LOUDONVILLE — That the Siena men’s basketball team tipped off Sunday was a relief.
How they finished in a 78-77 win against Monmouth?
That’s what was thrilling to see for a club that made its season debut 39 days after the NCAA Division I season started without them.
“Super proud of this group. Resilient group,” said Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello, whose team plays a 5 p.m. MAAC rematch Monday against Monmouth back at Alumni Recreation Center. “Obviously, we talk about coming together during adverse times, and growing our togetherness and our bond, and I think we did that. We found a way to win.”
Siena made big plays down the stretch despite playing just days removed from the end of its third pandemic-related pause of in-person team activities since mid-November. In the final six minutes of regulation, there were eight lead changes, the last coming on a basket from sophomore Kyle Young off an assist from junior Jalen Pickett with 1:01 to go.
That Young bucket had Siena up 74-73. A pair of hustle plays followed from Manny Camper and resulted in a successful trip to the foul line for the senior to put Siena up 76-73, then three players — two from Siena — each split trips to the foul line to leave Siena up 78-74. Monmouth senior George Papas made a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds to go, but Siena was able to run out the clock to preserve its one-point win.
“I think we stayed really poised,” Pickett said of the finish for the Saints, the MAAC preseason favorite.
Pickett led the Saints, as the reigning MAAC Player of the Year scored 20 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished six assists.
“He just makes the game easier,” Siena graduate student Nick Hopkins said of Pickett. “He opens the court up for everybody.”
Young offered a double-double in his first career start with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Hopkins and junior Jackson Stormo — each debuting for Siena after transferring into the program — scored 14 and 11 points, respectively.
Camper had 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists, but the All-MAAC first-team selection from a season ago struggled shooting the basketball. The senior made 3 of 16 shots from the field, but didn’t let that affect other parts of his game. He made a key steal in the final minute to set up a Siena shot attempt, then chased down that missed shot’s rebound that ended up in the Siena backcourt. Camper’s hustle kept possession with Siena, and sent him to the foul line where he provided the Saints some cushion in the final minute.
For Monmouth (3-2 MAAC, 3-3 overall), senior Deion Hammond scored 20 points and Papas added 15.
Siena played without two of its three scholarship freshmen, as Aidan Carpenter and Colin Golson missed the game. A Siena spokesperson said Carpenter is day to day with a “minor injury,” while Golson had not yet cleared COVID-19 protocols. Maciariello didn’t rule out either player for Monday’s matchup.
Without Carpenter and Golson available, three Saints — Camper, Pickett and Hopkins — each played 36 minutes. Maciariello said he’d like to “shave down” minutes for some of his players, but Pickett said he’d rather play the full 40 than the 39 he played Sunday.
“I’m 21 years old,” Pickett said. “I’m young.”
Siena’s game at Alumni Recreation Center was its first regular-season game at the venue since 1997. With no fans currently allowed at games because of pandemic-related restrictions, Siena is playing home games on campus rather than at Times Union Center in downtown Albany.
“It felt kind of like a scrimmage,” Hopkins said of the fan-less atmosphere, which included cardboard cutouts of fans behind the team’s benches.
Siena won its final 10 games of the 2019-20 season. On Monday, the Saints will look to push their overall winning streak to a dozen games.
“We know Monmouth is going to come out . . . hungry, and definitely try to split this [series],” Pickett said.