LOUDONVILLE — With nine months in between the matchups, the Siena women’s basketball team again played Fairfield, and how much has changed in all the time between the Saints’ last meeting with the Stags was on full display Friday night at Alumni Recreation Center.
Face masks were worn on the benches, at the scorers’ table and in the sections designated for media members and school officials, while no fans were allowed at the contest.
The team’s benches — bench areas, truly — were made up of four rows of chairs to allow for social-distancing measures to be followed.
A message of “MAAC UNITED FOR JUSTICE” was listed in two places on the court, multiple players took a knee during the playing of the national anthem and the Saints’ warmup tops carried a “BLACK LIVES MATTER” message on their front.
And . . . there was basketball.
“To actually play a game, in a lot of ways, it was pretty surreal, honestly,” Siena head coach Ali Jaques said.
Jaques’ team lost its season-opening game, a 68-56 setback against a Fairfield squad that the Saints will play again 7 p.m. Saturday as part of the MAAC’s revised scheduling model that pits two teams against each other on back-to-back nights at one site. Siena’s first game was played more than two weeks after Division I programs were allowed to start playing games in this season attempting to be conducted amid an ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic that ended the sport’s previous season, with the final MAAC game played in the league’s 2020 tournament being a quarterfinal matchup between Fairfield and Siena back in March right before the conference, and NCAA, canceled the remainder of the season.
“I’m just happy for the opportunity,” Siena senior Rayshel Brown said of the Saints’ first game.
Brown raised her left arm and held up a fist during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and rested her right hand on the shoulder of the lone Siena player — sophomore Ashley Williamson — who took a knee as the national anthem played prior to Friday’s game. Brown said she “just chose that time to express my feelings about all the events going on in the world,” and referenced that the team had discussed supporting how each individual decided to observe the time as the anthem played.
Those conversations, Jaques said, started back in the summer.
“I’ve got an amazing group of very diverse women who have my support in their choice on how they want to represent themselves and their families, and I support their choices 100%,” Jaques said.
Playing 11 days after its two-week pause of in-person activities ended, Siena (0-1 MAAC, 0-1 overall) looked better than a team picked to finish sixth in the MAAC as it worked its way to a halftime lead against Fairfield (1-0, 2-1), a squad picked to finish tied for second in the MAAC and one that boasts the league’s preseason player of the year in junior Lou Lopez-Senechal. After a second quarter in which Siena made 10 of 17 shots, the Saints took a 34-28 lead into halftime on the strength of strong play from graduate student Isis Young, who scored 13 of her team-high 19 points in the first half.
After halftime, though, the Saints struggled, and looked very much like a team playing its first game in nine months after an offseason and preseason with limited on-court work. Siena led 43-36 early in the third quarter after a 3-pointer from freshman Ahniysha Jackson — an Albany High School graduate who started her first college game — but the Saints didn’t score again until approximately seven minutes later. During that scoreless spell, Fairfield scored 10 unanswered points to take control, and the Stags never relinquished it.
“But, overall, there were some really good bright spots,” Jaques said.
Besides Young’s solid debut, Siena received 10 points from Brown, eight points and 11 rebounds from junior Lala Watts, and held Lopez-Senechal — the reigning MAAC Player of the Week — to 11 points on 4 of 9 shooting.
Sam Lewis, though, had a game-high 21 points for Fairfield, while Katie Armstrong added 18. As a team, the Stags scored 40 points after halftime on 15 of 26 shooting.
Siena played without junior Amari Anthony, who was described by a Siena spokesperson as “under the weather” and out for precautionary reasons. In season, all of Siena’s Tier 1 personnel — which includes players, coaches and some staff members — are tested for the novel coronavirus three times per week, and the team hasn’t had any positive tests since its pause.
Jaques said she wasn’t sure if Anthony, a preseason All-MAAC third-team selection, would be available for the Saints in their rematch with Fairfield. That game starts less than 24 hours after Friday’s game ended.
“So there’s not really much time to sulk,” Young said.
And, truthfully, there is little reason to do that, anyway. Siena left the court Friday night with plenty to try to fix and correct before it plays again — but, barring any day-of changes, the Saints will get a chance to get back on that court to play, something nobody involved with college basketball is taking for granted this season.
“We’re going to get to play [Saturday], so I’m excited about that,” Jaques said. “We’ve got another chance to go to work.”
Lopez-Senechal 4-9 2-2 11, Armstrong 7-14 4-7 18, Hakes 3-4 0-1 6, Cavanaugh 5-9 0-0 10, Lewis 7-12 2-2 21, Nibbelink 1-5 0-0 2, Brown 0-1 0-0 0, Hernangomez 0-2 0-0 0, Martin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 27-56 8-12 68.
Jackson 2-6 0-0 6, Gerostergiou 2-3 1-2 7, Peterson 2-10 0-0 4, Watts 3-7 2-4 8, Young 8-22 0-0 19, Brown 5-13 0-0 10, Istanbulluoglu 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 26-63 3-6 56.
Fairfield 16 12 18 22 — 68
Siena 13 21 9 13 — 56
Three-point goals: Fairfield 6-19 (Lopez-Senechal 1-3, Armstrong 0-2, Lewis 5-10, Nibbelink 0-3, Hernangomez 0-1), Siena 7-26 (Jackson 2-6, Gerostergiou 2-2, Peterson 0-8, Young 3-9, Istanbulluoglu 0-1). Rebounds: Fairfield 35 (Armstrong 8), Siena 34 (Watts 11). Assists: Fairfield 12 (Hakes 5), Siena 6 (Young 3). Turnovers: Fairfield 6, Siena 6. Total fouls: Fairfield 10, Siena 11. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: None. Attendance: 0.