ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Top-seeded Siena men’s basketball cruised through its 63-49 MAAC tournament quarterfinal win Wednesday against Manhattan, securing its spot in Friday’s semifinal back at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall with its 10th consecutive victory.
“Proud of our guys’ fight,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said. “Obviously, in a tournament setting like this, the first game is always key.”
When the Saints return to the court for that game, against either No. 4 Monmouth or No. 5 Quinnipiac — they play their quarterfinal Thursday night — they will do so without the sizable group of Siena fans in the stands that was expected for that night’s contest.
Hours after the NCAA announced it plans to play its upcoming national tournaments without fans in attendance because of concerns related to the spread of COVID-19, the MAAC joined a growing group of leagues and conferences around the sporting world to announce it will do the same. Starting with Thursday’s games at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, only “student-athletes, coaches, event staff, essential team and conference staff, TV network partners, credentialed media and immediate family members of the participating teams” will be allowed in the building.
“Once the NCAA came out and said that they were going to ban spectators, the remaining conferences really had no choice but to do the same,” MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor said. “We were never directed by the state of New Jersey or any local officials that we had to ban spectators, but we feel it was prudent given the circumstances and the escalating crisis that we take some action to create a heightened awareness and protect folks from any exposure, to the extent we can.”
Beyond that? Ensor said the MAAC is “not envisioning suspending the tournament,” but that league officials will meet Thursday to discuss the conference’s spring slate.
“I think we are going to have a serious conversation with the ADs in the morning about what we’re going to do with the spring sports,” Ensor said.
The MAAC announced its revised fan policy for the remainder of the tournament not long after Siena (No. 1, 20-10) got past Manhattan (No. 9, 13-18) on the strength of its depth. On a night that saw sophomore Jalen Pickett — who was named Wednesday the MAAC Player of the Year — not shoot well and fifth-year senior star Elijah Burns only play 16 minutes because of foul trouble, the Saints had six players score at least six points in a game in which they maintained at least a 10-point lead for the final 16:14 and grew their lead to as many as 18 in the second half.
“That’s a thing I love about this team,” Siena redshirt sophomore Don Carey said. “On any given night, anybody can have a big game, but we all just try to contribute and take pressure off of each other. When you do that, it’s harder to guard us.”
Junior Manny Camper — an All-MAAC first-team selection, along with Pickett — had 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists to lead Siena, while senior Sammy Friday had a dozen points and six rebounds off the bench.
“We get a chance to win a championship when Sammy Friday shows up and plays,” Maciariello said of the team’s backup big man.
Friday played 17 minutes with Burns — a second-team all-conference selection — limited with foul trouble. His first focus, Friday said, was on making sure he was defensively sound, and he just let the offense come to him.
“When we go out there, we just try to compete. That’s it,” Friday said. “We don’t worry about what’s in front of us, what’s behind us. We just try to stay in the moment, the present, and compete every time we get out there on the floor.”
While Pickett only made 4 of 13 shots, he scored nine points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished seven assists. Burns and Carey each added seven points for Siena, while senior Pauly Paulicap led Manhattan with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
For Siena, Wednesday’s win clinched the program’s first 20-win season since it finished 21-13 in the 2015-16 season. That 2015-16 campaign, though, is the start of the span of three seasons affected by the Level II NCAA violations the program was delivered Monday, and it’s expected the Saints will need to vacate every win from that season as part of the punishment it received from the NCAA. Prior to the 2015-16 season, Siena had last won 20 games during the 2013-14 season when it finished 20-18.
Speaking before the MAAC’s revised fan policy was announced, Burns said the Saints will be ready for their semifinal, whether there’s a live crowd to watch the game or not.
“We’re going to bring our energy and be ready to go, regardless if it’s fans or no fans,” Burns said. “We’re going to be ready to play Friday night when we step on this floor.”
Reynolds 1-3 0-0 3, Paulicap 5-12 2-5 12, Stewart 0-4 0-0 0, Mack 1-7 2-2 4, Hinckson 4-10 0-0 9, Buchanan 3-8 1-2 8, Greene 3-8 0-1 7, Williams 3-6 0-0 6, Okafor 0-0 0-0 0, Cisse 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-58 5-10 49.
Burns 3-6 0-0 7, Carey 3-7 0-0 7, Harris 2-4 2-4 6, Camper 6-11 1-2 15, Pickett 4-13 0-0 9, King 2-8 0-0 5, Friday 5-6 2-2 12, Young 1-2 0-2 2. Totals: 26-57 5-10 63.
Halftime score: Siena 34, Manhattan 24. Three-point shooting: Manhattan 4-18 (Reynolds 1-3, Stewart 0-3, Mack 0-3, Hinckson 1-2, Buchanan 1-3, Greene 1-3), Siena 6-19 (Burns 1-2, Carey 1-5, Camper 2-2, Pickett 1-5, King 1-5). Rebounds: Manhattan 35 (Paulicap 12), Siena 40 (Camper 9). Assists: Manhattan 7 (Buchanan 3), Siena 18 (Pickett 7). Turnovers: Manhattan 9, Siena 11. Total fouls: Manhattan 14, Siena 12.