ALBANY — Coming off the bench for the first time this season, junior Nico Clareth helped spark the Siena College men’s basketball team to victory.
Or, as he sees it, Clareth helped the Saints cook up a winning recipe in his return to a sixth-man role.
“I guess I’m like the good seasoning,” Clareth said. “You got to wait for the good seasoning. You got to cook it up a little bit and then you throw the good seasoning in and it’s like ‘Boom.’”
In Siena’s 76-74 win Saturday against Robert Morris at Times Union Center, Clareth scored a team-high 20 points in 24 minutes. The junior, who won the MAAC Sixth Man of the Year award as a freshman, made 6 of 11 shots, all six of his free throws, and a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers at a critical stage of the game.
“Nico,” Siena junior Evan Fisher said, “came off the bench and did his thing.”
And a little more from Clareth, on what the @SienaMBB team has learned about itself through 7 games. pic.twitter.com/hWJbfjRibV
— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) December 2, 2017
In Siena’s loss Wednesday to St. Bonaventure, Clareth shot 2 of 10. The Siena co-captain said he had no issue with coming off the bench after starting the first six games of the season. He’s served as a reserve in 44 of 63 career games at Siena
“It’s worked in the past,” Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos said of the decision to move Clareth out of the starting lineup for the foreseeable future. “The most success he’s had is off the bench. Sometimes you just have to go back to basics, you know?”
Robert Morris (4-4) almost found a way to spoil a second win in three tries for Siena (2-5), which next plays Wednesday at Louisville. The Saints were ahead 60-46 after a pair of free throws from Clareth with 6:19 to go, but the Colonials didn’t quit. Robert Morris made 5 of 6 3s in the final three minutes — including one that banked into the basket with seconds to go, a shot from Robert Morris sophomore Dachon Burke for the last of his game-high 26 points.
“I mean,” Clareth said, “what can you do about some of those shots? It happens.”
While Robert Morris made things interesting during the final minutes, Siena made enough winning plays to survive. The Saints made 12 of 13 free throws in the final two minutes.
“Getting another win is huge,” said Fisher, who had five points and seven rebounds. “Having another close game and closing it out, we’ve learned a lot from that.”
Sophomore Ahsante Shivers scored 16 points for Siena, while freshmen Prince Oduro and Roman Penn each had 14. Oduro added seven rebounds, while Penn had a team-high nine.
For Shivers, Saturday’s game was the fourth time in Siena’s last five games he’s scored at least 13 points after only scoring nine points combined in Siena’s first two games. The sophomore sprained his left ACL in August and his conditioning was a concern coming into the season.
“I think it took me a minute to get back into the flow of things, get my strength back and get back in shape,” Shivers said.
“The longer he plays, the better shape he’s going to get in. He took six weeks off and he couldn’t do anything because it’s his knee — it’s not like it’s his ankle and he can ride a bike,” Patsos said. “In other words, that was like a no-movement injury for six weeks and he’s a bigger, huskier guy. So it definitely hurt him. It’s not like he gained 30 pounds — but he gained a few — but I thought he lost a little conditioning.”
Shivers, Siena’s second-leading scorer this season behind Clareth, said the decision to bring Clareth off the bench didn’t cause much commotion within the team’s locker room.
“I know Nico’s going to score a ton of points whether he’s [starting], off the bench, whatever,” Shivers said. “It doesn’t really make a difference. He’s going to always help the team.”
Clareth only played 24 minutes, but Patsos wanted to play him more. Clareth was unavailable at two different points for Siena, first because he lost a contact lens and then because of a bloodied left elbow.
Shortly after he returned with fresh contacts in his eyes, Clareth made 3s on back-to-back possessions to push a 48-44 Siena lead to 54-44. Clareth said his right contact had been knocked out when a Robert Morris player hit him in the face.
“Well, after they hit me in my face, I was a little upset,” Clareth said of his 3s. “And, yeah — I think that was really it.”
Overall, Patsos praised Clareth for an efficient effort in his return to a sixth-man role for the Saints.
“Maybe,” Patsos said, “some guys are born for certain roles.”
Cole 1-1 0-2 2, Thomas 3-11 0-2 6, Williams 5-9 0-0 15, Burke 9-19 5-9 26, McConnell 1-8 2-3 5, Petteway 4-8 3-3 11, Bain 0-2 0-0 0, Coalmon 4-9 0-0 9. Totals: 27-67 10-19 74.
Oduro 6-12 2-4 14, Fisher 2-4 0-0 5, Bentley 0-0 1-2 1, Penn 4-9 6-7 14, Shivers 6-13 3-3 16, Huerter 0-0 0-0 0, Richard 1-2 2-2 4, Horn 0-0 2-2 2, Clareth 6-11 6-6 20, Friday 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 25-52 22-27 76.
Halftime score: Siena 34, Robert Morris 26. Three-point shooting: Robert Morris 10-22 (Williams 5-7, Burke 3-4, McConnell 1-7, Coalmon 1-4), Siena 4-10 (Fisher 1-1, Penn 0-3, Shivers 0-3, Clareth 2-3). Rebounds: Robert Morris 34 (Petteway 12), Siena 41 (Penn 9). Assists: Robert Morris 12 (Williams 5), Siena 11 (Penn 4). Turnovers: Robert Morris 10, Siena 18. Total fouls: Robert Morris 21, Siena 13. Fouled out: None. Technicals: None. Attendance: 5,749.
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter. For more college basketball coverage, head to dailygazette.com/blogs/the-outlet.
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