ALBANY — Back home, finally, the Siena men’s basketball team looked the part it was expected to play this season.
Fifth-year senior Elijah Burns and junior Manny Camper dominated inside, redshirt sophomore Don Carey and sophomore Jalen Pickett took care of business on the perimeter, and the Saints got enough from the rest of their cast as they snapped a four-game losing streak with an 81-71 win Saturday against Bucknell at Times Union Center.
“We’re still getting better. We’re still learning how to win games,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said after his team’s first home game in 39 days and its first game at all since Dec. 7. “I thought we did a great job down the stretch executing.”
At times, Siena (3-5) looked like it wouldn’t need to make any key crunch-time plays against Bucknell (4-8). The Saints led by a dozen points at halftime and built their lead to as many as 18 points early in the second half, but Bucknell was able to get within two possessions of Siena with less than four minutes to go. After Bucknell got within 70-64, though, Burns split a pair of free throws and then made a layup off a pass from Carey to put Siena up nine points, and the Saints maintained at least a three-possession lead for the final 3:30.
Burns led Siena throughout Saturday’s game. The Troy native scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed eight rebounds on a night that saw the Saints outscore Bucknell 63-33 in the 24:19 Burns played.
“When he’s playing like that, with that type of energy, we’re hard to beat,” Pickett said.
Burns scored 18 of his points in the first half that saw Siena emerge from with a 43-31 lead. His individual numbers, though, didn’t mean much to him.
“If I had 18 in the first half and we lost, it wouldn’t matter,” said Burns, who made 10 of 13 shots from the field and 8 of 9 from the foul line. “Numbers are numbers, but I want to win the game at the end of the day, because that’s the most important thing — always.”
Besides Burns, Camper had his fourth double-double of the season with 15 points and 14 rebounds, while Carey and Pickett each scored a dozen points. Freshman Jordan King added a career-high 10 points off the bench.
For Bucknell, junior Jimmy Sotos had 23 points and seven rebounds. Like Siena, Bucknell was playing its first game since Dec. 7; that night, Bucknell topped UAlbany 65-64.
Overall, the Saints made 29 of 35 free throws as they attacked the basket throughout the night. It only did so sparingly, but Siena also had success when it shot from downtown, and Pickett credited the Saints making 6 of 13 3-pointers to its commitment to utilizing Burns.
“That gives us open shots,” Pickett said. “We actually shot it pretty well from 3 because we were able to throw it down low and then get feet-set 3s.”
It was concerning, though, how Siena struggled with Burns off the court. The Saints were outscored 33-15 in the 13:29 that senior Sammy Friday — Burns’ primary backup — played, and Maciariello signaled the team could try to play without a traditional big if that trend continues.
“Maybe we play a little smaller and Manny plays some 5,” Maciariello said, “and we run some different-type actions to just space teams out.”
Siena plays Canisius in its MAAC opener Monday at Times Union Center before completing its non-conference season with a game against Holy Cross. That quick turnaround will test Burns who struggled in the second game of the Siena’s only previous two-games-in-three-days stretch, as well as the rest of the Saints since Saturday’s game was only the team’s fourth in a span of 39 days.
The win against Bucknell improved Siena’s home record to 3-0, as all of its losses were suffered on the road. The Saints play their next three games at home, so the opportunity is there for them to push their overall record in the right direction before they attempt again to secure their first road win of the season.
More important than their record, Maciariello said, is that the Saints need to continue to develop. The team’s four-game losing streak wasn’t a reason to panic, but did serve as a reminder that Siena is far from a finished product.
“I think we’ve got to be able to just keep getting these guys to grow,” Maciariello said.
“We’re still learning,” Pickett said, “and we have a lot of time left in this season.”
Moore 1-6 0-0 2, Newman 3-5 2-2 8, Sotos 8-17 3-4 23, Funk 4-8 0-0 10, Toomer 2-6 0-1 5, Meeks 5-10 2-2 12, Rice 2-3 0-0 4, Timmerman 1-3 0-0 2, Ellis 2-4 0-0 5, Rhodes 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 28-63 7-9 71.
Burns 10-13 8-9 28, Carey 2-1 8-8 12, Camper 3-5 7-8 15, Hein 0-1 0-2 0, Pickett 5-12 0-0 12, Harris 1-3 0-0 2, Friday 0-0 1-2 1, King 2-5 4-4 10, Young 0-1 1-2 1. Totals: 23-51 29-35 81.
Halftime score: Siena 43, Bucknell 31. Three-point shooting: Bucknell 8-24 (Moore 0-1, Sotos 4-9, Funk 2-5, Toomer 1-3, Meeks 0-2, Timmerman 0-1, Ellis 1-3), Siena 6-13 (Burns 0-1, Carey 0-3, Camper 2-2, Pickett 2-4, Harris 0-1, King 2-2). Rebounds: Bucknell 28 (Sotos, Meeks 7), Siena 38 (Camper 14). Assists: Bucknell 10 (Sotos 3), Siena 11 (Carey, Camper 3). Turnovers: Bucknell 13, Siena 15. Total fouls: Bucknell 27, Siena 17. Fouled out: Newman, Toomer. Attendance: 5,505.