LOUDONVILLE — Ultimately, getting outscored in overtime kept the Saints from starting conference play with a win back in early December against Manhattan in Albany.
Looking back at that MAAC game this week, though, the Siena men’s basketball team’s focus was on the way it finished the game’s other two periods ahead of the Saints’ rematch with the Jaspers at 7 p.m. Friday at Draddy Gymnasium in Riverdale.
There were ample lessons to learn from that 77-72 defeat, and there is evidence that the Saints have — largely, at least — learned them. Siena hasn’t lost since that game, as head coach Carmen Maciariello’s group has won four consecutive games, including three away from its home arena.
That winning streak is part of a larger stretch of games that has seen the Saints win six of eight games since their dreadful 0-4 start. Both losses in that eight-game stretch, too, have come in games decided in overtime.
“Each day, each game, we’re getting more chemistry on the court,” graduate guard Nick Hopkins said of the Saints’ progress, which continued last Friday with a remarkable, from-18-points-down comeback win at Marist.
A lack of success with situational basketball was what cost Siena (3-1 MAAC, 6-6 overall) against Manhattan (2-3, 9-5). Before the Jaspers edged Siena 13-8 in overtime, the Saints fumbled how they handled the close to both the first half and second half.
On Wednesday, Maciariello brought up Siena’s errors closing the first half, when a series of “ill-advised” shots in the final couple minutes before halftime helped allow Manhattan to trim its 10-point deficit to only four at the break.
Meanwhile, it was Anthony Gaines who brought up the costly end to the second half for the Saints. Up three points with less than 15 seconds to go, Siena allowed Manhattan a three-shot possession that ended with a game-tying 3 from Ant Nelson.
“We lost that game on an offensive rebound,” Gaines said. “Those are the things we can’t allow to happen. If we secure that [rebound], we can close out that game.”
“There’s no excuses for that,” Maciariello said. “We win the game with one defensive rebound.”
Siena has been a team, though, that’s grown and rallied from its mistakes throughout this season. Last Friday, the Saints did that all in one game, as they found themselves down big at Marist before producing a game-closing, 34-10 run to win 67-60.
“I think we’ve continued to grow,” Maciariello said, “but it’s always a tough game down there in Riverdale. [Manhattan head coach] Steve [Masiello] does a great job with his club.”
Manhattan is coming off losses in two of its last three games, part of a bit of a slide for the Jaspers. Manhattan left Albany with a 6-1 overall record in early December, and the Saints now visit Draddy Gymnasium to face a team that’s played one game under .500 since that matchup.
Maciariello, though, said the Saints know they need to be at their best to secure a fifth consecutive win.
“It’s another MAAC road game, right?” Maciariello said. “You’ve got to be ready for everything and make sure you’re handling all the small details.”
Nelson, who scored a game-high 24 points and recorded five steals against Siena back in December, has missed the last three games for Manhattan and his status for Friday’s matchup is unclear. Siena, Maciariello said, should have all of its roster — minus Andrew Platek (Achilles) and Taihland Owens (knee) — available to play against the Jaspers.
Jose Perez has emerged as Manhattan’s top offensive player this season. A transfer from Marquette, Perez scored 23 points against Siena in December, and the 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior is averaging 16.5 points and 5.1 assists per game.
“Jose Perez is one of the best players in the league, and you have to be able to stop him and match his physicality,” Maciariello said.
Perez ranks second in the MAAC in scoring behind Niagara’s Marcus Hammond who is averaging 17.3 points per game, while Perez leads the conference in assists.
Platek made his last appearance this season for the Saints in their loss to Manhattan, and Jared Billups entered into Siena’s starting lineup for the next game.
He’s not leaving it anytime soon.
“We love everything he brings to this team,” Gaines said of Siena’s top freshman.
A 6-foot-4, 190-pound wing player, Billups is averaging 6.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 25.5 minutes per game. What sticks out most, though, with Billups is how his energy and toughness help contribute to winning basketball. On the season, Billups has produced a team-leading plus-29 and the Saints are 6-4 in games he plays this season — and they’re 6-2 when he plays 20-plus minutes.
Siena enters its game at Manhattan tied for second place in the MAAC in the loss column with Saint Peter’s.
Iona is in first place at 7-0 in conference games. The Gaels next play Sunday at fourth-place Quinnipiac.
Siena travels to play Iona Tuesday.