Saints look better than season’s start

Most people watched the ball drop on Wednesday night. Kenny Hasbrouck watched one drop on Tuesday th
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Most people watched the ball drop on Wednesday night.

Kenny Hasbrouck watched one drop on Tuesday that, for him, could mark a fresh start.

Siena’s senior co-captain calmly and confidently drained a three-pointer during crunch time against Holy Cross, giving the Saints a 70-59 lead with 5:06 left on the way to an 83-71 victory.

Hasbrouck said after the game that one good shooting night did not signal the end of his scoring problems, but it was one of several encouraging signs that emerged at the end of December as Siena (8-4) heads into the heart of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference season, starting at 2 this afternoon against Fairfield at the Times Union Center.

After enduring such a rugged nonconference schedule, it’s easy to forget that Siena is already 2-0 in the conference. More importantly, the Saints, and perhaps Hasbrouck — if he can sustain what he did against the Crusaders — appear to have left their disappointing 0-3 performance at the Old Spice Classic in Florida behind them.

“We know why we lost in Orlando like that,” Hasbrouck said. “It was bad mistakes on defense, we weren’t rebounding the ball well, we weren’t communicating as a team. We changed that. We changed the image of the team, we started rebounding against the better teams, and I think that’s why we’re winning right now.”

Siena won six of seven in December, and the only loss was at No. 3 Pittsburgh.

Not only has Hasbrouck’s shooting been off pretty much all season, but he’s had some nights that, by his standards, have been atrocious, including a 1-for-7 for two points against Saint Joseph’s and a 1-for-8 for five points against UAlbany.

The bright side was that Siena won those games, in large part because, while Hasbrouck has been shooting poorly, he has thrown himself into performing at a high level in every other phase of the game. He’s a shut-down defender, he’s been running the point, at times, and he has taken extra shots in practice to force himself out of the slump.

His three-pointer late in the Holy Cross game looked like it was shot by someone with no self-doubt.

“I wasn’t going to hesitate,” he said. “The last couple of games, when it came to shooting, sometimes, I didn’t take open shots, but when I had my mind made up that I’m going to shoot the ball, I was going to shoot the ball.

“When we lost, it was hard. When we were winning, it was like, ‘OK, we’re doing great, still, so my shooting is not really affecting us yet.’ But when we lost, it took a big toll on me, because I thought if I made more of my shots, I think we would’ve won the game, and there would’ve been less pressure on the other players. But mentally, I never lost my confidence.

“It was just the fact that everybody was talking about it, which made me think about it more often. I never lost my confidence, and finally made some shots.”

Hasbrouck finished with 19 points against Holy Cross, making three of his seven three-point attempts.

“That’s really big for us,” junior forward Alex Franklin said. “I wanted to see that. It’s really big for his confidence, it’s really big for our team. I miss Kenny going out there and dropping 20 a game. That’s what we need. He knew he was a little off, so he put up some more shots in the gym. That’ll get to any player.”

Hasbrouck said he won’t take anything for granted off just one good game.

He can’t, either, because Siena has a busy schedule in the next three weeks, with six MAAC games and the last non-conference game, not counting the BracketBusters in February, at Kansas on Tuesday.

“Next game, you never know what can happen, so I just have to stay in the gym, keep working, keep my confidence and just keep playing as hard as I can,” he said.

Siena was battered but none the worse for wear after the Holy Cross game, during which point guard Ronald Moore took stitches in his chin and senior co-captain Josh Duell got hit below the left eye, a reminder of last season, when he was hit in the same eye and also missed some games after getting hit in the mouth and breaking a bone in his upper jaw.

After shooting poorly from the free-throw line all season, most memorably in a 12-for-28 game against Oklahoma State at the Old Spice, the Saints have had two terrific games in a row from the line, making 14 of 16 against Saint Joseph’s and 25-for-33 against Holy Cross.

Sophomore Clarence Jackson is starting to hit his stride as a scorer, and sophomore center Ryan Rossiter continues to be a vital component in the middle. He had some foul trouble against the Crusaders, and still scored 15 points on 5-for-6 from the field with seven rebounds in 22 minutes. Franklin was a terror, with 22 points on 8-for-10 shooting, 13 rebounds, four blocks and three steals.

“I think we’ve developed fairly well,” Siena head coach Fran McCaffery said. “Our guys are kind of doing what we thought they would do. We needed Clarence and Ryan to do what they’re doing, and we needed [freshmen] Owen [Wignot] and Kyle [Downey] to develop the way they did.”

“We’re feeling pretty good,” Franklin said. “There’s always room for improvement, but we’re confident, right now.”

Fairfield (8-4), picked to finish second in the MAAC preseason coaches poll, had won seven straight before losing to No. 2 Connecticut by 20 on Saturday in the Stags’ last game.

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