Billups playing key role in Siena men’s basketball’s 5-3 start

Siena's Jared Billups takes a shot against Marist Friday, February 18, 2022.

Siena's Jared Billups takes a shot against Marist Friday, February 18, 2022.

Late in Siena’s MAAC men’s basketball opener, sophomore Jared Billups cut toward the basket, took a feed from teammate Jackson Stormo, and slammed home a two-handed jam.

It was a memorable highlight from a win against Canisius. It was the prior offensive possession, though, that demonstrated the type of winning play that Siena is able to count upon Billups to make. 

At that point in the game, Billups had played approximately 30 minutes without making a shot from the field for head coach Carmen Maciariello’s club. But Billups had found other ways to help the Saints, and he hustled his way to a critical contribution with Siena clinging to a two-point lead with 4:30 to go. That’s when classmate Javian McCollum missed a long-range shot, and the 6-foot-4 Billups headed toward the basket, tipped an offensive rebound to himself, then found McCollum for an open 3-pointer that forced a Canisius timeout.

“I couldn’t get a basket to fall,” Billups said of his mindset after the Saints’ 74-70 win Friday in Albany, “so I knew I had to find a way to [make an] impact somehow.”

Billups has done that throughout this season, a campaign that followed an offseason where the perimeter player from Maryland had to spend ample time rehabilitating a right-wrist injury that required surgery. Billups’ shooting numbers are down from last season, but that hasn’t affected the Saints’ best defensive player elsewhere on the court.

“I think you’re seeing him grow up before your eyes,” Maciariello said of the maturity Billups has shown this season.

Through Siena’s 5-3 start, Billups has recorded per-game averages of 8.3 points and six rebounds in 30.8 minutes. He’s fourth on the Saints in scoring, tied with the 6-foot-9 Stormo for the team lead in rebounds, and ranks only behind McCollum — Siena’s leading scorer at 18.3 points per game — in minutes played.

Billups matched Stormo in rebounds with a team-best 10 against Canisius. Billups made only 1 of 5 shots from the field, but scored six points after making all four of his free throws. He also blocked a shot, recorded an assist and took turns guarding whichever Canisius player was heating up during 33 minutes on the floor.

“Even if my shot is not falling, I’ve got to stay on the floor. I’ve got to help my team, somehow,” said Billups, whose club next plays Wednesday at Georgetown of the Big East.

After making 45.7% of his field goals and 24.1% of his 3-point attempts as a freshman, Billups has shot 36.2% from the field and 13.3% from downtown during Siena’s opening games. The expectation is those shooting numbers will start to go up as the Saints play more games, and Maciariello said Billups is still adjusting to how opposing defenses are playing him this season.

“Obviously, teams aren’t guarding him as much on the perimeter,” Maciariello said, “so he’s now got to learn how to create and play off the bounce a little bit, and be productive in that way.”

Billups, though, is one of the steadiest Saints. Even when he’s not scoring in bunches, his 30-plus minutes on the court have played a large role in Siena’s winning start.

“He’s going to defend. He’s going to rebound,” Maciariello said. “He’s going to keep guys connected on the floor.”

Contact Michael Kelly at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMichaelKelly.

Categories: College Sports, Siena College, Sports, Sports

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