Siena vs. Niagara: Saints begin battle for tourney seed

It’s just about crunch time in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and Siena faces a crucial gam

It’s just about crunch time in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and Siena faces a crucial game at Niagara tonight.

The objective now is to stay in the top six of the 10 MAAC teams to avoid having to play an extra game once the conference tournament starts, and Siena would make big strides toward that goal by beating the Purple Eagles at 7 at the Gallagher Center.

At 5-8, the Saints (10-13 overall) are in sixth and have Niagara and Saint Peter’s right on their heels at 4-9.

“This is very important, especially with only five games left,” head coach Mitch Buonaguro said. “Not only would it put us two games up on Niagara, but it would give us the tiebreaker against them, too.”

Siena defeated the Purple Eagles, 72-60, on Jan. 8 at the Times Union Center.

Since their big win over first-place Iona, the Saints have lost three straight.

Siena is averaging 16.5 turnovers per game over the last six and face a team that usually plays a small, quick lineup.

“Our issue right now is turnovers,” Buonaguro said. “It could be fatigue, because a lot of them are unforced, maybe guys are trying to make plays they can’t make. We need to play a little smarter.”

Siena junior OD Anosike, the leading rebounder in the country, had a big game against the Purple Eagles in January, with 27 points and 14 rebounds.

He was 12-for-15 from the field.

“They go with four guards a lot, and they’re athletic, but they’re not a very big team,” Buonaguro said. “They’re more of a shot-blocking team than a physical team, and I think OD does well against teams like that.”

Anosike has been wrestling with a back problem for weeks, and Buonaguro has been careful to keep players out of practice if they’re nursing injuries, since the Saints are so short-handed and can’t afford any more injuries.

Buonaguro said he’ll continue to look for more opportunities to get freshman Marcus Hopper in the game to relieve some of his overtaxed players.

Siena leads the nation in average minutes played by the starting five.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Buonaguro said. “We’ve got some wear and tear, and you always worry about the freshmen. Evan [Hymes] has logged way too many minutes, but he’s held up well, and [Rob] Poole is logging about 28 minutes a game. OD’s back has been acting up for the last month. You try to be cautious with practice, but there’s not much you can do.”

Niagara is 9-16 overall and appeared to have some momentum on its side in January, when the Purple Eagles won three straight, but they’ve lost five straight.

That rough patch of schedule included four games against three of the top teams in the conference.

Freshman guards Juan’ya Green (16.7 points per game) and Antoine Mason (15.4) are fourth and seventh, respectively, in the MAAC in scoring.

“I think they’re playing better now,” Buonaguro said. “They’ve got a bunch of young guards who are getting better, especially Mason.

They can score.”

Single-session tickets for the MAAC tournament in Springfield, Mass., are on sale through TicketMaster.

All-session passes are available for $110, $250 (Club Seats) and $400 (VIP).

Categories: College Sports

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