LOUDONVILLE — Siena is back alone atop the MAAC standings.
After a poor shooting first half, the Saints regrouped to pick up their first series sweep since mid-January with a 64-56 win against Manhattan Saturday at UHY Center.
“You all probably are getting tired of me saying it, but this is one resilient group,” Siena men’s basketball senior Manny Camper said during a post-game teleconference.
He added: “We stayed the course. They out-rebounded us this game, too, and we still found a way to win.”
Head coach Carmen Maciariello praised his team’s effort as well, which played with only seven scholarship players available because of the absences of guards Nick Hopkins (leg) and Aidan Carpenter (ankle), and forward Harrison Curry (COVID-19 protocols). In particular, Maciariello singled out junior walk-on Rob Mahala who played 20 minutes after logging two total minutes this season ahead of Saturday’s game.
The walk-on wreaked havoc at the top of his team’s defense, and Maciariello pointed to Mahala’s performance as an example of why the coach had named the junior a co-captain along with Camper.
“I think that was a key to our win,” Maciariello said. “He knows the offense, he sets good screens, he gets open, he plays with tremendous energy and passion. I love it.”
Manhattan came out with aggressive ball pressure throughout the first half, feeding off the energy from their bench. The Jaspers (5-11 MAAC, 6-11 overall) held the Saints (11-3, 11-3) to 21 points on just 29.6% shooting in the opening 20 minutes, and turned six turnovers into seven points.
Camper had three of those turnovers in the first 90 seconds of the contest against head coach Steve Masiello’s program.
“Manhattan brings it all the time, especially on the defensive end,” Camper said. “Their coach does a great job with having their guys play with energy. . . . The first half, a little bit, I think they came out over-aggressive, trying to push us out of our spots, and I think we weren’t as physical.”
The Saints made the necessary adjustments at the half and responded to the pressure. A key stretch was just after the 10-minute mark of the second half when they began turning their own defense into offense. Siena turned two turnovers and then a Jaspers’ miss into six straight points to cap an 8-0 run. The push gave the Saints the lead back for good with 7:56 to go.
“The second half,” Camper said, “Coach brought us in, told us to be the aggressor, and I think we were getting to our spots better, cutting harder, coming to the ball and it paid off with us getting back-door cuts, getting to the free-throw line and knocking down free throws.”
Camper, who was shooting 57.3% from the line coming into Saturday, netted 12 of his career-high 25 points from the charity stripe on 14 attempts.
Jackson Stormo was crucial down the stretch as well, scoring 10 of his career-best 18 points during the game’s last eight minutes.
“With that inside presence, you’ve got to stay honest and play honest,” Camper said. “You can’t over-pursue . . . when you’ve got a guy like Jackson catching the ball and finishing.”
With two games remaining on the regular-season schedules of both teams, Siena is one game ahead of Monmouth in the MAAC standings. The Saints also swept Monmouth, so Siena owns the tie-breaker if the two teams tie atop the standings.
Siena’s scheduled to finish its season with home games Thursday and Friday against Canisius. Maciariello said the Saints could have Carpenter back for those games.
But even if Siena remains short-handed moving forward, Stormo said showing toughness against adversity is what defines these Saints.
“We’ve been dealing with stuff this whole semester, this whole season, and we’ve never quit,” Stormo said. “We’re still here, we might as well go make the best of it.”