Oh, boy, here comes Iona again.
Reinforcements are on the way, though, and even if sophomore forward Trenity Burdine will need a few weeks to get back in game shape, things are looking up for the Siena basketball team.
Burdine, who was expected to start this year, hasn’t practiced or played all season because of a nagging foot injury.
He finally participated in a full-contact practice on Saturday, and probably won’t be in uniform for the Saints’ 7 p.m game today against the surging Gaels at the Times Union Center, but at least he’s
finally making progress.
Head coach Mitch Buonaguro said Burdine’s availability, as always, will depend on how his foot is holding up. The possibility of a redshirt still exists, and if Burdine doesn’t start playing soon, he faces wasting a year of eligibility just to get in a few games at the end of the season.
“He was excited about practice, and we were excited about having him,” Buonaguro said. “It was his first practice of the year, basically. He looked good, he drove it pretty well, hit a couple of threes. We sure need him.”
It’s a tired old story for the Saints (3-5 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, 8-10 overall), how they’ve played short-handed all season because of injuries and ineligible players.
They will continue to do so, but getting the 6-foot-6 small forward Burdine back is a nice boost, even if it’s only for practice.
Burdine had done some light five-on-five work, but his foot continued to bother him.
On Saturday, he was able to cut and jump with full range of motion, Buonaguro said.
“He went through everything,” Buonaguro said. “We practiced for an hour and 15 minutes, and we went pretty hard.”
Aches and pains have begun to creep into the regular players, leading to some missed practices for junior forward OD Anosike (sore back) and senior guard Kyle Downey (knee tendinitis).
But relief on the practice floor has come in more than just the form of Burdine.
Rakeem Brookins, the starter at point guard last year as a freshman, came back to practice this week. He’s still out for the season after suffering herniated and bulging disks in his back during the preseason, but getting him on the floor for workouts has made Siena a better practice team.
At times, the Saints have resorted to using assistant coaches in practice because they’ve been so short on bodies.
“It makes practice a lot more productive,” Buonaguro said. “It’s been really hard on the road. We can’t bring the Africans [Imoh Silas and Lionel Gomis], ‘Rahk’ doesn’t make the trips and sometimes we only have seven, eight guys.”
Siena will need all the help it can get against Iona (7-1, 15-4), which seems intent on separating itself from Loyola and Manhattan at the top of the MAAC standings.
The Gaels are coming off a 91-71 dismantling of Rider, and blew the doors off Siena, 95-59, at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 3.
The Saints won three straight after that, but they’ve lost the first two of three straight against the top teams in the conference and get the MAAC leader tonight.
“I don’t think there’s any after-effects [from the MSG game],” Buonaguro said. “We bounced back pretty well. We do have a tough stretch here against the top of the league. Depth is alwys going to be an issue for us, so we have to try to control the tempo and hang in there until we get to the point where we have a chance to win the game.”
Iona point guard Scott Machado is one of the best point guards in the country, and he’s surrounded by offensive talent, including the leading scorer in the conference, power forward Mike Glover (19.1 points per game), and shooting guard Momo Jones, who is seventh in the MAAC, at 15.4 ppg.
Sean Armand came off the bench and destroyed Siena at the Garden, making 10 of 19 three-pointers.
“We have the benefit of having played them once, but they obviously have a ton of offensive weapons,” Buonaguro said. “The three killed us, so we have to be more in tune with taking the three away. But they have a lot of ways to beat you. They’ve got Glover inside, and Machado is playing at a very high level.
We have to control the tempo. There’s no way we can run with them. We have to keep it at a manageable tempo.”
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