Starting power forward Alex Franklin picked up some awards this week, and Siena nudged its way further into the national picture by garnering three votes in the Associated Press poll and taking over the top RPI spot among BracketBusters road teams.
A quieter, but timely, development for the Saints was the strong play of two little-used bench players against Manhattan on Sunday.
With Edwin Ubiles still doubtful to play due to shoulder and back injuries, and top reserve Kyle Downey out with a broken foot, Siena needs all the help it can get from the bench.
The Saints got some in the form of Kyle Griffin and Jonathan Breeden against the Jaspers.
Griffin made his first four three-pointers in the first half, and the freshman point guard Breeden, limited by migraines recently and having appeared in just seven games this season, played seven solid minutes in the first half.
There’s no guarantee either will see much playing time when Siena (10-0 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, 17-4 overall) plays Saint Peter’s (7-3, 12-8) at 7 tonight at the Yanitelli Center. But the longer
the bench looks to head coach Fran McCaffery, the better he likes it, especially in light of how much Griffin, a La Salle transfer who has had two knee surgeries, has had to overcome.
“It’s a great feeling for me, because as I’ve said to you guys on a number of different occasions, I know how good he is,” McCaffery said. “We recruited him as hard as anybody we’ve recruited since I got here. I went to all his games the entire month of July, and to see him struggling physically, and then watching him work as hard as he has worked to get his body where it is and see him enjoy some success, that’s just a phenomenal feeling as a coach.”
Griffin made back-to-back threes on two occasions against Manhattan.
He had a total of five points in five previous appearances, then scored 12 in one half and played 25 minutes on Sunday.
Although he still hasn’t fully recovered, he said he’s starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“I’d say I’m very close to the point where I’m getting back to 100 percent,” Griffin said after the Manhattan game. “It’s been a struggle, so far, but I’m starting to feel good every day, and I hope I can continue to perform like I did today.”
“You could see it coming,” McCaffery said. “He kept saying, ‘I’m getting closer and closer.’ Boy, I’ll tell you, it gives us another weapon, because not only can he make threes, he’s just so cerebral out there. He gives you another veteran.”
Breeden hadn’t played much, and might not have played more than two minutes against Manhattan, but starting point guard Ronald Moore picked up his second foul with 5:25 left in the first half, so Breeden went right back in, less than a minute after coming out, and finished the half.
He dribbled out the final possession and made a pullup jumper, just his second field goal as a Saint, before the buzzer to give Siena a 35-28 lead.
“Jon practiced once in the last two weeks, with his headaches,” McCaffery said. “He’s feeling better, and we told him, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get ready.’ And he was terrific. I was really proud of him.”
Franklin, who averaged 24.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game in a pair of Siena wins, picked up his second MAAC player of the week award this season, and was also recognized as the ECAC co-player of the week.
Siena fell from No. 32 to 34 in the Ratings Percentage Index generated weekly by the NCAA, but moved up to the top spot in the pool of teams that will be playing road games in the ESPNU BracketBusters.
The top spots occupied by the corresponding home team pool are Northern Iowa, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth, but Siena won’t get a game against Northern Iowa, after playing the Panthers in the 2008-09 BracketBusters and a reciprocal game this season.
The BracketBusters pairings will be announced on Monday; game times and network assignments will be announced the following Monday.
Saint Peter’s is part of a three-team logjam tied for second in the MAAC, with Fairfield and Canisius.
The conference appears to be cannibalizing itself behind the Saints, with no clear-cut second-place team, but the Peacocks have certainly earned respect around the league.
“I thought they were going to be pretty good,” McCaffery said. “I think everybody thought they were going to be pretty good.
“They’re big and strong, and it’s not just in the four and five, they have big perimeter guys who can defend you.”
Siena won the first meeting, 64-53, on New Year’s Eve, when the Peacocks held the Saints to 21.4 percent from the field in the first half.
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