LOUDONVILLE — There was a quick “no,” then several seconds of silence before Siena men’s basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello jokingly questioned if the reporters on Tuesday’s teleconference “want more than that” in regards to how the Saints potentially clinching the MAAC regular-season championship on Thursday might affect the team’s approach to its Friday game.
And Maciariello obliged, and confirmed the answer he swiftly delivered was offered like that for a reason: The Saints have no intention of slowing down ahead of next week’s MAAC tournament, even if they have the top seed for the playoffs locked up with a game to go in their regular season.
“We want to be playing our best basketball, so we’ve got [to use] every day to get better,” Maciariello said. “Whatever happens Thursday, we’ve still got another opportunity to get better Friday.”
Siena (11-3 MAAC, 11-3 overall) hosts Canisius (6-4, 6-4) both nights at 7 p.m. at UHY Center. With two games to go in their regular season and sitting one game ahead of Monmouth in the MAAC standings, Siena is able to wrap up the tournament’s No. 1 seed Thursday with either a win or a Monmouth loss.
Siena, though, wants to keep building momentum after earning its first MAAC sweep last weekend — against Manhattan — since mid-January. The Saints were 3-3 after starting 6-0 before claiming two wins against the Jaspers.
“It would mean a lot to us to go into the MAAC tournament with that first seed,” Siena junior Jalen Pickett said. “But we know once we get there, there is no seed [that matters], and every game could be your last, so you’ve got to go in with a different type of energy and a different type of fire to win that MAAC tournament.”
Regardless of this week’s MAAC results, Siena will either be the No. 1 or 2 seed for the league’s tournament and has already earned its bye to the tournament’s quarterfinals. Maciariello said he expects Canisius, which has won three of four games after not playing for more than a month because of pandemic-related pauses, to provide the Saints with a solid pair of games ahead of next week’s conference tournament.
“They’re a hard-playing team,” Maciariello said. “They’ve played well. They came off multiple pauses and did a great job just being prepared.”
In the last couple weeks, Maciariello has seen similar focus from his group.
“I just think we’re seeing that growth every day,” Maciariello said. “I think it’s about valuing every possession, being crisp on offense and defense with game-plan execution. Just being that team that’s caring more about the guy next to them than themselves, and I think we’re growing every day.”
UP TO EIGHT
Maciariello said freshman Aidan Carpenter (ankle) “should be good” to play this week against Canisius after the guard missed last Saturday’s game.
Maciariello, though, said there’s little new in terms of an update regarding graduate students Harrison Curry (COVID-19 protocols) and Nick Hopkins (leg). Maciariello said he didn’t think Curry will be able to play this week, while Hopkins is “doubtful.”
When all three players missed last Saturday’s game, the Saints only dressed seven scholarship players.
CAMPER VS. NDEFO
During a teleconference Tuesday with all of the MAAC’s coaches participating one at a time, Saint Peter’s head coach Shaheen Holloway said Peacocks junior KC Ndefo should be the “hands-down” choice to be MAAC Player of the Year.
Holloway qualified that his support for his player was simply perspective from “my eyes,” and that other candidates — such as Siena senior Manny Camper — are “very good players” and he meant “no disrespect” to any of them.
Holloway, though, said he thought that Ndefo’s all-around impact has meant so much to Saint Peter’s that the race for the MAAC’s top individual award is “not even close.”
Ndefo was a third-team all-conference selection last season, as well as the league’s defensive player of the year and sixth player of the year. This season, Ndefo has averaged 13.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.7 blocks and 1.3 steals per game for the fourth-place Peacocks that could still earn a share of the league’s regular-season title.
Siena’s Pickett won MAAC Player of the Year last season, but his award candidacy this season took a hit after he hurt his hamstring in the team’s third game of the season. Camper is Siena’s top candidate for the award this year, as the senior is averaging 14.2 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. Camper ranks No. 1 in the MAAC in rebounds, No. 3 in assists and No. 5 in scoring per game.
“Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion,” Maciariello said in response to Holloway’s comments. “Like I said from the jump, I thought I had two guys that should be up for MAAC Player of the Year. He’s entitled to his opinion. That’s great. Some coaches use that stuff as motivation for their ball clubs. I don’t get into playing those types of games. I let the guys playing speak for themselves, and I think, obviously, Jalen and Manny have done a great job this year taking this ball club to this point.”