Saints heading into hostile territory

The Siena Saints aren’t just trying to beat a team tonight, they’re trying to beat the house.
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The Siena Saints aren’t just trying to beat a team tonight, they’re trying to beat the house.

Senior co-captain Josh Duell has played at the University of Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse, so he knows how difficult it is to concentrate on your game with 16,300 people on top of you.

He and the Vermont Catamounts almost beat Kansas in his first-ever college game, when he was a freshman at Vermont. Duell, a Christian Brothers Academy graduate from Scotia, made two of six three-pointers, but Vermont lost by six.

“The guy I was playing behind got two fouls in the first minute, so they’re like, ‘Yep, here you go, freshman, get on out there,’ ” Duell said after Siena beat Saint Peter’s on Sunday to improve to 4-0 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and 10-4 overall. “We’re going to have to stay composed. That place thrives on intimidation.”

Siena will play the defending national champion Jayhawks at 8 tonight on the floor named after James Naismith, the inventor of basketball who started the Kansas program in 1898.

Other than the BracketBusters game in February, this will be Siena’s last non-conference game of the season.

The Saints have already played some of the top teams in the country this year, like Pittsburgh, No. 1 in this week’s AP poll, and No. 15 Tennessee, but this game has the added element of showing them what it’s like to play in an atmosphere that is oppressive and unforgiving. Besides the sheer size of the building, the stands roll right out to the court, putting the Kansas fans right in your ear.

The Jayhawks have won 32 straight games at home.

“It’s crazy. It’s the loudest place I’ve ever been to,” Duell said. “The stands go straight up, so it’s like everybody’s right on the floor. It’s my favorite place to play, other than the Times Union Center. It should be fun. They’re a good team, and we’re going to go down there and try to focus and get a win.”

“I can’t wait,” senior co-captain Kenny Hasbrouck said. “That’s going to be a fun experience, we’ll take a lot of pictures, of course. And I heard the fans really get after you when you first step on the floor. The way coach was talking, that’s the loudest gym you can play in, so we’ll see.”

“They’re an impressive team, and it’s a tough place to play,” Siena head coach Fran McCaffery said. “I’ve been there. It’s a great opportunity. Phenomenal program and facility, great fans. In terms of an environment that can intimidate you, it’s probably the most intim­idating place to play in the country because of how loud it is.”

The Jayhawks (10-3) are unranked, but defeated Tennessee, 92-85, at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, after torching UAlbany, 79-43, last Tuesday at Allen.

The Saints lost to Tennessee, 78-64, at the Old Spice Classic in November.

Kansas has been something of a two-headed monster looking for some support players to make a bigger impact. Junior guard Sherron Collins is averaging 17.6 points per game, and 6-foot-11, 245-pound sophomore center Cole Aldrich is averaging 14.6 points and 9.6 rebounds a game, and has 35 blocks in 13 games.

Aldrich could pose the bigger problem for the Saints, since their front line has been depleted by a stomach bug that has run through the team in the last week.

After receiving IV treatment, Duell dressed for the Saint Peter’s game, but didn’t play, and starting center Ryan Rossiter was absent from the Times Union building.

Both were expected to make the trip to Lawrence, Kansas, but it’s questionable how effective they’ll be. Duell said he was feeling better on Sunday. The Saints were scheduled to fly from Albany International Airport at 6 Monday morning, and practice at 7 p.m.

“I’ve seen them before. I know Collins is amazing. Aldrich is their leading player,” Hasbrouck said. “I know their best two, and they’ve got some great role players, they’ve got a couple shooters, a couple real good rebounders.“

Duell warned that Siena needs to keep Kansas from getting sustained runs, like Tennessee did at the end of the first half against the Saints. Once the Jayhawks get rolling, that only gets the crowd into more of a frenzy.

“I hit two threes against them [for Vermont], one to put us up one with three minutes to play, and I hit one in the first half, too,” he said. “The first one really quieted them, because they were on a run. I remember that game like it was yesterday. That was my first college game. Kansas can get out early on you, so we’re going to have to be careful of those runs.”

“For us, I look at it as a great opportunity to measure our ability to stay composed on the road,” McCaffery said. “That’s what it is, a challenge. Everybody knows how good they are, and everybody knows how many games they’ve won over the years, and now we have to go out on that floor, in that environment and perform without making mistakes, and stay after it and stay attentive to the gameplan.

“I think we have an experienced enough team to do that. It’ll all depend on how many bodies we have available. The worry wouldn’t be bringing energy, it would be sustaining energy.”

Categories: College Sports

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