Siena can be tenacious on defense, but keeps opponents off foul line

Out of 347 Division I teams in the country, Siena commits the fewest fouls, at 13.8 per game, which

In the last 12.9 seconds of regulation against Fairfield last Monday, Siena was a fouling machine.

Ronald Moore committed three fouls and Edwin Ubiles one.

Trying to prevent the Stags from setting up a good look at a game-winning shot, the Saints hacked away, and Fairfield freshman Colin Nickerson finally launched a tough three-pointer from the corner that bounced off the back iron as time expired.

The tie game was preserved, and Siena went on to win its third straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship in overtime.

The Saints would never have been in a position to burn clock like that unless they had fouls to give, which is an advantage they almost always have.

Out of 347 Division I teams in the country, Siena commits the fewest fouls, at 13.8 per game, which could be a big factor when the Saints play Purdue in the NCAA tournament at 2:30 p.m. on Friday in Spokane, Wash.

Head coach Fran McCaffery relies heavily on his starting five, and the fact that the Saints’ philosophy is to avoid fouling allows him to keep them on the floor as much as possible.

“You have to have your key guys out there,” he said. “We don’t have the philosophy that a lot of teams employ, which is, you get the ball near the basket, we’re going to chop you. We don’t do that.

“If you drive, we put our hands up and contest and try to make you finish against a contesting defense. We don’t slap and chop indiscriminately, we try to keep the ball in front of us and not on the side. Then there’s not as much penetration. And we’re a good rebounding team, so you don’t get as many second-shot opportunities, which is where a lot of fouls come.”

Only two Siena players have fouled out this season, junior center Ryan Rossiter (three times) and backup forward Owen Wignot (twice).

The Saints aren’t the greatest free-throw shooting team on the planet, at .670, but Siena takes so many more than its opponents that it’s an important part of the offense.

Siena averages 15.7 points per game from the line and has made 519 free throws, over 100 more than its opponents have even attempted.

Senior power forward Alex Franklin has almost a third of Siena’s attempts, at 243.

“Really, the only one who was in foul trouble, [Ronald] Moore once, I remember, and Franklin a couple times, and when he was in foul trouble was when we came out aggressive and were trapping, and he would chest-bump a guy on a double-team, and he’d get called for it,” McCaffery said. “The other thing is, with our press, we don’t have to be overly aggressive, we can play it to contain and trap at the appropriate time. With

experience, they know when to trap and when to get back and get underneath.”

That can be a tricky balance, pressing and trapping without picking up fouls.

It also takes some measure of discipline to not attack somebody who’s taking it to the rim, but Siena starts three seniors and two juniors, and they’re experienced and intelligent enough to not give up too many cheap fouls.

“I don’t know, I guess we’re soft,” Rossiter joked. “We try not to commit stupid fouls. If a guy’s got a layup, we might foul, but we’re not taught that. Some coaches preach no layups; coach McCaffery doesn’t.”

“Being a post player, sometimes when they get inside, you might want to try a cheap shot or something, but I try to stay on the court as much as I can,” Franklin said. “It’s something we take pride in and helps us out.

“Adrenaline, you’ve got to fight all that. You just have to play smart. If I don’t have any fouls, maybe I’m going to be more aggressive. If I have two, I’m not going to be as aggressive, because I don’t want that third one.”

Moore didn’t foul out against Fairfield, despite committing three in a span of 10 seconds at the end of regulation.

The Stags still weren’t in the bonus, so Ubiles went ahead and was able to grab the ballhandler with 1.4 seconds left.

Fairfield inbounded from near halfcourt, and got a pretty good shot under the circumstances, but Nickerson couldn’t hit it.

“The first one [foul] was great, they inbounded to the backcourt, so we were able to take essentially half of the clock with the first foul,” McCaffery said. “I was really worried on the last one, because it was sort of close enough, where you catch and shoot, and then with 1.4, I didn’t think they had much of a shot at it.

“They got probably about as good a shot as you can get with 1.4, but it wasn’t in rhythm, and it was really contested. When you’re the defensive team, you want them to take a highly contested shot. If Nickerson makes a one-legged fadeaway from the corner with a guy in his face who’s taller than him, well . . .”

Rossiter, who is 6-foot-9, has 35 blocked shots, which might not seem like a lot, but he’s been coached to stay on his feet and use his long arms to bother shots.

He doesn’t foul very often because he’s good at keeping his arms vertical instead of reaching out at the shooter.

“The one thing that Ryan got better at as the season went on, he would get in and ‘fence’, but when he would get big, a lot of times they would go around him,” McCaffery said. “And then he wouldn’t foul, and that’s what he was instructed to do.

“Sometimes, they would make a layup, and what can else can he do? Well, what he can do is move his feet. As the season progressed, he would anticipate that continued penetration, and then move his feet. Because he’s a hard guy to score over. He’s really long.”

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