LOUDONVILLE – Successful returns to the court and a strong effort from a sophomore expected to become a star this season for the Saints led the Siena men’s basketball program to a win Monday to start its 2022-23 season.
The Saints sprinkled together enough solid stretches to earn a 75-68 victory at Hart Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, against Holy Cross. In the non-conference win, Javian McCollum — Siena’s second-year lead guard — scored a team-high 20 points on 8 of 12 shooting, while Andrew Platek scored 13, and Eduardo Lane contributed 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“We had a chance to close it out a little sooner if we made our free throws, but I was happy,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said after the victory. “I thought we got contributions from everyone who stepped on the floor and the energy was great on the bench — so I’ll take it.”
Lane and Platek each made their first appearance in an official game in quite some time. Platek missed most of last season with a torn Achilles tendon, while Lane — a San Jose State transfer — hadn’t played in a game since the 2019-20 season due to injuries. Platek started the game and played 23 minutes, while the 6-foot-10 Lane played 23 minutes off the bench on a night that saw Siena play without starting center Jackson Stormo.
“We always have that next-man-up mentality — and he’s had a great two weeks of practice,” Maciariello said of Lane.
Along with Killian Gribben and Taihland Owens, who were each expected to miss the opening-night game, Stormo wasn’t available Monday after experiencing discomfort in his back as Sunday’s practice started. Maciariello said that Stormo, Siena’s top returning scorer and a preseason second-team All-MAAC selection, will have his back checked out Tuesday by a doctor.
“But I don’t think it’s anything serious,” said Maciariello, who added that Stormo and Gribben “are both possible” to play in Saturday’s game against UAlbany.
Against Holy Cross, McCollum led the way. After averaging 6.7 points per game in a reserve role as a freshman, McCollum was in control of the Saints’ offense throughout the 30 minutes he played.
“I thought he had a great floor game and he made some timely baskets,” Maciariello said of McCollum, who had five assists and two turnovers.
Siena led 37-26 after an opening 20 minutes that saw the Saints’ lead hit 17 points at one point. McCollum scored a team-high 11 in the opening period, but eight Saints scored in a balanced opening half that saw six Siena players score before any Saint scored their second basket.
Holy Cross quickly recovered in the second half. The home club opened with a 10-1 run, then got itself within 44-43 with 13 minutes to go.
But the Saints responded. Jayce Johnson earned a trip to the foul line, and made both shots to give the Saints some room. A 3-pointer from Platek followed a defensive stop, and the Saints maintained a multiple-possession lead the rest of the way. While Siena never ran away from Holy Cross in the final dozen minutes, Maciariello’s squad also never seemed in danger of heading to an opening-night defeat.
“When it was all said and done,” Maciariello said, “we found a way to win.”
Gerrale Gates, who once offered a verbal commitment to UAlbany during Will Brown’s tenure as head coach, led Holy Cross with a tremendous all-around showing. The 6-foot-6, 237-pound forward registered 25 points on 10 of 14 shooting, plus eight rebounds, four steals and three blocks.
Besides Johnson, McCollum and Platek, Siena started Jared Billups and Jordan Kellier. Billups finished with six points and six rebounds, Kellier’s eight-point night included a key 3-pointer to stretch Siena’s lead to a three-possession one with 3:30 left and Johnson recorded eight points.
Lane’s double-double effort led the Siena bench, which also received five points and seven rebounds from Michael Baer. In all, nine Saints played.
A rough spot for Siena was its showing from the foul line. The Saints made 12 of 21 from the foul line — but Holy Cross was 10 of 23.
Siena finished last season 15-14. The latest campaign is off to a much better start than the Saints managed a year ago. Siena started its 2021-22 season with four consecutive losses, each by at least 18 points.
Siena next plays Saturday at MVP Arena in downtown Albany against UAlbany in the first Albany Cup matchup since 2017. In its opening-night game, UAlbany lost 67-62 Monday at Towson.
Maciariello said the Saints will take Tuesday off before returning to practice Wednesday with a focus on themselves. The focus at practice will shift Thursday to preparing for UAlbany.
“It’s great for the community,” Maciariello said of the matchup. “For us, though, it’s another game — and we have a job to do.”
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