LOUDONVILLE — Keep moving forward.
That’s the goal Sunday at Bucknell for the Siena men’s basketball program, which showed progress in its last two games after a rough three-game start to its 2021-22 season.
“I think we’re taking steps in the right direction,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said after Friday’s practice, a sentiment that echoed the Saints’ overall take following their win against Harvard a few days before Thanksgiving.
That 72-69 victory was Siena’s first of the season after a 0-4 start. The Saints weren’t perfect in that game, but demonstrated against a team projected to be one of the top ones in the Ivy League that they have the attitude and pieces necessary to make something of their season.
“Just our grit,” Siena’s Andrew Platek said of what he liked the best from Siena’s performance against Harvard. “We were tough.”
Similar to Siena, Bucknell (1-5) is off to a tough start. Head coach Nathan Davis’ team has been relatively competitive, with three of its losses by two possessions or fewer, but — like the Saints — the Bison’s defense has been poor this season. Through Friday’s games, Bucknell ranked No. 326 in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com, while the Saints ranked out 291 of 358 Division I teams.
On a per-possession basis, neither Bucknell nor Siena has scored at a particularly high rate this season, but Bucknell is averaging 77.7 points per game — Siena’s at 60.2 — on the strength of the high-possession games Bucknell plays. On average, Bucknell’s games this season have included 6.5 more possessions than Siena’s games.
Maciariello said before the season that he wanted the Saints to play faster this season, but that hasn’t yet materialized, perhaps because of the non-stop variety of injuries Siena’s sustained to its personnel. It seems likely that Jordan Kellier, who hasn’t played yet this season after earning a start in the Saints’ exhibition game against Saint Rose, will make his debut at Bucknell, while it’s unclear if starting guard Aidan Carpenter will play after missing the last two games. Carpenter is past the injuries that kept him out of the team’s lineup, but was dealing with an illness in advance of the team’s 2 p.m. Sunday game at Bucknell.
Maciariello listed defending the 3-point line and taking care of the ball as Siena’s top priorities. Platek seconded that the Saints need to make sure they’re making things tough for the Bucknell offense, which features four double-digit scorers.
“It starts with our defense,” Platek said. “If we can’t get stops, it doesn’t really matter how many shots we’re hitting.”
Javian McCollum, who didn’t play in Siena’s first two games, has shown flashes of his potential and impressed those around him in recent games.
Maciariello called McCollum a “sponge” for how he’s worked to learn the college game, and the freshman guard impressed his older teammates with the confidence he showed in taking — and making — some late-game shots against Harvard.
“He’s not afraid of the moment or to hit big shots, which is enormous for a freshman,” Platek said.
After a relatively bland debut against Yale, McCollum had six assists in 22 minutes against Georgetown, then scored 10 points in 16 minutes against Harvard. McCollum said he’s still getting adjusted to the college game, especially with “learning my angles [and] how to get through screens,” as a 6-foot-2 guard listed at 153 pounds.
“I’m really taking it all in,” McCollum.