Siena head coach Mitch Buonaguro said on Tuesday that, as much as he hated to admit it, UAlbany should be favored against the Saints tonight.
On paper, that makes sense.
The Great Danes are 5-2 and came up with one of the biggest upsets in program history when they won at Washington on Nov. 13.
Siena is 2-5 and desperate to scrape together any kind of a win.
There’s another piece of paper, though, that says anything can happen when the Saints and Great Danes play at approximately 7:30 tonight at the Times Union Center in the 12th renewal of the crosstown rivalry game.
The historical record shows that Siena has won nine of 11 since the series began again in 2001-02, and its 2-5 record this season mirrors what the Saints brought into last year’s game, which it won, 64-60, despite trailing by 19 points in the first half.
“Of course he’s going to say that . . . I don’t think it matters who’s favored, funny things happen in rivalry games,” UAlbany head coach Will Brown said. “They’re so intense that both teams usually have a good opportunity to win.”
The Great Danes’ only victories since 2001 were 86-65 in 2004 and an 88-82 overtime win two years ago.
The game also went to overtime in 2005 and 2006, when Siena needed two overtimes to win by one point.
As usual, the rivalry will add extra flavor to the game, although opinions vary as to how much it provides a motivating factor for the players beforehand.
Once it starts, of course, things tend to change.
“No. 1, you want to get a win any time you step on the floor,” Siena senior O.D. Anosike said. “No. 2, it’s Albany, so it’s a crosstown rivalry. Third, we need a win in the worst way. We’re struggling a little bit. A win would help us in multiple ways.”
“To me, it’s just another game,” UAlbany senior guard Mike Black said. “To other people, it might be bragging rights, but it’s just another game to me. It’s for the fans and the community. They can have the bragging rights. To us, it’s just another game against a good team.
“In the end, it’s a game we don’t like to lose,” Great Danes senior center Blake Metcalf said. “We don’t like to hear, for a year, ‘Get the Albany Cup back, get the Albany Cup.’ Because you’ll hear it. It means a lot to people around here, and that makes it mean more to us.”
The Great Danes come into the game with more stability, even though Black has been hampered at various times by a injuries to his wrist and hip, and food poisoning.
He’s averaging 17.4 points per game and said on Thursday that he’s finally 100 percent healthy.
He and Jacob Iati have been on fire from three-point range, a combined 33-for-73 (45.2 percent).
Black said the Danes have become increasingly confident in their big men, which they’ll need against Anosike, who combined with the since-graduated Brandon Walters to dominate inside in the second half of last year’s game and finished with 21 points and 18 rebounds.
“We blew it,” Black said. “That’s pretty much it, to be honest. I don’t want to say we got content, but . . . you’re up 19, there’s no way they should’ve come back.”
“It all starts with Anosike,” Brown said. “We’ve got to do a good job on him and not just allow him to get post touches and keep him off the glass.”
The Saints lost starting guard Rakeem Brookins to another back injury, which will put more pressure on sophomore Evan Hymes to perform.
He missed the last 55 seconds of Wednesday’s 64-63 loss to UMass because of a calf cramp, after having played every minute of the game to that point.
Despite the loss, Buonaguro said that the reserves had a bit of a breakout game against the Minutemen, something Siena has been waiting for since the beginning of the season.
“I think we’ve got a good rotation of guys,” he said. “Certainly, we’re going to miss Rahk, but I thought our bench play was the best it’s been all year. Davis [Martens] was a factor, Ryan Oliver made some good plays, Rich [Audu] played pretty well.
“There’s no need for me to have any panic, and the same for my teammates,” Anosike said. “We lost to a really good team.”
“I don’t look at it that way [UAlbany as the favorite], because I look at their record, and a lot of their games could’ve swung either way, and the same thing with ours,” Metcalf said. “We’ve won four games by three or less points. In a coin flip, we could be 2-5 just like them, so I wouldn’t say we’re the favorites.”
“It’s not a secret what they’re going to do, and neither team is going to surprise each other,” Brown said. “I think they’re good. I don’t look at their record, I look at the fact that they’ve got the best rebounder in the country. They’ve got Evan Hymes, they’ve got great size.
“We’re better, defensively, than we were last year, we’re smarter and execute better. I don’t know what all that means, but we’ll find out soon enough.”
“This game is not going to determine who wins the MAAC championship for them, it’s not going to determine who wins the America East,” Iati said. “It’s fun, more than anything, but we want to win it just like any other game. The atmosphere is what makes it fun.”