ALBANY — Back in the fourth game of the season, Siena’s final meaningful offensive possession went nowhere. That late-game play in a three-point loss at Harvard started with the ball in sophomore Jalen Pickett’s hands in a pick-and-roll setting, but ended with redshirt sophomore Don Carey attempting — unsuccessfully — to make something out of nothing after the play went awry.
Move forward to Monday night. A handful of games later, the Saints found themselves in a similar spot in their MAAC men’s basketball opener against Canisius at Times Union Center. Canisius junior Majesty Brandon had just hit his latest 3-pointer to put his team up two, and Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello motioned for his players to attack rather than take a timeout.
This time, Pickett used the screen from fifth-year senior Elijah Burns, patiently kept his dribble to allow the play to develop and made the pass to a waiting Burns behind the 3-point line for an open shot.
A few seconds later, Siena was celebrating its 73-72 win after Burns — recognized Monday as the MAAC Player of the Week — drained the long-range shot and Canisius senior Malik Johnson’s attempted game-winner was off the mark.
“I thought we learned. Right? Everyone wants to talk about the non-conference schedule, well, that was the same action that happened against Harvard, and we didn’t make the right read,” Maciariello said after his team’s second win in three days. “I’m not calling a timeout when a team scores a basket so they can set their defense. I’m letting our guys make plays. . . . So, when it’s all said and done, that non-conference game against Harvard got us ready to win this game and now we’re 1-0 in the MAAC.”
Siena made plays throughout Monday’s second half, which saw the Saints start down 11 points. Siena (1-0 MAAC, 4-5 overall) scored the first 11 points of the second half to tie it at 41, then battled with Canisius (0-1, 5-6) the rest of the night in a game that saw neither team lead by more than four points in the final 18:48.
At the end, it came down to which team could make one more play than another. After a Pickett free throw put Siena up 70-69 in the final minute, Brandon — a reserve — scored the last of his game-high 30 points with a 3 to put Canisius up 72-70 with 14.7 seconds to go. Pickett wasted no time getting up the court, then found Burns for the game-winning shot that swished through with 7.4 seconds to go.
“Two [defenders] came to the ball and [Pickett] made the right read,” Maciariello said, “and Elijah had confidence to knock it down.”
“I came off [the screen], and I realized two guys stayed with me and Elijah popped open,” Pickett said. “And I’m confident in his ability to stretch the floor and knock down open shots, so I just looked back and he was there, wide open, so I gave it to him and I knew he was going to make it.”
Burns didn’t hesitate to fire away, and he had plenty of time to take the feet-set 3.
“We didn’t want to let [Pickett] come off [the screen] clean, but we missed an assignment, too,” Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “We’ll have to talk to our guys about that. We missed a rotation.
“But,” Witherspoon continued, “it’s a big shot he hit with all that on the line. He’d been scoring around the basket, and for him to step away and hit that 3, it was big.”
The game-winning shot was Burns’ lone attempt from 3-point range of the night. The 6-foot-8 forward finished with 16 points, Pickett had 22 points, six rebounds and five assists, and junior Manny Camper collected his fifth double-double of the season with 11 points and 14 rebounds. Carey added 10 points, all scored during a first-half stretch in which he scored 10 consecutive points for the Saints.
Besides Brandon who made 7 of 10 3s as part of his career-high scoring night, Canisius received 15 points from junior Scott Hitchon.
Siena will finish its non-conference schedule with a game Sunday against Holy Cross, a matchup into which the Saints bring plenty of momentum.
“Just love their heart. Love their determination, their work ethic and their will to win — and that’s what we did,” Maciariello said. “We willed this to a win.”
Fritz 3-4 0-0 6, Hitchon 5-10 4-4 15, Ahemed 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 3-13 1-2 7, Harried 3-8 1-2 8, Brandon 11-22 1-1 30, Brown 1-1 0-0 2, White 1-2 2-4 4. Totals: 27-60 9-13 72.
Burns 6-12 3-4 16, Carey 4-8 0-0 10, Camper 5-11 1-1 11, Hein 1-3 0-0 2, Pickett 9-18 1-2 22, Harris 2-5 1-1 5, King 1-6 0-0 2, Friday 1-2 3-5 5. Totals: 29-65 9-13 73.
Halftime score: Canisius 41, Siena 30. Three-point shooting: Canisius 9-22 (Hitchon 1-4, Johnson 0-4, Harried 1-3, Brandon 7-10, White 0-1), Siena 6-21 (Burns 1-1, Carey 2-4, Camper 0-1, Hein 0-2, Pickett 3-8, Harris 0-2, King 0-3). Rebounds: Canisius 29 (Harried 9), Siena 42 (Camper 14). Assists: Canisius 17 (Johnson 8), Siena 14 (Pickett 5). Turnovers: Canisius 12, Siena 16. Total fouls: Canisius 17, Siena 14. Attendance: 5,804.