LOUDONVILLE — The ending was an abrupt one, and out of its own control.
Before that, the Siena men’s basketball team made steady progress on its way to seizing its first MAAC regular-season championship in a decade, an accomplishment that will need to suffice for the Saints from the first year of head coach Carmen Maciariello leading them.
Now, Maciariello said Monday, it’s about what comes next for a program coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2010.
“Hopefully,” Maciariello said, “this was the foundation for many great years to come.”
Siena finished at 20-10 after its season closed with the cancellations last week of the remainder of the MAAC tournament and the entire NCAA tournament because of concerns related to the spread of COVID-19, a health crisis the World Health Organization declared last week to be a pandemic. The final game of the Saints’ season ended up being their 63-49 MAAC tournament quarterfinal win against Manhattan, a decisive victory that saw Siena push its winning streak to 10 games and demonstrate why it had developed into the conference’s top team.
The Saints had stars on which they could rely, depth to deploy to take advantage of matchups, and a combination of athleticism and length that few teams in the MAAC could handle.
Maciariello expects the Saints to build off those qualities once they’re fully able to begin working toward next season.
“For the most part,” Maciariello said, “we played how I want to play.”
That means an approach that favors attacking the basket over launching 3-pointers, and one that requires a defense to feed its offense. The Saints’ boasted the MAAC’s top per-possession scoring offense for the 2019-20 season, according to kenpom.com, but it was not an accident that the group took off as their defense gained confidence. Once Siena made its switch to starting freshman Gary Harris along with fifth-year senior Elijah Burns, junior Manny Camper, redshirt sophomore Don Carey and sophomore Jalen Pickett, the Saints won 13 of 14 games — including one in which it started a senior-laden group on senior night — and held their opponents to one or fewer points per possession on 10 occasions. In the Saints’ first 16 games, it only accomplished that defensive feat in half of their games.
While Harris was not a finished product as a freshman, his added length and incredible athleticism added an extra layer for the Saints. He had modest per-game averages of 5.3 points and 2.7 rebounds as a freshman, but Harris — Maciariello’s first official signing last year — produced the type of rookie season that should leave the 6-foot-6 wing ready to become a major contributor next season.
“With Gary, it’s all in the prep,” Maciariello said. “He’s a guy that just has to understand that regardless of if you’re the best athlete on the floor, you’re going to be that much better when you focus on the details.”
Siena projects to return all of its end-of-the-season starting lineup, with the exception of Burns, a second-team All-MAAC selection. Carey ended an up-and-down campaign with a strong wave of games, while first-team All-MAAC selections Camper and Pickett — the latter the MAAC Player of the Year — served as foundational pieces that Maciariello expects to lead the Saints into the 2020-21 season, too.
While Pickett tested NBA draft waters last year, Maciariello said it’s his “expectation” that the 6-foot-4 guard from Rochester will be back next season for the Saints.
“He’s in a good spot,” Maciariello said. “I don’t see anything coming out of the blue with that.”
Along with Burns and fifth-year senior Matt Hein — a starter-turned-reserve during his one season at Siena — it’s expected that senior Sammy Friday will leave the program as a graduate transfer after the Saints honored him on senior night. If no other Saints depart from the program, Siena has its 13 scholarships for next season allocated to its returning starters, five reserves — including freshman Jordan King, a walk-on who will be on scholarship next season — signed recruits Aidan Carpenter, Colin Golson and Bennett Kwiecinski, and sophomore transfer Dana Tate.
Unless he is able to receive an NCAA waiver, Tate likely will need to wait until after the conclusion of the 2020 fall semester to join the Saints in uniform. Maciariello said the 6-foot-7, 230-pound transfer from Rhode Island “addresses a lot of our needs” with his ability to play multiple positions; Maciariello said he could envision playing Tate at the 3, 4 or 5 within Siena’s four-guard system, and the coach said he particularly likes the way Tate can complement Camper in the frontcourt.
“The more guys that can play multiple positions, the better you can make your team,” Maciariello said.
Maciariello helped start the Saints on the right path as an assistant coach during the 2018-19 season, in which Jamion Christian led Siena to a nine-win improvement following the 8-24 finish to Jimmy Patsos’ tenure as the program’s head coach.
Last week, Siena received notification of several Level II NCAA violations stemming from the final years of Patsos leading the Saints. On and off the court, Siena athletic director John D’Argenio commended Maciariello for the job he did in his first season leading his alma mater’s team.
“Him and the players get all the credit in the world,” D’Argenio said. “Beyond that, what Carm did with his players to communicate what the values of Siena’s program are has been outstanding.”
Maciariello said he didn’t necessarily set a win-loss goal to reach, but the Saints outdid external expectations in his first season at the helm. Siena was picked to finish in sixth in the MAAC’s preseason poll, and finished as the league’s only 20-win team.
“I just wanted to do the best job I could and see where that took us,” Maciariello said. “It’s about guys wanting to play for you, and it was good to know I could be who I am and that was enough.”