ALBANY — Nearly seven years ago, while he was still a sophomore in high school, Michael Baer sat in the crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa and watched as his older brother Nicholas, then a freshman at Iowa, brought a capacity crowd to its feet with a pair of 3-pointers as the Hawkeyes battled rival Indiana.
“I remember sitting at that game and saying, ‘I want to do that,’ ” Baer said.
It took some time to get there.
It was a journey that took him from manager to walk-on at Iowa before transferring to Siena. On Saturday night, a long way from Iowa City, Michael Baer got that long-awaited moment.
With 1:32 left in the second half of the Albany Cup at MVP Arena, Jared Billups swung the ball to Baer on the left wing with the shot clock running down. The 6-foot-7 graduate student forward drained a 3-pointer right in front of the Siena student section, giving the Saints a 10-point lead as the green-and-gold half of the split crowd of 9,561 erupted.
“I’ve had to wait my turn quite a bit,” said Baer, who at Iowa was a player and manager under former Siena head coach Fran McCaffery. “But, I feel like tonight I definitely got to meet that moment and live that out. That was special.”
“That’s ‘Big Shot Baer,’” Siena guard Jayce Johnson said, shaking Baer’s shoulders as he walked past his postgame interview. “Make sure you put that down.”
Baer’s fingerprints were all over Siena’s rousing second-half comeback from a 16-point deficit to a 75-62 win. The Bettendorf, Iowa native scored all eight of his points in the second half, grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds and added three assists.
The Saints were a plus-15 during Baer’s 27 minutes on the court, and his efforts drew effusive praise from his teammates and Siena (2-0 overall) head coach Carmen Maciariello.
“Mike works harder than any person, like ever,” Siena graduate student guard Andrew Platek said. “He was a manager, then a walk-on, and he’s just worked his butt off every single day. To see him have the success he had tonight, and that he’s going to have this season, it’s the coolest thing in the world for me.”
“That’s what’s special about this group,” Maciariello said. “There’s so many little stories, with all the different things that these guys have been through and persevered through.”
DRUMGOOLE’S BREAKOUT NIGHT
Until Siena’s second-half surge, the story of Saturday night was the scoring eruption of UAlbany (1-2 overall) senior forward Gerald Drumgoole Jr.
With the Great Danes hampered early when reigning America East Rookie of the Year Justin Neely exited with a knee injury that head coach Dwayne Killings termed as potentially “severe,” Drumgoole stepped up to lead the way.
Draining five 3-pointers, Drumgoole put up a career-high 22 points and fueled UAlbany to its 50-34 lead four minutes into the second half.
“He wanted the ball,” Killings said. “He was confident.”
Prior to Saturday night, Drumgoole had only scored in double-digits once in his collegiate career — five nights earlier in UAlbany’s season-opening loss to Towson. In his two seasons at Pittsburgh and the one game he played at UAlbany in 2021-22 prior to a season-ending injury, Drumgoole never scored more than six points in a game.
“I just do what it takes to win,” Drumgoole said. “If that means doing what I did today, then that’s what it has to be.”
With the Albany Cup out of the way, both teams head toward the remainder of their non-conference schedules.
For UAlbany, that means a quick turnaround to Monday’s 7 p.m. game against another Capital Region opponent, Division III Union. It’ll be the Great Danes’ first regular-season home game at Hudson Valley Community College, the program’s temporary home court in 2022-23 while SEFCU Arena is under renovation.
The Union game will also be the fifth and final game served in Killings’ five-game suspension. He sat out the Great Danes’ two exhibitions and their first two regular season games before returning for the Albany Cup. Assistant Bobby Jordan will once again serve as acting head coach against the Dutchmen.
Up next for Siena is the Saints’ first “true” home game of the year, as they’ll be back at MVP Arena Wednesday at 7 p.m. to face Army West Point in the nightcap of a doubleheader that starts at 5 p.m. with the Siena women hosting Saint Bonaventure.