Head coach Carmen Maciariello said he wasn’t positive Siena men’s basketball senior Manny Camper would even play Sunday until shortly before the Saints tipped off against Marist.
The Siena co-captain “always” planned to play despite the soreness he was experiencing in his upper back/neck area. That meant he planned to compete at a high level and make sure the Saints left McCann Arena in Poughkeepsie with a MAAC series split, even if he was dealing with the fallout from over-extending himself seeking a rebound a day earlier in a Siena loss.
“But we don’t make excuses here, you know?” said Camper, a first-team all-conference selection last season. “I played the game, so I was ready to play — and I went out there and played as hard as I could, and we were able to get the win.”
After Siena had lost two of three games following its 6-0 start to the season, Camper led the Saints to a 63-50 win Sunday at Marist, as the senior’s team moved to 5-0 on the second day of back-to-back games. While not at 100% physically, the 6-foot-7 forward from Maryland played a game-high 37 minutes, and produced game-high marks in points with 19 and rebounds with 13. Despite any lingering pain in his back and neck, he earned a career-high 16 free-throw attempts and made 10 of them.
“I just love the way he battles,” Siena junior Jalen Pickett said of his teammate.
And Siena (8-2 MAAC, 8-2) again found itself in a battle with Marist (7-7, 9-7) a day after the Red Foxes used a game-ending 6-0 run to take a one-point victory. But after Marist pulled within 47-45 Sunday of the Saints with less than eight minutes to go, Siena put together a 14-3 run that started with a bucket from junior Jackson Stormo off a feed from Camper and closed with a 3-pointer from sophomore Jordan King with 1:15 to play.
Camper said he liked the way the Saints kept their “foot on the gas” down the stretch after letting a late lead disappear the prior day. Maciariello, overall, appreciated the way his team didn’t let a weekend include multiple losses.
“We’ve got to hold these guys accountable in everything, but we’re growing as a ball club and we’re getting every team’s best shot,” Maciariello said. “People forget that. Unanimous preseason favorite. We’re getting every team’s best shot and we have to be ready for it — and we have to enjoy it.
“And,” the second-year head coach continued, “I think today showed that we enjoyed it. Really proud of the guys for coming back and getting a tough road win.”
Siena was able to get that road win despite another tale-of-two-halves performance from Pickett, who is still working back from a hamstring injury that robbed him of three games. Pickett didn’t score in the first half of either game against Marist, but he nearly willed the Saints to a win Saturday and then offered 11 points in Sunday’s second half.
Pickett said he still is “trying to get out of my own head” early in games, and that it’s taken until after halftime for him to fully trust the health of his right leg. He said he was limited in practice this past week, but said he expects to be a full participant this week in practice and to get back to his normal routine that includes a morning individual workout.
Marist, too, made sure nothing was easy for Pickett in either game. Head coach John Dunne’s squad sent a second defender at Pickett whenever possible, but the 6-foot-4 guard from Rochester still produced seven of his points in the final 10 minutes.
“He garners so much interest from opposing teams, and he gets bumped every single cut, and held, and pushed and shoved — and, when it’s all said and done, he’s making plays late in the game that help [us] win,” Maciariello said.
Besides Camper and Pickett, no other player in Sunday’s game contributed double-digit scoring. Graduate student Nick Hopkins and sophomore Kyle Young each had eight points for Siena.
The victory kept Siena in first place in the MAAC standings. Perhaps more importantly, Sunday’s result pushed Siena’s wins total to eight, which matches Monmouth (8-4, 8-5) for the most in the league. If not all MAAC teams play 20 league games, then total league wins — and not league winning percentage — is expected to serve as the metric the conference will use to assign seeds for its postseason tournament.
Siena is next scheduled to play Wednesday, but that game’s status is in doubt. That day’s opponent — Canisius — has not played since Jan. 2 and announced Sunday its program’s Tier 1 personnel had produced another positive coronavirus test result.