LOUDONVILLE — In three consecutive two-game MAAC series, Siena men’s basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello watched the same pattern unfold.
His club casually coasted through much of the first game.
Then, his club showed up for the rematch.
With the MAAC tournament less than two weeks away from starting up, the Saints know they cannot keep having games where their attention to detail and effort don’t match up with their talent — and Friday’s and Saturday’s games against Manhattan provide a solid test for the Saints in that regard, as Steve Masiello’s program is known for the intensity it brings to the court.
“We have to make sure we’re ready for that jump ball in Game 1,” Maciariello said Thursday during a teleconference. “We have to have that sense of urgency like we did in Game 2 against Saint Peter’s, against Marist, against Niagara. That grit and toughness, we have it. I just don’t know if guys want to bring it out all the time. I mean, that takes effort. That takes intensity.”
And it’s an “acquired skill,” Maciariello said, that Siena (9-3 MAAC, 9-3 overall) is still developing as it heads into its 5 p.m. Friday matchup with Manhattan (5-9, 6-9) at UHY Center, and senior Manny Camper said the Saints know they need to start playing “with a sense of urgency all the time, not just when we’re down.”
Siena, the MAAC’s preseason favorite, mostly breezed through its first six games. The Saints are 3-3 since that point, but Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello — whose team hasn’t played since beating Iona on Feb. 13 — said he still sees the Saints as the team to beat in the MAAC.
“They have the preseason player of the year and they were the preseason No. 1 pick for a reason,” Masiello said Thursday during a phone interview.
Jalen Pickett, the reigning MAAC Player of the Year, earned that individual preseason honor. The junior guard mostly hasn’t played up to his normal standard since hurting his hamstring in the team’s third game, but is coming off a strong game that saw him score 13 points, collect seven rebounds, dish four assists and shut down Niagara’s Marcus Hammond — a first-team all-conference selection last season — on defense.
With the MAAC awarding its tournament seeds by total wins this season, Siena sits one win behind first-place Monmouth, which is idle this weekend and — currently — only has two games remaining on its regular-season schedule.
That means Siena — again, for now — controls its pursuit of the No. 1 seed for the MAAC tournament, since no team can win as many games (13) as the Saints currently are capable of winning. Maciariello wants his team to earn that spot with a strong finish to the regular season, and that includes both in games and at practice.
“We can’t take days off. We can’t just show up, and go through the motions and think, ‘Hey, we’re getting a sweat, we’re getting the rust off, we’re getting our legs stretched,’” Maciariello said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to make sure we’re not just having activity. We want to make sure we’re having productivity, too.”
OFF A WIN
Manhattan had lost five consecutive games before a 77-70 win against Iona in its last game.
“We shot it well,” Masiello said.
Manhattan made 44.2% of its field goals, 44.4% of its 3-point attempts and 71.9% of its foul shots that game. On the season, Manhattan has made 36.5% of its shots from the field, 27.2% from 3-point territory and 67.9% from the foul line.
Besides the difference in shooting success, Masiello said his team didn’t really do anything different in that win against Iona.
“We just haven’t shot it really well all year. It’s a very weird thing,” Masiello said. “I don’t know the answer to it, but I know our guys can shoot it.”
Maciariello said graduate student Nick Hopkins, a starting guard, remains “day to day” with a knee injury sustained against Niagara that kept him from playing in last weekend’s second game.
Hopkins is doing a “little bit” better, Maciariello said, but it’s unclear if the guard will play against Manhattan. Aidan Carpenter, a freshman, started in Hopkins’ place last weekend.
Maciariello said senior Denzel Tchougang will be available against Manhattan after not being available for Siena’s games against Niagara because of COVID-19 protocols, while the team is “waiting on more tests” before determining graduate student Harrison Curry’s status.