Elijah Burns didn’t care much to discuss his career-best scoring night. Saturday night’s 81-71 win against Bucknell for the Siena men’s basketball team, Burns said, was the only achievement that mattered.
The fifth-year senior was similarly disinterested that night in looking back at how he’d struggled in the second game of the Saints’ first two-games-in-three-days stretch earlier this season.
“I’m not even thinking about that game,” Burns said after scoring 28 points and grabbing eight rebounds against Bucknell. “It’s so long ago. I’m just focused on Monday night.”
“That game” was a three-point loss at Harvard in mid-November in which Burns had five points and two rebounds in 24 minutes two days after he had 19 points and five rebounds in 29 minutes in a win against St. Bonaventure. How Burns would react to playing multiple games in a three-day stretch was an area of concern for Siena, which has tried to make sure Burns — who dealt with several injuries during his years at Notre Dame before transferring to Siena last season — has extra rest when possible this season, whether that means keeping his minutes manageable in games or giving Burns a practice off here and there.
And “that game” is relevant right now since Siena plays its MAAC opener at 6 p.m. Monday against Canisius at the Times Union Center, and the Saints looked Saturday like different teams when Burns was on the court vs. when he was off of it against Bucknell.
- Burns on the court: Siena outscored Bucknell 63-33 in 24:19.
- Burns off the court: Bucknell outscored Siena 38-18 in 15:41.
While Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello left open the possibility the Saints could try to play smaller when Burns is off the court in the future, Siena kept a traditional big on the floor for nearly all of Saturday’s win. Mostly, that player was senior Sammy Friday, who played 85.7% of the minutes that Burns didn’t against Bucknell.
Siena was outscored 33-15 in Friday’s minutes. Sophomore Jalen Pickett, though, said that blame for Siena’s struggles with Burns off the court didn’t rest solely with one player, and that the Saints are still figuring out how to play around their different bigs — whether it be Burns, Friday or freshman Kyle Young — on the court.
“Sammy Friday’s been working really hard and he’s good,” Pickett said. “We’ve just got to try to find things that work well for Sam.”
The best version of this season’s Siena team, though, includes Burns on the court as much as possible. The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 16 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, and provides the Saints with a vocal leader. Maciariello said he was “happy” Burns only played 24 minutes against Bucknell with a league game looming, and Burns said he’d use Sunday to focus on taking care of his body.
“And,” Burns said, “I’ll be ready to go on Monday night.”
HEIN SPORTS MASK
His protective mask only arrived a few days ago, so Siena fifth-year senior Matt Hein wore it as much as possible in advance of Saturday’s game. He took it home with him after practices and kept it on, with a few brief exceptions, Saturday night starting a little more than an hour before tip-off through the game’s conclusion. With a laugh, he said he’d keep working at getting used to the mask meant to protect him after he broke his nose Dec. 7 at Cal Poly, but wouldn’t go as far as sleeping with it on his face.
“It’s a little sweaty,” Hein said, “so that might be a little uncomfortable.”
Hein’s mask is kept in place with straps that run both above and below his ears. Throughout Saturday’s game in which he played 29 minutes, he tried his best to ignore the mask’s presence and help the Saints snap their four-game losing streak.
“We’re back in the win column,” Hein said, “and it’s on to Canisius.”
While Siena is 3-5, Canisius brings a 5-5 mark into its MAAC opener. Canisius has lost three of its last four games.
“Conference games are huge, but it’s like any other game, too,” Hein said. “We’ve got to focus and we have to pay attention to all the little details.”
After a solid debut, freshman Jordan King struggled with his shot for a stretch of games.
Or, to be more accurate, King struggled to take the right shots.
Maciariello said he’s emphasized to King to look for his 3-point shot in transition settings and when he can fire away after receiving a pass with his feet already set. The freshman scored a career-high 10 points against Bucknell, made both of his 3-point attempts and was on the court during key moments down the stretch for the Saints.
“His confidence is why he’s at Siena, and my confidence in him is why he’s at Siena,” Maciariello said of the walk-on from Albany who played high school basketball at CBA. “He’s very coachable. He plays hard. He works hard. And he’s growing, and that’s what this ball club is doing.”
On the season, King has made 8 of 27 shots from 3-point territory. King made 2 of 3 long-range shots in Siena’s opener, shot a combined 3 of 20 from downtown in Siena’s next five games, and has made 3 of 4 in the team’s last two games.