Albany County

Small-ball lineups here to stay for Siena men’s basketball

Siena’s Jordan Kellier with the ball against Saint Rose’s Cartier Bowman during an exhibition game at TU Center in Albany on Monday, October 25, 2021.

Siena’s Jordan Kellier with the ball against Saint Rose’s Cartier Bowman during an exhibition game at TU Center in Albany on Monday, October 25, 2021.

LOUDONVILLE — Before the last two games, his first playing for the Siena men’s basketball program, Jordan Kellier said he hadn’t manned the 5 position since he first started playing basketball in his native Jamaica.

And, he acknowledged, his initial reaction to the idea of playing the position in spurts for the Saints was “I really don’t want to be the 5.”

Anyway . . . 

Kellier — who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 226 pounds — has warmed to the idea, which is a good thing since the small-ball lineups Siena used to great success against Army with Kellier playing the 5 aren’t going away any time soon for the Saints. A day after the Saints’ 16-point win against Army, Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said Wednesday that such lineups are “something that we’ll continue to see,” and had been a part of the team’s long-term plan for the season. The variety of injuries — including for Kellier, who missed the team’s first five games — the Saints suffered in the offseason, preseason and first weeks of the 2021-22 season delayed a significant usage of small-ball lineups, but the Saints are now “as healthy as we’re going to get” following a win that saw every scholarship player except freshman Taihland Owens (knee) available to play.

 “We’d always wanted to play small just because I think it gives us a different look,” Maciariello said.

Siena scored a season-high 83 points against Army, and 55 of those points came after halftime. A transfer from Utah who traditionally has played as a wing player, Kellier played six minutes Sunday in his debut against Bucknell, then played 15 minutes — all as a small-ball 5 — against Army, and offered six points and six rebounds.

A junior, Kellier’s own statistics were modest.

But, in those 15 minutes, the Saints outscored Army 37-27 as they took advantage of the driving lanes their improved spacing allowed.

More minutes at the 5 were available due to foul trouble for Jackson Stormo, who logged a season-low 17 minutes against Army. Stormo only scored four points and had three rebounds, but Siena played well, too, when the 6-foot-9 senior was on the court. The Saints outscored Army by 16 points during Stormo’s playing time.

The significance of Tuesday’s development, though, was that Siena found a way to play winning basketball when Stormo — the team’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder — heads to the bench, and demonstrated it could play a different style at a high level. When Stormo is on the court, Siena possessions often include a traditional post touch; with Kellier at the 5, Siena’s offense forces opposing defenses to cover more ground. That gives the Saints options — and forces upcoming opponents, such as Manhattan on Friday, to need to plan to defend both looks.

At times, Siena has tried to play smaller this season before its most-recent games. Michael Baer has played some small-ball 5 minutes, but success didn’t come as readily with those lineups as the ones Tuesday with Kellier in that 5 spot.

Against Army, a lineup of Aidan Carpenter, Nick Hopkins — who produced a game-high, plus-26 in his 25 minutes — Jared Billups, Anthony Gaines and Kellier was the Saints’ most-effective group. With those five players — all of whom stand 6-foot-6 or shorter — on the court, Siena outscored Army 14-3 in 2:48 of action.

While Kellier’s ability to play the 5 makes such a lineup possible, Maciariello pointed to a shift of Gaines from the 3 to 4 as just as important for the Saints. After a nondescript start to his Siena career during which he often played the 3 because of Siena’s injury issues, Gaines — a graduate transfer from Northwestern of the Big Ten Conference — has put together solid back-to-back games playing mostly as a 4. Gaines scored 16 points in Siena’s win against Army, a performance that followed Gaines registering a career-high 20 points in the Saints’ overtime loss at Bucknell. The 36 points Gaines scored in those two games outpaced his scoring output of 27 in Siena’s first five games.

“Anthony’s best position for us is at the 4,” said Maciariello, who added the 6-foot-5 Gaines is “starting to play how we know he can play.”

Siena has a lot of different pieces to its roster, and the Saints only played one game during their 2-5 start to the season with all of the players they expected to count on this season. Despite a very encouraging second half during Tuesday’s win, the Saints know they haven’t figured everything out yet. In all likelihood, there are more bumps in the road coming for the Saints — but, now, they have way more ways to try to navigate past them.

“It’s a process,” Maciariello said. “This team has to learn how to win and I think we’re taking steps in that regard — and this will be another tough test for us Friday night against Manhattan.”

Kellier said he has no problem continuing to play his new position — or some other one.

“I’m a basketball player,” Kellier said. “I don’t really look at it as playing the 5.”

“He wants to play,” Maciariello said. “I don’t got to sell him on anything. He wants to get on the court.”

Kellier said he wants to “win at all costs.” While center is “not a role that many guys my size want to play,” Kellier said he’s different.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about being locked in and understanding that you’re doing something much, much bigger than yourself,” Kellier said.

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