One final great play from senior Manny Camper, and the Siena men’s basketball team was able to leave Lewiston Sunday still in control of its own destiny to securing the top seed for the MAAC tournament.
The Saints did that with a 68-66 win against Niagara at Gallagher Center, a victory secured after a driving Camper found junior Jackson Stormo for a game-winning layup with 0.2 seconds to go.
During a timeout with 12 seconds to go, Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello designed a play for Camper. Junior guard Jalen Pickett, the reigning MAAC Player of the Year, started the play with the ball, but passed to Camper to allow for the Saints to take advantage of the scouting they’d done after a two-point loss Saturday that Maciariello described as one involving a “half-hearted” Siena effort.
Camper and Maciariello, the senior said, saw in reviewing Saturday’s game how Niagara was sending a second defender at the 6-foot-7 wing when he headed toward the basket. So, for Sunday’s most-important possession, Siena got the ball to Camper on the perimeter, had him head to the basket — and had Stormo do the same after starting the play in the far corner.
“I knew they were going to help and double,” Maciariello said of the Purple Eagles’ defense during a post-game teleconference.
“So,” Camper said, “I told Jackson, ‘Be ready. Soon as I see a guy step up, I’m going to put it right to the rim for you.’”
The perfect pass led to Stormo’s basket, and finished out a tremendous individual statistical line for Camper who recorded game-high totals in points (18), rebounds (nine) and assists (eight) in leading the Saints to victory.
Unless more disruptions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic necessitate it, MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor said Sunday in a phone interview that the league is “not anticipating” adding more conference games for its men’s teams beyond what’s currently scheduled.
After defeating Niagara (7-9 MAAC, 8-10 overall), Siena (9-3, 9-3) remains in second place behind Monmouth (10-6, 10-7) in the MAAC standings that are ranked in order of wins rather than winning percentage. But only two teams — Monmouth and Siena — can finish with a league-best maximum of 14 conference wins, and, if both teams were to reach that number of wins, the Saints would own the head-to-head tiebreaker to take the conference tournament’s No. 1 seed.
So Sunday’s win kept Siena in control of its pursuit of the conference’s top seed ahead of a Wednesday game against Manhattan (5-9, 6-9) and a much-anticipated weekend series against head coach Rick Pitino and his Iona (6-3, 8-5) club that just swept Monmouth.
“We know every game matters,” Maciariello said. “There’s no chance for slippage.”
Siena, though, almost let Sunday’s game get away. After Siena pushed to a game-high lead of nine points at 50-41, Niagara answered with a 13-0 run that took all of 1:55 of game action.
Later, Siena retook the lead with a 7-0 run that had it ahead 65-61 with two minutes to go, but Niagara kept fighting back — and managed to tie it at 66 with less than 20 seconds to go when, after the Purple Eagles missed a pair of free throws and regained possession, junior Marcus Hammond nailed his only basket, a 3-pointer, of the game to tie it at 66 with 18.4 seconds to go.
After Siena’s timeout, the ball went to Pickett — and the junior knew “a lot of people expected” the ball to stay there.
“But,” Pickett said, “Manny had it going.”
So Pickett sent it to Camper, and the Siena co-captain made the Niagara defense shift enough so he could find Stormo for the game-winning layup.
“He’s done a great job all season of finishing,” Camper said of Stormo, “and he finished that one.”
Stormo finished with 13 points and eight rebounds. Pickett also had 13 points, plus seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks, but his top contribution was his defense on Hammond, a first-team All-MAAC player last season.
For Niagara, redshirt senior Kobi Nwandu had a team-high 15 points.
Maciariello would have preferred his team not need to make a great play at the end to secure the win. The club’s nine-point lead midway through the second half, he said, should’ve increased rather than get erased.
“We have to grow in that regard if we want to be the team we can become,” Maciariello said. “But, still a work in progress. Proud of our effort. Proud of our fight.”
HOPKINS MISSES GAME
Starting guard Nick Hopkins missed Sunday’s game after experiencing swelling in his knee, Maciariello said.
The graduate student hurt his knee early in Saturday’s game after he “landed squarely on his knee cap,” but was able to finish that contest. Freshman Aidan Carpenter started in Hopkins’ place Sunday.
“Hopefully we’ll have [Hopkins] for Wednesday [vs. Manhattan], but I have no idea,” Maciariello said. “He’s day to day.”