canisius in which Siena let the Golden Griffins make 10 three-pointers in the first half alone.
Monday’s win isn’t going to win any beauty contests, except on the scoreboard and in the minds of the fans, whose last taste of a home game came all the way back on Nov. 19.
As usual, Siena had to maneuver around some foul trouble, notably to freshman Lavon Long, who has been DQed from half of Siena’s 12 games already.
He picked up his fourth with 7:24 to play.
Things got messy with 12 minutes left when the 5-foot-8 Hymes went flying off the end of the court, having fouled Moussa Kone in the act of making a layup in transition.
A cameraman in the end zone got the bridge of his nose bloodied and was escorted away for some assistance, while Hymes gingerly was helped out from under a courtside table.
The elf came off the shelf to deliver the biggest present of the night, the pass to Wright on a night when the Saints’ point guard, 17th in the country in assists per game (6.2), finished with just one in that column.
Hymes busted into the lane against the much bigger Pride and found his backcourtmate, who had made just two threes all season, wide open on the right wing.
“Sometimes, Evan forgets that he’s 5-8,” Patsos said. “Seriously. I tell him, ‘They can’t guard you. They’re bigger than you. Hello.’
“David and Goliath. You’re quicker. I get a little surreal in the huddle, but, c’mon, Evan. And he made a great play. He got in there and kicked it out.”
“Patsos switched me and Evan and told me to catch and shoot,” Wright said. “I was open, and it went in.”
“We work on that all the time in practice, drive and kick, and I knew it was going in as soon as I gave it to him,” Hymes said.
It was a gift to Patsos, too, because he doesn’t want this team shooting threes unless they’re a product of good offensive flow that draws the defense away from the perimeter momentarily with some penetration or a pass to the post.
“I didn’t forget 0-for-16 in the second half against Albany,” Patsos said. “That has not left my mind yet. There’s a lot of stuff stored up there. My mind’s like a warehouse, with no room to spare. But I’ve got a little room. We need to get the ball inside. I believe in inside-out offense.”
Hofstra trailed, 58-55, for that last media timeout, leaving the threat of overtime well within reach.
The Saints outscored the Pride, 9-4, from there to send the faithful out into the chilly night with something, finally, to warm them.
Nobody wants a tie for Christmas.