Second-half defense gives Siena men’s basketball win over Mount St. Mary’s

Siena’s Michael Eley with the ball against Mount St. Mary’s Dakota Leffew during a MAAC college basketball game at MVP Arena in Albany on Friday.
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Siena’s Michael Eley with the ball against Mount St. Mary’s Dakota Leffew during a MAAC college basketball game at MVP Arena in Albany on Friday.

ALBANY – There wasn’t any question at halftime what Siena had to do in order to win Friday night.

With Mount St. Mary’s shooting 50% from the field, the Mountaineers had a 38-37 lead. Siena coach Carmen Maciariello said that couldn’t continue.

And it didn’t. The Saints clamped down on defense in the second half to come away with a 72-57 win in MAAC men’s basketball action at MVP Arena.

Siena improved to 7-1 in the MAAC, still atop the conference, and 13-6 overall.

“We showed how we can defend when we’re connected and locked in,” Maciariello said. “Limited them to 19 in the second half. … We’ve got to guard better. I think it was under 30 percent in the second half we held them to and [we] went on an amazing 20-4 run.”

Mount St. Mary’s (2-6 MAAC, 6-13 overall) took its biggest lead, 34-28, with 3:46 left in the first half. Siena responded with an important 6-0 run to keep the game from getting away.

“We knew in the last four minutes, we started to play better defense, and that could carry over to the second half,” said Jared Billups, who finished with an efficient 11 points, four assists and four blocks.

Until then, however, the Mountaineers’ point guard Jalen Benjamin and center Jedy Cordilia had superb games going.

“Our big guys were back too far, and our guards were getting hung up on the ball screens, so Benjamin and [Dakota] Leffew, we’re giving them pull-up jumpers.”

Eley was hot early, coming in for Javian McCollum, who picked up two fouls early.

“Honestly, I think what helped us was running our motion and making the extra pass, because we want to turn a good shot into a great shot,” Eley said.

The game – which featured 13 lead changes and eight ties – still had its back-and-forths in the second half, with the Mountaineers earning their last lead, 53-52, with 9:59 left.

Siena then went on a 10-0 run that swung the momentum entirely its way. It started with a jumper from Eley, who scored a career-high 20 points. Jackson Stormo followed with two foul shots.

Andrew Platek then hit a 3-pointer to make it a 59-53 Saints lead. Billups then forced a Mountaineer to drive baseline while not giving an inch on the next possession, forcing him to step out of bounds. Then, after scrapping for a couple of offensive rebounds, Platek hit a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to make it 62-53.

From there, Siena continued to make life difficult for Mount St. Mary’s on offense.

“I thought we did a good job contesting. One of the keys, I thought, was being aggressive on Benjamin,” Maciariello said.

After scoring 11 in the first half, Benjamin finished with 14.

Eley said his 20 points was just because he’s more comfortable.

“Experience, more practices late in the season,” Eley said. “I’m getting more comfortable playing with the guys.”

McCollum finished with 17 points, while Michael Baer was a rebounding force, with 14.

Forward Killian Gribben was out with an ankle injury, forcing a Siena team that has gotten adept at moving guys into the rotation due to injuries to keep doing so. Sveinn Birgisson got five and a half minutes of playing time Friday, while Eduardo Lane played for eight minutes.

“The problem is we know we’re capable of that run,” Maciariello summed. “We can’t wait for it, we have to make it happen.If we have a sense of urgency, maybe the first half is a little different.”

Contact Will Springstead at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @WLSpringstead.

Categories: College Sports, Siena College, Sports

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