ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — An injury-riddled Siena men’s basketball season, one that never saw the Saints turn the corner they approached several times, ended Thursday in the MAAC quarterfinals.
It was a campaign that saw the Saints, with their heavily revamped roster from a season ago, bounce back from their season-starting woes and surge — for a time — past the injuries that robbed them of key contributors. The Saints, though, struggled to ever fully gain on-court consistency, to get past the “blips” as head coach Carmen Maciariello referenced them last week, and become a team capable of winning three games in March.
So Siena’s season, instead, ended after one playoff game, as eleventh-seeded Quinnipiac collected its second upset win of the tournament with a 77-71 victory against the third-seeded Saints at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.
“You can’t look and say, ‘What if,’ right?” Maciariello said after a loss that concluded his third season guiding his alma mater’s program. “We don’t make excuses.”
Siena had the material to make them, for sure, as its season ended with a 15-14 mark. The Saints took on Quinnipiac, a team they swept in the regular season, with only eight scholarship players available. Aidan Carpenter (groin) missed his seventh consecutive game, while Anthony Gaines — a third-team All-MAAC selection — watched from the bench after suffering a torn ACL on the last possession of Siena’s regular season. To Gaines’ right Thursday on the Siena bench sat Jayce Johnson (elbow) and Andrew Platek (Achilles), another two players out with season-ending injuries that the Saints had expected to count on for significant minutes and scoring this season.
In the end, only Michael Baer — previously a walk-on at Iowa who transferred to Siena as a scholarship player — competed in every game this season for the Saints, a sign of the ever-shifting nature of Siena’s roster. In a fitting close to Siena’s campaign, Baer and Javian McCollum were inserted into Thursday’s starting lineup — along with regular starters Jared Billups, Colby Rogers and Jackson Stormo — to form a group that started its first game together in the win-or-go-home playoffs.
Siena ended up on the wrong side of that ultimatum, despite a spirited comeback attempt in the second half. Quinnipiac took control in the first half with a 15-2 run and led by as many as 11 points before taking a 40-32 lead into the break.
After halftime, Quinnipiac built its lead to 16 points with 10 minutes to go, but Siena’s didn’t quit as things started to look bleak. Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy called the Saints a “gritty opponent” that hadn’t let “really tough luck with injuries” this season “distract them or discourage them,” and Siena played like that to close its season.
A 3-pointer from Nick Hopkins started what became an 18-2 Siena run, but the Saints couldn’t complete the comeback. Siena had multiple chances to tie or go ahead of Quinnipiac in the final minutes, but the Saints didn’t succeed on those possessions — and the Bobcats made enough timely shots, and one free throw after another, to close out their win and advance to Friday’s semifinal against No. 2 Saint Peter’s.
“We needed to make one more shot to get that thing done,” Maciariello said of Siena’s comeback attempt.
After struggling to start the game, Rogers kept the Saints in it after Quinnipiac halted Siena’s run. Following a 3-pointer from Jacob Rigoni to end Siena’s 18-2 stretch, Rogers hit a 3 to bring Siena back within two points, and Rogers repeated that act after Quinnipiac’s Dezi Jones made another 3.
Rigoni, though, answered that final 3 from Rogers with one more of his own, and Quinnipiac maintained a multiple-possession lead for the final 2:30.
“The game was getting tight; as an experienced guy, comfortable in that position, you know you’ve got to step up,” Rigoni said of his late 3s to help his club improve to 14-16 this season.
As part of a 16-point night to lead Quinnipiac, Rigoni made four free throws in the final 30 seconds. The Bobcats made all eight of their free throws in the final half-minute as Siena tried to extend the game and its season.
Matt Balanc produced 15 points for Quinnipiac, while Jones added 11. Kevin Marfo had nine points and 11 rebounds for Quinnipiac, which out-rebounded Siena 40-37.
At times, there weren’t many opportunities for Siena to grab defensive rebounds. Against a Siena defense missing its best overall defender in Gaines, Quinnipiac made half of its 58 field-goal attempts and 10 of 21 attempts from 3-point territory.
“We had a lot of self-inflicted wounds, especially [with our] ball-screen defense,” Maciariello said. “You know, [we] were chasing guys that we don’t need to chase out of the scoring area. We were being overly aggressive on ball screens, where they were able to hit the pocket pass and get their big guys to the rim.”
The Saints’ hustle, though, was evident in how they tried to overcome a 26 of 71 shooting performance. Siena collected 16 offensive rebounds, one shy of a season-high total, as it tried to find a way into the semifinals.
“Our guys had tremendous fight,” Maciariello said.
Rogers, Siena’s leading scorer on the season, finished with 14 points on 5 of 18 shooting after he missed 10 of his first 11 shots. Stormo scored a dozen points, Billups produced nine points and 11 rebounds before fouling out, and McCollum led the Saints with a season-high 16 points on 7 of 16 shooting.
“I felt good, came out energetic. It’s a different feeling from high school, I can tell you that,” McCollum said of his first MAAC tournament game. “But I enjoyed playing with the group of guys that we had, and I can’t wait to come back next year.”
It’s college basketball in 2022, so roster changes are inevitable as transfer season is already moving along at a fast pace despite the actual season not being complete. But after needing to dramatically overhaul its roster last offseason, Siena seemingly heads into this year’s offseason with a solid core in place with Billups, McCollum, Rogers and Stormo among the Saints eligible to return for next season.
“We have all the makings of a championship team, and now we need to do it every day and realize that everything matters,” Maciariello said.
Siena started the 2021-22 campaign with four blowout losses, then found itself fighting for the MAAC’s No. 2 seed until the regular season’s final weekend. The team found a way to win games, but couldn’t win enough of them down the stretch, as the Saints lost five of their final eight games.
“We battled adversity all season with the way guys went down,” Maciariello said. “At the end of the day, I think it’ll test our resolve and grow us to really use this as motivation.”
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Categories: -Sports-, College Sports, Siena College