LOUDONVILLE — With the way it’s played since dropping its first four games, the Siena men’s basketball team has the look of a squad coming together.
Saints freshman Jared Billups, the reigning MAAC Rookie of the Week, said he sees Siena’s next opponent a bit differently than that.
“They have a lot of players that just want to score the ball,” Billups said Wednesday regarding Marist. “I don’t think they’re really cohesive as a team.”
Such a quote, perhaps, provides some bulletin-board material for the Red Foxes who host the Saints at 7 p.m. Friday in Poughkeepsie at James J. McCann Recreational Center. Siena, though, has had something of a confident edge to it this week, with both Billups and head coach Carmen Maciariello bringing up how the MAAC’s preseason poll, which came out three months ago, picked the Saints — the league’s twice-defending, regular-season champion — to finish eighth. Billups said this week that the pick was “disrespectful,” and Maciariello made a point Sunday of noting his club is “no joke” after the Saints won for the fifth time in their last seven tries with a victory against Fairfield.
While Siena (2-1 MAAC, 5-6 overall) is looking Friday to avoid falling to .500 in conference action, Marist (2-3, 7-7) wants to get back to that mark after playing a conference slate that’s already seen them lose twice to league favorite Iona. Marist’s roster includes four players averaging better than nine points per game, but — perhaps to Billups’ point — the Red Foxes rank second-to-last in the country, according to kenpom.com, in terms of the number of baskets that see them record an assist.
Marist, though, certainly has Siena’s attention ahead of the clubs’ matchup. The teams split their series last season, and Maciariello said he knows what to expect from the John Dunne-coached Red Foxes.
“They’re physical. They’re athletic. They can get out and run,” Maciariello said. “They’ve got a bunch of guys that can get hot, so you can’t relax and think, ‘Oh, this guy’s not going to shoot it,’ because he’s going to rise up and shoot a 3.”
Ricardo Wright — who made a pair of crucial late-game 3s in Marist’s win against Siena last season — is the Red Foxes’ leading scorer at 14.1 points per game, and the sophomore is one of six Marist players averaging double-digit attempts from 3-point territory.
“I think we’re going to win this game [with] defense,” said Siena’s Colby Rogers, the Saints’ leading scorer on the season who is expected to return to the team’s lineup after missing Sunday’s win. “If we play good defensively, I think the offense will take care of itself.”
Offensively, Maciariello said the Saints need to be decisive when attacking because of how Marist crowds the paint and puts pressure on ball-handlers utilizing screens.
“We’ve got to be ready,” Maciariello said.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Nick Hopkins, Siena’s 6-foot-0 guard, has proven to be a key bellwether player for the Saints.
In the Saints’ five wins, Hopkins is averaging 13.6 points. All four of his double-digit scoring games this season have come in wins, including when he scored a team-high 19 points Sunday against the Stags.
In Siena’s losses, Hopkins has averaged 4.2 points per game.
From wins to losses, Hopkins’ shooting percentage from the field goes from 64.1% down to 28.1%.