ALBANY — The final score showed another double-digit winning margin for the Siena men’s basketball team, but Sunday’s 74-62 win against Holy Cross wasn’t an easy one for the Saints to secure.
But they earned it. The effort to do that was far from perfect and left head coach Carmen Maciariello’s squad with plenty to work on as it heads into 2020, but the way the Saints secured their fourth double-digit win of the season provided them a valuable experience from which to grow.
“Sometimes,” Maciariello said, “you’ve got to win ugly.”
So the Saints did that. Playing against a one-win opponent at Times Union Center, Siena weathered a tough offensive second half with a strong defensive effort, then made enough plays late to make sure it moved to 5-5 on the season. For the Saints, it’s the first time since the 2015-16 season that they are at least .500 through their first 10 games.
Siena led 45-37 after a first half in which the teams combined to make 33 of 53 shots in a fast-paced opening 20 minutes, but a combination of cold shooting from the field and Holy Cross switching its defense back and forth between man-to-man and zone helped change the game’s tempo in favor of the Crusaders in a second half in which they were only down five points with less than three minutes to go.
“The biggest thing they did was slow the game down. They know we like to play in transition, so they slowed it down,” Siena junior Manny Camper said. “But we’re a resilient team. . . . We adjusted, and we were effective down the stretch.”
Especially for one key sequence of possessions right after Holy Cross cut Siena’s lead to 63-58. Right after that, sophomore Jalen Pickett buried a jump shot off a pass from fifth-year senior Elijah Burns. Following a defensive stop, redshirt sophomore Don Carey found Burns for a bucket, then a Burns steal led to a Carey basket to put Siena up 69-58. From there, the Saints maintained at least a nine-point lead the rest of the way.
“When it got close like that, we knew we just had to close,” Pickett said. “That was a good learning experience for us.”
Pickett had 21 points on 9 of 13 shooting, plus added six rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals in a turnover-free 38 minutes for the Saints, while Burns had 17 points.
Meanwhile, Carey had a career-high 22 points on 7 of 17 shooting. Carey scored 16 of his points in the first half, during which he made 4 of 9 3-pointers against the Holy Cross zone defense.
“Coach has stressed inside-out 3s, so we were getting penetration and Jalen was making the right pass,” Carey said. “So I just shot the ball in rhythm.”
Camper had 10 rebounds for his sixth game this season with at least that many, but the junior only scored five points. Camper made 1 of 3 shots from the field and 3 of 9 from the foul line.
For Holy Cross (1-12), freshman Joe Pridgen had 17 points and nine rebounds.
The Saints, winners of three in a row following a four-game losing streak, next play Friday against Monmouth in a MAAC matchup. Siena is already 1-0 in the MAAC, and Maciariello wants the Saints to remember how they used their defense and late-game offensive execution in their non-conference finale as they head fully into league play.
“This team could be as good as we want to be if we continue to work hard and understand that every possession on that defensive end matters,” Maciariello said. “If we can continually stop people and keep the ball in front of us, we’ll be fine.”
Niego 5-9 0-0 12, Hargis 4-10 0-0 8, Pridgen 8-16 1-2 17, Wade 3-6 0-0 9, Butler 4-10 2-2 11, Faw 2-3 1-2 5, Le Sann 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 26-55 4-6 62.
Burns 8-9 1-1 17, Carey 7-17 4-4 22, Camper 1-3 3-9 5, Hein 1-2 0-0 2, Pickett 9-13 1-1 21, Harris 2-7 0-1 5, King 1-3 0-0 2, Friday 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 29-54 9-16 74.
Halftime score: Siena 45, Holy Cross 37. Three-point shooting: Holy Cross 6-16 (Niego 2-4, Hargis 0-2, Pridgen 0-1, Wade 3-5, Butler 1-3, Faw 0-1), Siena 7-18 (Carey 4-10, Pickett 2-3, Harris 1-3, King 0-2). Rebounds: Holy Cross 30 (Pridgen), Siena 30 (Camper 10). Assists: Holy Cross 11 (Butler 4), Siena 15 (Pickett 6). Turnovers: Holy Cross 13, Siena 9. Total fouls: Holy Cross 19, Siena 8. Fouled out: Faw. Attendance: 6,202.