Albany County

Off bench, Baer playing big role for Siena men’s basketball; Saints play Wednesday at Georgetown

Siena’s Michael Baer with the ball against Iona’s Nelly Junior Joseph during a MAAC basketball game at MVP Arena in Albany on Friday, February 11, 2022.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Siena’s Michael Baer with the ball against Iona’s Nelly Junior Joseph during a MAAC basketball game at MVP Arena in Albany on Friday, February 11, 2022.

LOUDONVILLE — The shot Michael Baer didn’t take was the one that stuck out most to Siena men’s basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello.

Late in Friday’s win against Canisius in Albany, Baer checked into the game, promptly blocked a shot, ran up the floor and accepted a pass in position to take a transition 3-pointer with less than five minutes to go in a tie game. 

It was the type of shot that Baer, as some would view it, had earned the right to take given the defensive play he’d just made.

But instead of firing away, Baer put the ball to the ground and headed toward the basket. A Canisius defender scrambled into his way and Baer took the contact to earn the trip to the foul line where he made both free throws to give the Saints a lead they never relinquished in their MAAC opener.

“He does a great job knowing time and score,” Maciariello said Monday as the Saints started to prepare for Wednesday’s 6:30 p.m. game against the Big East’s Georgetown at Capital One Arena in Washington D.C. 

Friday’s drive to the basket was the type of winning play — a winning decision, really — that has become expected from Baer, who was a walk-on at Iowa for former Siena head coach Fran McCaffery before joining Maciariello’s Saints prior to last season as a scholarship forward.

“I just think his veteran leadership, his basketball acumen has really helped this group,” Maciariello said of the reserve. “He never tries to overdo it. He’s always going to play within himself.”

A 6-foot-7 forward, Baer doesn’t overwhelm anyone with athleticism. His jump shot comes with an unorthodox motion. On the court, he’s without a true position, as he’s neither quite mobile enough to be classified as a 3 nor imposing in the manner of a true 4.

But he’s a basketball player, and the type a coach covets. Baer doesn’t make mistakes, and that quality has helped turn Baer into a key cog for a Siena club that brings a 5-3 mark — and two high-major wins — into its game against head coach Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown program that’s off to a 4-5 start. 

“He’s always in the gym,” Siena’s leading scorer Javian McCollum said of Baer. “He’s willing to come in and do the dirty work.”

Baer is producing modest per-game averages of 3.5 points and 5.6 rebounds in 22.3 minutes this season off the bench, but his on-court impact has been mirrored in Siena’s results. Siena’s won the minutes Baer’s played in all five of its wins — and the Saints have lost the three games that they were outscored in Baer’s time on the floor. Siena’s outscored opponents by 54 points with Baer on the floor in its victory and the Saints were outscored by 32 points in Baer’s minutes in losses. 

Baer is averaging almost double as many minutes per game this season as he did last season when he played nearly 300 more than during all his seasons at Iowa. In eight games this season, Baer’s nearly halfway to his points total from last season in 29 appearances, while he’ll soon surpass last season’s totals in rebounds and assists. 

“I think a little more aggression. I think last year, I might have played a little timid, a little bit,” Baer said of what’s led to his increased production. “And that [change] is just confidence from putting the work in, having the coaching staff have confidence in me, and then my teammates, as well. I want to find a way to impact winning however I can. Sometimes, it’s just playing with a little more confidence, which I think I am this year.”

Often this season, Baer’s teammates have gone out of their way to praise what he brings to the team. Maciariello said Baer “earns that every day in practice” with his work ethic, but also with how he helps to lead the Saints as a veteran presence.  

“He’s just a great person,” Maciariello said. “You know [that] he cares about these guys.”

TAKING ON GEORGETOWN

Even if the Saints didn’t already have wins against Seton Hall of the Big East and Florida State of the ACC to their credit, Maciariello said he’d expect his club to go into its matchup with the Hoyas a confident group.

“These guys think they can beat any team,” a smiling Maciariello said Monday. “So I mean, I don’t want us to be overconfident, [but] I think we’ll have the mindset that we’re going [to Georgetown] to win a road game, just like we do any time we go on the road.”

Siena played at Georgetown early last season, and suffered an 18-point loss to conclude a stretch that saw the Saints lose their first four games by an average of 23.5 points. Likening it to “night and day,” Maciariello said his sense is that his club is in “completely different territory,” from where it was a year ago heading into its game against Georgetown. Beyond its signature wins, Siena heads into this year’s game at Georgetown having won more than they lost, and — while far from a finished product — have started to develop an identity.

“I think there’s a little more role definition,” Baer said of the difference between this year’s Saints and the ones last season that headed to Georgetown. “Last year, there were so many new guys; we were all trying to jell and get that chemistry. The chemistry this year, I think, is a lot better — and everyone understands . . . what they have to do to help the team win.”

With an average of 18.3 points per game, McCollum — a sophomore — has become the focal point of Saints’ offense, while graduate students Jackson Stormo and Andrew Platek also average double-digit scoring. Platek has only scored seven points in Siena’s last three games, but the former Guilderland High School standout said he’ll continue to stay within the Saints’ offense rather than chase points. 

“I’m not worried about scoring,” Platek said. “That’s something that will always come. I’m worried about winning.”

For Georgetown — whose coaching roster includes former Siena head coach Louis Orr as a special assistant to the head coach — four players are averaging double-digit scoring. Leading the Hoyas is Primo Spears, a 6-foot-3 sophomore who is averaging 16.6 points in 38 minutes per game. Spears ranks No. 3 in the country in minutes per game, through Monday’s action.

Of the Saints’ duo of wins against high-major foes this season, Baer said that it’s “hard for it not to” give Siena confidence heading into Wednesday’s matchup. 

“But, at the same time, every game is different,” Baer said. “So we’re going to see something different from Georgetown than we saw from Florida State, that we saw from Ole Miss, that we saw from Seton Hall. So each game is going to be completely different. 

“But at the end of the day, we want to go get a win. We’re going to take our best shot at it.”

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

Categories: College Sports, Siena College, Sports, Sports

Leave a Reply