LOUDONVILLE — When the schedule changed, yet again, Marist men’s basketball head coach John Dunne didn’t spend any time worrying about now needing to shift focus to preparing for Siena, the MAAC’s top team.
“You’ve got to play them some time,” Dunne said earlier this week.
For Siena, though, facing Marist this weekend in back-to-back games at McCann Arena in Poughkeepsie represents something of a break for the Saints. While they have key differences, Marist is similar enough to the team — Saint Peter’s — that Siena played last weekend.
“Marist is another tough-minded defensive team that’s going to be really physical with us,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said. “We’ve got to know our reads, and we have to be able to take what the defense gives us.”
“They’re going to be physical,” Siena senior Manny Camper said, “and I think playing Saint Peter’s [last weekend], it worked in our favor playing them a week earlier so we can be accustomed to that.”
Siena (7-1 MAAC, 7-1 overall) split its series with Saint Peter’s last weekend, falling 68-62 before winning 47-40 in the series’ second game. Siena hadn’t scored fewer than 74 points in any of its first six games.
“If we defend that way, I don’t care what happens on the offensive end,” Maciariello said. “We’ll figure that part out. I love the grit and the mindset we had [in the 47-40 win], and we proved we could win ugly.”
Besides playing against a Saint Peter’s team that really makes opponents work to score, Siena alternated overpassing with firing away quickly against the Peacocks’ defense last week. In both those games, minus a strong stretch in the beginning of the game the Saints lost, they didn’t execute at a high level as they had in their first six games.
“I think it just shows how integral everyone being on the same page is — the timing, the spacing, with how hard we cut — with what we’re trying to do,” Maciariello said.
Holding back first-place Siena some last week, too, was that junior star Jalen Pickett was only at “80, 85%” in playing his first games since hurting his right hamstring. Ahead of this weekend’s games, Pickett said he’s at “100%.”
“We know what they’re capable of,” Dunne said of last season’s regular-season MAAC champion. “We know the players they have and the experience they have.”
Marist (6-6, 8-6), though, is largely “relying on inexperienced guys,” as Dunne put it. Among its active players, Marist’s two leading scorers are junior Raheim Sullivan — a junior-college transfer — and freshman Ricardo Wright, and Dunne’s squad was unable to practice for much of November for pandemic-related reasons. That’s led to a situation where Dunne has to spend extra time during practices working on basics with his team, which cuts into how much time can be spent preparing for opponents since he also doesn’t want to overwork his players now that they’re playing games every weekend.
“You can’t have marathon practices at this point in the year,” Dunne said.
Siena swept Marist last season. At McCann Center last year, Pickett hit a buzzer-beating shot to deliver the Saints a 52-50 win.
Saturday’s game between the teams will start at 1 p.m. Sunday’s game is scheduled to start at 3 p.m.