Siena finally dips its toe in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference waters tonight, the last of the 10 MAAC teams to play a conference game.
The Saints (5-3), picked almost unanimously to win the league, had an up-and-down start to the season heading into the 7:30 p.m. game at Iona; they’ll face the Gaels (0-1, 4-3) on the short but steep upswing of an 83-54 blowout of UAlbany in front of 12,960 at the Times Union Center on Saturday night.
“We started out last year exactly the same way,” senior point guard Ronald Moore said. “The beginning of the season is always rough. Things aren’t always as good as you want them to be. There’s kinks that you’re working out. And even tonight [Saturday], we feel like we could’ve played a better game.”
That’s some serious hair-splitting, because Siena played its best, most complete defensive game of the season, according to head coach Fran McCaffery, was sharp from three-point range and got a combined 23-for-34 (.676) shooting night from the four starters not named Edwin Ubiles, who is recovering from a knee injury.
Leading scorer Clarence Jackson returned to form after an off night in a 74-61 loss at Georgia Tech on Wednesday, Moore bolstered his national-best assist-per-game average and Alexander Franklin and Ryan Rossiter did their usual work near the basket.
One of McCaffery’s favorite stats from the UAlbany game was 36.4 percent from the field by the Great Danes in the second half.
“We gave up high shooting percentages in the second half of all three of our losses,” he said.
In fact, the Saints allowed Georgia Tech, St. John’s and Temple all to shoot at least 60 percent from the field. Siena led the Red Storm and Owls by five and six, respectively, at halftime, and missed several chances to lead the Yellow Jackets, going scoreless in the final four minutes of the first half and trailing by four on a last-second three-pointer.
By getting up by an insurmountable margin at halftime against the Great Danes, Siena was able to get Moore off the floor with 10 minutes left, something McCaffery has been trying to do, even though the speedy point guard is clearly capable of handling a heavy load of minutes.
“I’m always concerned with, if they make a run, I need him to be fresh,” McCaffery said. “A good example is the other night [against Georgia Tech]. They kept pressing us, just to wear down Ronald Moore. And everybody knows, you can’t wear him down, he just keeps coming. He also played 38 minutes.
“I was hoping to not have to do that, give Eddie some run at the point, because he’s going to have to play there some throughout the rest of the year, [Mike] Johnson was up in Eddie, that was good for Eddie, and I was able to rest Ronald.”
For a change, McCaffery went with Jonathan Breeden off the bench to take the point instead of Denzel Yard, who had been first choice among the two freshmen.
Breeden had one assist, one turnover and two steals in seven minutes.
Another freshman, 6-foot-8 forward O.D. Anosike, was also able to get some time, finishing with five rebounds in 16 minutes.
“I felt like Jonathan Breeden was playing better in practice, and he gave us some quality minutes and made some positive steps toward maybe getting some quality time as we move forward,” McCaffery said. “We’ve got to go on the road and play a game Monday night, a league game against a team that’s going to press. So I think, most importantly, we know we’re going to get pressure on Monday night, that’s why it was absolutely critical that Ronald Moore be rested.”
Ubiles, a preseason all-MAAC first-teamer, had another unremarkable game, statistically, scoring eight points on 3-for-12 shooting in 23 minutes.
He continues to wear a brace on his right knee and was not in uniform for the Georga Tech game, but said he’s getting better.
“I felt pretty good out there,” he said. “I was a little bit winded. I haven’t practiced in awhile, so I’m just trying to get back in shape where I was, and I’m looking forward to the next game.”
The MAAC teams have gotten off to a pretty good start, in general, with only improved Saint Peter’s (3-4) and 0-6 Marist showing sub-.500 overall records.
The Gaels won their first three, lost by four to Florida State and in overtime to Baylor, and are coming off a 56-54 loss to the Peacocks on Friday.
“Everybody knows how league games are,” Ubiles said. “Iona is a tough team to play. You’ve got to go down there, and you only have one day of preparation, so we’ve got to be really focused, get some rest and follow the gameplan.”
The Saints will get a breather after this game, with just a trip to Cedar Falls for a game at Northern Iowa on Saturday before resuming MAAC play at home against Rider on Dec. 23.
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Categories: College Sports