Banged-up Saints, on 12-game run, keep finding ways to win

The Saints, 11-0 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and 18-4 overall, couldn’t be hotter, rid
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Funny how these cold snaps work.

Just as the temperatures have found their way back into the single digits and teens, Siena makes its way to Poughkeepsie to play one of the most frigid teams in the country, Marist College.

The Saints, 11-0 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and 18-4 overall, couldn’t be hotter, riding the nation’s longest winning streak at 12 games.

Siena has reached that state by staying in the moment, which becomes clear when you point out the streak to the Saints players:

“I wasn’t aware of it until just now,” senior power forward Alex Franklin said, laughing, after Siena won at Saint Peter’s on Thursday night. “But that’s a great accomplishment, and hopefully, we can continue to get some more.”

“Who lost now? Well, that’s a great accomplishment, and we’ll try and keep it going,” said point guard Ronald Moore, equally oblivious of the winning streak.

Siena, which will play the Red Foxes (0-11, 1-21) at the McCann Center at 4 p.m. in a game to be televised live on MSG, took over the lead for longest winning streak before playing Saint Peter’s, by virtue of losses by Northeastern and BYU.

The Saints haven’t lost since Dec. 12, when they were bounced at Northern Iowa.

Their closest scrapes with defeat since then have been an overtime win over Mount St. Mary’s and a six-point win over Loyola on Jan. 21 in which Siena played catchup all night.

With seven conference games left, including two against Marist, the Saints have a three-game lead over Fairfield and Iona, and a four-game lead over the Peacocks, who fell into third on Thursday.

The Saints don’t want to snap out of this nice run against the Red Foxes, who had Siena on the ropes at the McCann last year before Kyle Downey saved the day in overtime in place of Kenny Hasbrouck, who had fouled out.

Hasbrouck has graduated, Downey is out with a broken foot and senior small forward Edwin Ubiles is questionable with a shoulder injury that has kept him out of banged-up Siena’s last two games.

Franklin hurt his shoulder in the first half against Saint Peter’s and had to come out of the game twice to have it treated. He said he expects to be ready for Marist.

“It’s sore right now,” he said after the game. “I’ve just got to keep icing it, get some treatment. I’ll be all right, though.”

Marist, No. 339 of 347 Division I teams, according to www.RealtimeRPI.com, isn’t the coldest team in the country.

That distinction belongs to Alcorn State, which has lost all 21 of its games, including one against the University at Alb­any.

The Red Foxes’ only victory was by six points over Manhattan on Jan. 2.

Their season has unfolded in stark contrast to that of the 16-4 Marist women, who have won 12 straight for the third longest streak in the country behind UConn and Nebraska, and, like the Siena men, garnered three votes in this week’s Associated Press top 25 poll.

The Saints have to expect every road game from here on out to take on a postseason atmosphere, as opposing fans embrace the prospect of knocking off Siena. That’s what Siena faced at the rejuvenated Yan­itelli Center on Thursday, and it’s what the Saints believe they’ll see today, no matter how poorly Marist’s season has been going.

“It’s a rivalry game, we’re going down there and playing them and we know they’re going to come after us,” Moore said. “Even though they’ve been struggling so far this year, we can’t let this be the game that they break loose. Like we came in here [Saint Peter’s], we’ve got to have the same focus. It’s probably going to still be a great crowd down there.”

For better or worse, Siena’s injuries have provided an oppor­tunity for some bench players to get more playing time.

Freshman guard Jon Breeden got on the floor for the second game in a row — in the first half of a close game — La Salle transfer Kyle Griffin made an important three-pointer and freshman O.D. Anosike had six points on 3-for-5 shooting and three rebounds in 18 minutes, more than he would’ve played had Franklin not been hurt.

“The bench came up big,” Franklin said. “O.D. came off and played good minutes for me, and that’s all I can ask for.”

Griffin’s three gave Siena a 54-48 lead with 8:41 left and was brought up by head coach Fran McCaffery as one of the two most crucial baskets of the game, the other being Franklin’s tough driving layup with 36.2 seconds left that gave Siena a 60-56 lead.

It was the only three made in 10 attempts by Siena, as junior shooting guard Clarence Jackson stayed in a slump from behind the arc, missing four more. He has missed 19 straight since late in the first half against Manhattan three games ago.

Still, Jackson contributed in several other important areas against Saint Peter’s, scoring 15 points, making seven of 10 free throws and adding three rebounds and three steals with no turnovers to his stat line. He got the roll on two free throws with 4:28 left to give Siena a 58-54 lead, not long after Steven Samuels had shifted the momentum the Peacocks’ way by hitting back-to-back threes, and Jackson swished two with 28.4 seconds left for a 62-56 lead.

“I really felt like he was going to make those last two, which were two big ones,” McCaffery said.

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