Billups leads first-place Siena men’s basketball to MAAC win at Marist

Siena’s Jared Billups takes a shot against Iona’s Nelly Junior Joseph during a men’s basketball game at MVP Arena on Friday, January 27, 2023.

Siena’s Jared Billups takes a shot against Iona’s Nelly Junior Joseph during a men’s basketball game at MVP Arena on Friday, January 27, 2023.

Following a memorable win Friday against Iona, the Siena men’s basketball program overcame a poor start Sunday and the absence of a couple key players to top Marist in Poughkeepsie.

Siena collected a 70-55 win at McCann Center, as sophomore Jared Billups and freshman Killian Gribben each offered a career-high scoring effort. A leading candidate for MAAC Defensive Player of the Year who headed into Sunday’s game averaging 7.4 points per game, Billups scored 24 against the Red Foxes, easily surpassing his previous career-best mark of 13. Meanwhile, Gribben scored a dozen points off the bench, and led the Saints with a plus-23 mark in 20 minutes.

“Killian Gribben, I thought, really stepped up big,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said during a post-game interview on the ESPN3 broadcast. “Zek Tekin, obviously, was a bench player, now he’s starting; thought he showed tremendous poise. Guys came to battle and I’m really proud to be their coach.”

First-place Siena was without a pair of starters in Michael Baer and Javian McCollum for the game. After starring in Friday’s win against Iona, Baer returned to Iowa for the funeral services for his dad John who died the previous weekend following a battle with cancer. Meanwhile, McCollum missed his second consecutive contest due to a back issue.

Jayce Johnson started in place of Baer, while Tekin started again at point guard with McCollum — Siena’s leading per-game scorer — unable to play. Tekin had five points, four rebounds and four assists in 30 turnover-free minutes leading the Saints’ offense.

“Our offense does special things when he’s involved,” Maciariello said of the impact of the freshman from Turkey. “The ball moves.”

On Sunday, it often found its way to Billups. The 6-foot-4 wing player was 6 of 11 from the field and 12 of 15 from the foul line. Billups hadn’t scored more than 11 points in a game this season and the sophomore significantly reset his career-high marks from the foul line. Prior to Sunday’s 15 attempts from the foul line, Billups had never taken more than nine in a game.

“Big-time Billups,” Maciariello said. “I think he’s the best defender in the league, if not the country, and he gives other teams fits.”

Siena led 31-25 at halftime despite a slow start. Marist led 11-1 to open the contest, but Siena outscored the Red Foxes 30-14 in the half’s final 13:02. That stretch started with an Andrew Platek 3-pointer that served as the Saints’ first made field goal following an 0 of 6 start. Platek’s successful 3 started a shooting stretch for the Saints that saw them make 12 of 15 shots to close the half. Jared Billups and Killian Gribben each scored eight points in the opening half, while Jackson Stormo added half of his dozen points. Patrick Gardner, Marist’s top player, scored half of his team-high 18 points in the opening half.

After halftime, Siena (9-2 MAAC, 15-7 overall) never trailed, but Marist (3-8, 7-13) pulled within 40-39 with 11 minutes to go. Siena, though, answered with an 8-0 run and was never threatened from there. The Saints maintained at least a 10-point lead for the final 6:37 after free throws from Tekin.

Gribben, a freshman, made all four shots he took, including three from 3-point range. Billups, Gribben and Stormo joined Platek (11 points) to give Siena four double-digit scorers. As a team, Siena made 20 of 48 shots, 23 of 31 from the foul line and committed 10 turnovers.

“I thought we had some great performances,” Maciariello said in an interview posted to the Saints’ social-media account.

The last time Siena won at least nine of its first 11 MAAC games was in the 2009-10 season when then-head coach Fran McCaffery’s final group of Saints started 14-0 in league play. This season’s Saints are a game ahead of second-place Rider, and already own a head-to-head win against Rider, third-place Iona and fourth-place Quinnipiac. 

“It’s fun to be on this journey with them,” said Maciariello, whose team next plays Friday at Manhattan.

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

Categories: College Sports, Siena College, Sports

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