LOUDONVILLE — Carmen Maciariello often lamented during the regular season his Siena men’s basketball team’s inability to extend small leads into large ones, and the Saints’ penchant for needing to rely on timely baskets or stops to keep it atop the MAAC standings.
“This team has done a great job of making plays when it’s been needed,” Maciariello said, “but one time you don’t make that play and one shot goes in that you give up that you’re not supposed to give up, [and] you’re sent home.”
Siena enters into that win-or-else phase of its season next week — but what made Friday’s regular-season closing 76-75 MAAC loss against Canisius, which the Golden Griffins won with a made jumper with 11.3 seconds to go, so difficult for Maciariello and the head coach’s Saints to stomach was that Maciariello’s comment about the fine line his team too often needs to stay on the right side of to win games was made after Thursday’s win, not Friday’s loss.
So what transpired Friday night was largely predictable. The Saints will be the No. 1 seed next week in Atlantic City for the MAAC tournament, and zoomed in their regular-season finale to a double-digit lead . . . and, then, started to coast with too much time left on the clock. Canisius (7-5 MAAC, 7-5 overall) made Siena (12-4, 12-4) pay for that, as senior Majesty Brandon made the game-winning shot to finish off a game-ending 8-0 run for head coach Reggie Witherspoon’s group before Siena’s final possession included multiple missed shots at UHY Center.
“We haven’t been able to put away teams all year,” Maciariello said Friday, “and that was the case again tonight.”
What do the Saints, still, need to learn?
“When there’s blood in the water,” Maciariello said, “you go for the kill.”
Brandon and junior Ahamadou Fofana each finished with 16 points for Canisius, which held Siena without a point after junior Jalen Pickett made a basket with 3:42 to go. That Pickett bucket had Siena up 75-68, but the team committed two turnovers and missed all five shots it took on its remaining possessions after starting the game making 57.9% of its first 57 shots.
With the defeat, Siena had to settle for sharing the MAAC regular-season crown with Monmouth. The Saints earned the top seed for next week’s tournament because they swept Monmouth earlier this season, and Siena will next play at 5 p.m. Wednesday against either No. 8 Quinnipiac or No. 9 Iona.
“It’s win or go home now, so I’m just going to make that a huge point of emphasis,” said Siena senior Manny Camper, who had 18 points and eight rebounds. “We don’t get a make-up game, we don’t get a learning game no more. That was our learning game. We’ve got to learn from it and we’ve got to come out ready to go come Wednesday.”
“This game definitely shows how we’ve been playing. Highs and lows,” Siena junior Jalen Pickett said. “Like coach Carm said, we just have to come out and learn how to finish games. Great learning experience.”
There was a major positive, though, in defeat for the Saints.
Pickett looked like the reigning MAAC Player of the Year in both games against Canisius after not consistently playing up to his standards for much of this season since hurting his right hamstring in the team’s third game of the year. Pickett produced a season-high in points (23) and assists (eight) against Canisius, as he made 9 of 14 shots from the field.
Pickett had 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists in Thursday’s win against Canisius. Pickett’s back-to-back games of double-digit scoring against Canisius represented the first time Pickett had recorded double-digit scoring in both games of a MAAC series this season since the Saints’ opening series against Monmouth.
“I feel really good,” Pickett said. “Just like the first weekend. Felt back to my normal self.”
“Very important. Jalen’s a great player,” Camper said of how critical it was for the Saints’ postseason chances to see Pickett play the way he did against Canisius. “We’re going to need him. We go as far as he takes us.”
Siena played Friday night with only seven available scholarship players for the third consecutive game.
Maciariello said the Saints could be back up to nine scholarship players for next week.
“I hope Aidan [Carpenter] is good for Atlantic City,” Maciariello said. “I hope Nick Hopkins is good for Atlantic City.”
Carpenter (ankle) has missed Siena’s last three games, while Hopkins (leg) has missed the last five. Carpenter seems to be the more likely of the two players to be able to return for Siena’s next game since he was originally supposed to return against Canisius, while Hopkins has been day-to-day since suffering his injury on Feb. 20.
Graduate student Harrison Curry (COVID-19 protocols), Maciariello said, will not play in the MAAC tournament.