At least four teams in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference have taken a turn as the hottest team in the league this season.
Siena is taking its second turn heading into this afternoon’s home game against Loyola, but the Saints (11-3, 16-8), who have won three straight and are tied with Rider for first after beating the Broncs on the road on Sunday, face an opponent that handed Siena one of its worst losses of the season.
After the Greyhounds ripped
Siena, 85-56, on Jan. 24, you’d think the Saints would have had the 1 p.m. rematch at the Times Union Center circled on their calendar in red ink, but in fact, Siena has been playing well lately because they’ve been able to stay rooted in the present and not get wrapped up in anything down the road.
“You can’t look at the next group of games,” Siena head coach Fran McCaffery said. “We didn’t do that when we started with Rider at home. When we lost to Rider, we had to beat Marist Monday night at home. That’s all we had to do. Do that, and you play them again. Win that, and then look at what we didn’t do against Rider and let’s try to take care of that and beat them. It’s not complicated. I suspect that we have the maturity to understand that.”
Siena is coming off a difficult stretch in which back-to-back games against Marist were sandwiched between two games against Rider.
It loomed as a big turning point in the season, and Siena responded to an embarrassing loss in the first Rider game by beating Marist twice and edging the Broncs last weekend on Josh Duell’s three-pointer with 1.3 seconds left.
With a long week to prepare for Loyola, McCaffery gave the Saints Tuesday off. Other than that, there’s no let-up at this time of year, especially against a hungry opponent that is tied with Niagara and Marist for third place at 9-5.
“Any time you get on a run like this, it makes the next game bigger,” McCaffery said. “Saturday’s game is a lot bigger, had we not won these three. It doesn’t change things. We think about one thing right now, and that’s, OK, what do we have to do to beat Loyola? They’re a very good team. They cleaned our clocks last time. They didn’t beat us, they dismantled us. And we obviously have to make some adjustments and play better.”
Loyola made a school-record 18 three-pointers and held Siena’s high-powered offense to 29.2 percent from the field.
Gerald Brown, who scored 33 points in an overtime win at the Times Union Center last year, is averaging 30.7 points per game in his last three.
One of the hot players for Siena lately has been point guard Ronald Moore, who constantly pressured the Marist and Rider defense by fearlessly pushing the ball up the floor.
He didn’t have a good game against Rider the first time, so McCaffery and the Siena coaches urged him to make sure the offense was always moving forward, and not sideways.
“I don’t think he was as aggressive as he needed to be,” McCaffery said. “What he did last weekend was challenge the other team’s point guard, and he clearly outplayed both of those guys. What you saw was Ronald Moore playing up to his capability, and when he does that, we’re substantially better. He pushed the basketball. We’re a running team, we run on makes and misses, and it was full-throttle in the second half [Sunday]. Anything short of that, we would’ve had trouble winning.”
As well as the Saints have responded to the Rider loss, they still have four games left in what has shaped up to be a duel with the Broncs for first place.
McCaffery said that the difficult non-conference schedule early in the season is paying dividends, in that the Saints haven’t been caught off guard by what has been a stiff MAAC schedule.
“We’re not done. Who knows where we’re going to end up,” McCaffery said. “It has made us tougher. We were in so many close games. If we softened our schedule, we might’ve had a false sense of how good we were and maybe not been prepared for what has been a very difficult league.
“I thought 12 or 13 wins would win the league. I hope it’s more than that and it very well could be. There’s no guarantee.”
women at fairfield
The Siena women have reached an important juncture in their season as they travel to Fairfield today.
The Saints swept their western New York trip last weekend against Niagara and Cansius, but need to keep winning to avoid finishing in the last four spots in the standings.
Siena, Loyola and Canisius are tied at 5-8, and it appears that whoever finishes highest out of those three will get a bye into the MAAC tournament quarterfinals.
“We don’t talk about it as a team, but we’ve talked about it as a staff,” Siena head coach Gina Castelli said. “Anytime you have to play four games [in the tournament], that’s a tough road. You can do it, because it’s been done, but we don’t really want to be playing four games.”
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