Siena, UAlbany men seek better play

Siena and UAlbany renew their rivalry tonight

Two local Division I basketball programs off to unexpected slow starts collide in one of the Capital Region’s fiercest — and best-attended — rivalries, as Siena hosts University at Albany in the annual Albany Cup tonight at 7:30 at the Times Union Center.

The men’s game completes a double-header, with the Siena and UAlbany women’s teams squaring off at 5.

UAlbany has won the last two Albany Cups and three of the last four, but Siena holds a 9-4 edge in the Division I era.

(Here’s a look at the UAlbany and Siena series through the years.)

Both UAlbany (2-6), winner of the last two America East Conference championships, and Siena (3-4), the defending Collegiate Basketball Invitational titlist returning virtually its entire roster from a year ago, are not playing up to expectations, so far. Siena is without two key players, Imoh Silas (out for the season with a torn ACL) and Brett Bisping (out for at least eight weeks with a dislocated toe), while UAlbany has nine new players on its roster.

Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos is only in his second season with the Saints, but he has already bought into the rivalry.

“This is why you coach,” he said earlier in the week at the Saints’ weekly media luncheon. “Xavier and Cincinnati is one of the great games. Maryland and Georgetown, and then they stopped playing. To get 10,000 people or above, the schools are this close. They both want to win, and there’s an actual cup on the line. It’s exciting. I really like this game. There is no doubt it’s important to the community, and it remains that way.”

Siena veterans and newcomers alike are also ready for the big game.

“The fact that we lost to them, it’s been sitting on our minds for a year. It’s very frustrating,” said sophomore center Javion Ogunyemi, a Troy High graduate who is well aware of what the rivalry means to the area. “My senior year [at Troy] was my first time going to watch it, and I didn’t realize how many people were there. Then, last year, playing in it for the first time, it’s just two different feelings. When you see all the fans, it’s just great for the community and great for both schools.”

Willem Brandijk, a freshman from the Netherlands who is playing a larger role for the Saints now that Bisping is out, can’t wait.

“The first thing I heard is that there’s going to be a lot of people there, which is very exciting,” he said. “And the next thing is that it’s two great teams and a great rivalry and atmosphere. I can’t wait to play.

“To be honest, you hear it a lot on campus from the other students, too, like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to win this year.’ So I think we’re all ready and know our jobs.”

UAlbany head coach Will Brown, who has coached the Great Danes in every Division I version of the local matchup, agreed that this game is one of the most exciting on his schedule, but he is more concerned about the way his team is playing right now.

“We have to play better,” he said. “We have to play tougher defense whether we’re shooting well or not. We can’t let the other team shoot 50 percent

over and over again. We have shown flashes, but if we don’t play good defense and get some stops, we can’t run.”

Brown said he is starting over again with some basic fundamentals on defense.

“It starts with our perimeter defense right off the dribble,” he said. “We have nine new guys. We’re trying to be scout-specific, but I think we need to be more vanilla with our defensive schemes so everyone knows what to do. We’ve just got to guard every guy hard so there is no uncertainty.”

Brown thinks the keys to the game could be UAlbany’s Sam Rowley, a rugged senior forward, and sophomore point guard Marquis Wright for the Saints.

“Obviously, I like Rowley for us up front. I’m not sure who will play him for Siena. I think we can have an advantage with Sam inside,” Brown said.

“On the other side, we’ve got to keep Marquis Wright out of the lane. If we let him penetrate and find his players inside, we could be in trouble.”

Siena also respects what the Great Danes bring to the table.

“They’re just a tough team,” said senior guard Rob Poole, who tops the Saints at 14 ppg. “They rebound, they’re big, strong guys, and I think it’s a little different game. They have a lot of Australian players that we don’t see much and bring a different style of game that we’re not used to.”

“They’re tough,” added Patsos of the Great Danes. “[Peter] Hooley’s tough. He just keeps coming and keeps bringing it. Sam’s a great rebounder and knows how to play. But [Evan] Singletary’s good, and I know [Greig] Stire’s going to want to play from across the street [CBA].”

Categories: College Sports

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