LOUDONVILLE — Friday’s defeat was “a loss that was needed.”
Saturday’s MAAC victory was a necessary one.
And not just to get back on the right side of things after Saint Peter’s ended the Siena men’s basketball team’s record-setting 16-game winning streak.
No, Saturday’s 47-40 — you read that score right — win was a pivotal one for Siena on its own.
“When you can compete for 40 minutes, which we hadn’t done all year, I’ll take it and run with it,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said during the post-game teleconference. “Really proud of the effort.”
And, for as displeasing as long portions of Saturday’s game at Alumni Recreation Center were to watch, it wasn’t difficult to see why the victory was a crucial one for the Saints.
To start its season, Siena outran Monmouth for two wins, then outclassed Fairfield and Rider for four more victories. Saint Peter’s didn’t allow Siena to do either of those things, and forced Siena to find a way to earn a gritty win to salvage a series split with one of its top competitors for this year’s MAAC crown.
And, Siena did just that.
“Definitely a great bounce-back game for us. Showed we can guard. We had some good offensive clips, but this was a MAAC tournament-type of game right here,” Siena junior Jalen Pickett said. “Grinding it out. Physical. Trying to keep the emotions down on both sides. Everybody is getting worked up.
“And,” Pickett finished, “I just think it was overall a great home win.”
It was the first Siena win during which the program scored in the 40s since it defeated Cortland 47-46 on Jan. 9, 1965, and the first time the program had played a game that saw both teams score fewer than 50 points since Siena lost 49-47 to Marist on Dec. 6, 1995.
Prior to Friday’s loss, Maciariello had mostly batted away questions regarding his program’s long winning streak. The second-year head coach, though, embraced a win his team earned despite making 15 of 46 shots.
“I’ll take winning in the 40s every day of the week,” Maciariello said. “I don’t care about people saying we got a great offense. I want to have a great defense. You win championships with great defense.”
And while nobody considers Saint Peter’s (4-4, 7-6) to possess one of the MAAC’s top offenses, it was still impressive what Siena (7-1, 7-1) was able to do on the defensive end of the court against the Peacocks. After Saint Peter’s pushed ahead 38-36 on a 3-pointer with 10:18 to go, the Peacocks didn’t make another field-goal attempt. Siena didn’t do a whole lot on offense itself, but its defense played a major role in Saint Peter’s missing its final 15 shots of the game — and, when the Saints needed to make some shots down the stretch, they did that.
Tied at 40, Siena sophomore Jordan King made a runner from the foul-line area with a minute to go to put the Saints ahead for good. Then, after a defensive stop, Pickett — playing in his second game since returning from a hamstring injury — found junior Jackson Stormo for a layup with less than 20 seconds to go to give Siena a two-possession advantage.
“Saint Peter’s is a good team,” said Manny Camper, whose team added three free throws in the final seconds, including two stemming from a technical foul called on Peacocks head coach Shaheen Holloway. “We knew they were going to come back and battle even after winning the first game. That’s what they always do.”
What else did Saint Peter’s do Friday?
“They punched us in the mouth,” Pickett said.
And, Saturday, Siena punched back, winning the type of game that MAAC teams need to be able to win if they want to have success in March.
Camper and King led Siena with 12 points apiece, while Camper also added 13 rebounds. Pickett had 11 points, five rebounds and five assists, and admitted he “wasn’t trusting” himself fully after returning from an injury that robbed him of three games.
“But I thought he made some timely plays and showed why he was preseason player of the year,” Maciariello said.
No Saint Peter’s player had double-digit scoring, but junior KC Ndefo contributed seven points, eight rebounds and seven blocks. Ndefo — who leads the nation in blocked shots per game — was the leader of a Saint Peter’s defense that is the only Siena opponent to keep the Saints to fewer than 74 points in a game this season.
“And we just stayed the course and didn’t let it frustrate us,” Maciariello said. “We just continued to remain in character and grind out a win.”
Siena made one lineup change after suffering its first loss. Stormo replaced sophomore Kyle Young in the starting lineup, and Young only played one minute in Saturday’s contest. Stormo scored nine points and had seven rebounds in 26 minutes.
“He’s a student of the game. I think we can execute with him,” Maciariello said of starting Stormo. “I think we showed with his play why he started — and we won the game. I was really happy with his effort.”
And, overall, the coach was thrilled with the way his first-place team defended and didn’t let a bad offensive night prevent it from earning a win.
“That’s the ball club we can be,” Maciariello said. “I’ll take a win like that every day of the week.”