Albany County

Siena men’s basketball seeks 3 wins in 3 days in MAAC tournament

Siena’s Jared Billups takes a shot against Quinnipiac’s Kevin Marfo during a game at MVP Arena in Albany on Sunday, January 30, 2022.
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Siena’s Jared Billups takes a shot against Quinnipiac’s Kevin Marfo during a game at MVP Arena in Albany on Sunday, January 30, 2022.

The offseason of constant activity remaking the program’s roster and coaching staff, the dreadful beginning to the campaign and the resurgence after that start — despite experiencing one injury after another — are all in the past.

In fact, everything up to this point?

“No one cares,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said Monday. “Right now, it’s about possession by possession, doing the right thing, and being able to advance, right? So it’s survive and advance, and that’s going to be our mindset.”

It’s become all about three days in March for the Siena men’s basketball program, which starts its stay in the MAAC tournament with a quarterfinal game Thursday at 7 p.m. against Quinnipiac at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

That’s not to say the drama associated with the 2021-22 season is entirely forgotten, or totally behind the Saints. Siena just found out Tuesday that the program’s injury-riddled season will see it play the postseason without co-captain Anthony Gaines, a third-team All-MAAC selection who suffered a torn ACL on the Saints’ final possession of the regular season. 

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It was a cruel close to the regular season, one that saw only two players — Gaines and fellow graduate student Michael Baer — appear in every game for Siena, which overachieved following a tumultuous offseason and start to the season that consisted of one blowout loss after another. Siena finished the regular season 15-13 overall, and garnered the No. 3 seed for this week’s MAAC tournament after losing its final two games of the regular season.

And, somehow, the Saints ended up with as favorable a draw as seemingly possible in a wide-open tournament that saw top-seeded Iona lose in Wednesday’s quarterfinals to Rider. The Saints open their postseason against No. 11 Quinnipiac, and Siena swept the Bobcats during the regular season. Quinnipiac earned its third meeting with the Saints after knocking off sixth-seeded Marist, a program that gave Siena all types of trouble in the regular season.

Siena also swept No. 2 Saint Peter’s and No. 7 Fairfield in the regular season, so the Saints could make it to Saturday’s championship game without playing a team that defeated them during the regular season.

Siena, though, can’t extend its season to Saturday unless it starts off with a successful Thursday.

“Just one game at a time — and, then, when you win one game, and then hopefully win the next, you just start to gain momentum and even more confidence than you had before,” Siena freshman Jared Billups said of his mindset entering into his first MAAC tournament. “I think that belief in your own self, that’s what really gets you through.”

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“We’re just getting ready to go to battle. It’s going to be a long week of games, and we’re hoping to make it all the way to Saturday,” Siena senior center Jackson Stormo said.

The last two trips to Atlantic City have been painful for Siena. The 2019-20 Saints were the top seed and had won 10 consecutive games when the MAAC tournament was halted due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, while last season’s club entered the postseason again as the league’s top seed, but went home after the quarterfinals following the program’s latest postseason loss to Iona.

This season’s revamped roster, though, includes no scholarship players that competed for Siena during the 2019-20 season and only two — Aidan Carpenter and Stormo — that played last year in Atlantic City. For the most part, this season’s Saints don’t bear the burden of memories from past postseasons, and junior Colby Rogers said Siena is confident ahead of its win-or-go-home games.

“I don’t think we’re too high or too low, as of right now,” said Rogers, the Saints’ leading scorer this season after transferring to Siena from Cal Poly last offseason. “I just think we’ve got to come in and focus on what we need to do.”

And that’s to find a way to keep its season going beyond this week.

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“Obviously, March is what we all do this for, right?” Maciariello said. “It’s a culmination of a season with many highs and lows, and many adverse times to prosperous times. For us, it’s about coming together as one, and playing great basketball and taking it one day at a time.”

LOOKING BACK

Siena won its regular-season games 85-76 and 78-71 against Quinnipiac.

Dezi Jones averaged a team-best 19 points per game for Quinnipiac in those contests, while Kevin Marfo had 16 points and 17 rebounds in the teams’ first meeting before producing two points and eight rebounds in the rematch.

Quinnipiac didn’t have many answers for Rogers during the regular season. The Siena junior averaged 22.5 points per game on 53.8% shooting against the Bobcats this season.

STRONG EFFORT

Quinnipiac is coming off one of its best games of the season.

The Bobcats rolled past Marist 77-52 in Tuesday’s first-round game. Quinnipiac made 17 of 35 3-pointers in that win, and outscored the Red Foxes 46-27 after halftime.

Jacob Rigoni scored 26 points in the victory, while Jones had 20 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Matt Balanc — the team’s leading scorer this season at 14.6 points per game — scored 18 points against Marist.

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WHO STARTS?

In a season marked with constant lineup shuffling, Siena managed to start the same five players in its final 10 regular-season games.

For the first playoff game for the Saints, that starting group will change since Gaines is unavailable to play alongside Billups, Nick Hopkins, Rogers and Stormo.

Siena only has nine scholarship players available for the MAAC tournament, and that counts Carpenter (groin) who is expected to play this week after missing the team’s last six games. 

If Siena opts to go smaller, it could insert talented freshman guard Javian McCollum into a starting lineup that would become more offensive-minded. 

The team also could start Baer, a 6-foot-7 forward whose presence at the beginning of the game would mean fewer players need to shift a position in the lineup.

MAAC AWARDS

Iona collected three of the MAAC’s five major individual awards, as announced Wednesday.

From Iona, Rick Pitino was named MAAC Coach of the Year, Tyson Jolly earned MAAC Player of the Year and Dylan van Eyck earned MAAC Sixth Player of the Year.

Other league awards went to Saint Peter’s KC Ndefo (Defensive) and Marist’s Jao Ituka (Rookie).

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