Saints need to get meaner

When Jimmy Patsos was hired to be Siena’s head coach, he had a five-year plan for the program, and a

In the empty Siena lockerroom after Saturday’s 74-71 MAAC quarterfinal loss to Iona, Jimmy Patsos rattled off names of former Maryland and Loyola players that he had coached.

It was an assassin’s list, guys like Steve Blake, Juan Dixon, Steve Francis, Laron Profit, Gerald Brown, Andre Collins, Brett Harvey . . .

When it was suggested that he was leaving out Loyola’s Robert Olson, Patsos really got in a lather.

“Bobby, geez, that guy was angry coming out of the WOMB!” he said. “You made a three on him, you were not making the next one. He was picking you up fullcourt. He was going into the other team’s timeouts and walking up to guys trying to start a fight.”

When Patsos was hired to be Siena’s head coach, he had a five-year plan for the program, and after Year 2, one vital ingredient that is still missing is the kind of in-your-face defense that was a trademark of his good Loyola teams.

The roster won’t be gutted by graduation, he’s bringing in a nice recruiting class and two key players who were injured essentially for the whole season — Brett Bisping and Imoh Silas — intend to use their fifth year of eligibility and come back. That’s big, especially the return of Bisping, someone the Saints sorely missed in a variety of ways.

Beyond personnel, though, Siena really needs to get a tougher team-wide mentality, one that will make them a pain in the butt to play.

That’s manifested most tellingly in Siena’s poor defense at the three-point line, which was illustrated in stark relief on Saturday, when top-seeded Iona jacked up 28 of them and made 10.

It’s no consolation that, on the game-deciding three, sophomore point guard Marquis Wright actually was up in A.J. English’s face at the end of the shot clock.

The ball nestled into the basket with a little bit of rim contact, anyway, to give the Gaels a 72-67 lead with 35 seconds left. A.J. English will do that to you.

“Sometimes, that comes down to a little bit of inner anger,” Patsos said of guarding the three-point line effectively.

Yes, the Saints need to get angrier next year.

Patsos knows he can rely on Bisping for much of that, but it needs to be universally displayed throughout the lockerroom.

“Brett was the one last year who said, ‘We’re not losing to Fresno. We’re beating Penn State [in the CBI].’ I can’t always be the guy saying that,” Patsos said.

The Saints seesawed back down to an 11-20 record one year after going 21-18 and winning the CBI tournament in Patsos’ first season.

Injuries had a big part to do with that, but Patsos said the record was “not acceptable,” no matter how close the team may be to becoming what he envisions for it.

Overachievement last year led to what will be considered underachievement this year, since the Saints were picked second in the conference during the preseason (can we finally shovel some dirt on preseason rankings dictating expectations? Pretty please?)

“I was in a league with Duke and Carolina. Now you finally get good. What do you want to do, temper expectations?” Patsos said. “I want people to be excited all year-round, I just have to make sure the players understand it, and I’m sure they do after this year. I want them to be excited, but I don’t want them to believe it’s just going to happen.”

Besides developing a harder shell in general, but specifically on defense, one of the top priorities for the Saints heading into next year is to figure out a way for Wright to play fewer minutes.

That may seem counterintuitive since he’s your point guard, he’s very good and can handle the load, but how long will he last if he barely ever gets a break?

“Marquis, what can you say? The miles on him already are unbelievable,” Patsos said. “So I’ve got to get him rested. I’ve got to get him some help. He doesn’t want to play 40 minutes a game. He wants to play 34 minutes. He knows his production is not always where it should be at 40 minutes.”

Bright spots for Siena were the further development of sophomore forward Lavon Long, even though he continues to be foul-prone, and the vast improvement in soph­omore center Javion Ogunyemi. The Troy High School graduate looked like a completely different player this season.

Patsos was critical of himself for not adjusting to the loss of Bisping well enough.

He said he should’ve just picked somebody to get a pile of minutes, warts and all, instead of fiddling with a bunch of different combinations searching for whatever was working best on a short-term basis.

“The one thing I should’ve done, for sure, was come up with a better plan quicker,” he said. “Like, we’re just going to live with Player A or Player B’s mistakes.

“Brett gets the ball, hands off, a guy is struggling with the shot clock and he sprints down the lane. They double-team Brett and he kicks it out. We just missed his fluidity.”

If it seems like a long time since Siena has made a deep run in the MAAC tournament, it’s because it has been a long time.

Perhaps we got a hint of things to come in the second half, when the Saints made a game of it against Iona, getting within two points of the No. 1 seed before the Gaels found just the right English at the end.

The crowd of 5,159 fell below expectations (sound familiar?), but gave the Saints a standing ovation as they headed off the court.

And the Saints deserved it. Not for the season, but for one half of toughness, anyway.

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