LOUDONVILLE — The scenario is simple enough.
Siena will either be the No. 2 or 3 seed for next week’s MAAC men’s basketball tournament, and the Saints control their path to the better of those two spots. With wins Thursday at Niagara and Saturday at Canisius, the Saints will secure the No. 2 seed, regardless of what Saint Peter’s — which is a half-game ahead of Siena for second place — does in its regular-season finale against Fairfield.
Earning that No. 2 seed is important to the Saints, as it should be, since the MAAC’s top-two teams get a day of rest between the quarterfinals and semifinals that the other three teams with first-round byes don’t receive. Most important, though, during the Saints’ western New York road trip is for Siena not to suffer one of the let-down games that’s remained an every-now-and-then occurrence for head coach Carmen Maciariello’s club that’s rebounded from a 0-4 start to win 15 of its last 22 games.
“I think it’s key. We don’t want to have any blips. We want to play 40 minutes,” Maciariello said Wednesday. “You know, obviously, you’ll miss shots, but you want the execution to be sound, you want to be able to handle pressure, you want to be able to meet passes, you want to be able to make free throws, you want to be able to not have shot-clock violations — all those things. Clean offense, clean defense. I think that’s the goal for every team heading into March. And, so, that’s the goal right now, is just to play good basketball, to be able to execute, to be able to game plan, to be able to scout and defend.
“And, then, we’ll see where that takes us.”
Heading into its 7 p.m. game Thursday at Gallagher Center in Lewiston against Niagara (7-11 league, 12-15 overall), Siena (12-6, 15-11) is coming off back-to-back wins against Quinnipiac and Monmouth. Meanwhile, Niagara has lost four of its last five — all on the road — since it became the first MAAC team to beat first-place Iona in early February.
Siena defeated Niagara 60-56 in late January, but the Purple Eagles were without leading scorer Marcus Hammond for that contest in Albany.
“It’s a big challenge. It’s easier to play teams without their leading scorer,” said Siena guard Colby Rogers, who is his team’s leading scorer this season. “So I think we have our work cut out for us.”
Rogers spent a lot of Sunday’s win against Monmouth defending George Papas, the Hawks’ leading scorer. Both Hammond and Papas — and Rogers, for that matter — average multiple made 3-pointers per game, but the 6-foot-4 junior said Hammond’s off-the-dribble ability presents an extra challenge for opposing teams.
“We know he’s going to be aggressive, we know he’s going to try to score, so I think the biggest thing is just for us — as a team — to make it uncomfortable for him, make it tough for him,” Rogers said. “It’s going to take all five of us. It’s going to be a team effort.”
Defending Hammon will be difficult, but — in general — the two-game trip to western New York is never an easy one for the Saints. Siena hasn’t swept a two-game trip to Canisius and Niagara since 2016, but Maciariello said the away games are “just another road trip” for the Saints, and senior center Jackson Stormo said he thinks the program’s lack of sweeps in its recent trips to western New York are more about the realities of the MAAC than anything else.
“It’s the MAAC, any team can beat any team on any given night, especially when you’re going to someone else’s home court,” Stormo said.
CARPENTER ‘POSSIBLE’ TO PLAY
Maciariello said it’s “possible” that Aidan Carpenter, who has missed Siena’s last four games due to a groin injury, could play during the Saints’ regular-season-closing trip to western New York.
“He practiced [Tuesday]. He’s going on the trip, so we’ll see where that goes,” Maciariello said.
Carpenter has dealt with multiple ailments this season and has only played in 17 of Siena’s games. When he has played, the 6-foot-4 guard has often been a source of reliable scoring. Carpenter has scored at least eight points in 10 of his appearances this season.
Siena has played its recent games with only nine available scholarship players.
STORMO BACK NEXT SEASON
Stormo confirmed Wednesday that he’ll be back next season with the Saints.
While a true senior, Stormo was not one of the Saints who participated in this past weekend’s senior-day ceremony. He has one remaining season of playing eligibility, and said he will use it at Siena.
“I’ll be here. That was always my plan,” Stormo said. “Being able to play last season was a surprise; I was suppose to come here and redshirt all last year. So my whole plan has always been to have three years here — and that I can play three years instead of sitting one and playing two is just the icing on the cake.”
A transfer from Pepperdine, Stormo was originally going to sit out the 2020-21 season, but was granted an NCAA waiver to play right away and did just that. A team captain this season, Stormo has averaged double-digit scoring since joining the Saints.
Previously, Maciariello said he expected Stormo back for next season — and the 6-foot-9 center said he viewed not taking part in this past weekend’s senior ceremony as a sign of his commitment to staying with the Saints beyond 2021-22.
“I think doing that leaves too much to the imagination — and I wouldn’t want to celebrate that twice,” Stormo said when asked if he’d considered participating in Siena’s senior-day festivities along with manager Carter Morelli, and players Anthony Gaines, Nick Hopkins, Robert Mahala and Michael Tertsea. “You know, it was those guys’ year. . . . It was their time. Next year, I’ll have mine.”
STAYING IN ATLANTIC CITY
The MAAC announced Wednesday that its basketball tournaments will stay in Atlantic City, New Jersey for 2023.
As part of a three-year deal, the MAAC tournament moved from Albany to Atlantic City’s Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall starting with the 2020 tournament, which ended prematurely due to concerns related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It was expected that the MAAC would keep its basketball playoffs in Atlantic City for at least one additional year given the 2020 and 2021 tournaments’ surrounding circumstances related to the pandemic.