The Times Union Center is a spacious venue.
A crowd of 10,229 — many in purple, many more in green — piled into the big joint on Pearl Street on Saturday night, and it still seemed like a smallish number, considering the upper-deck end zones were sparsely populated.
The basketball court is regulation-sized, but still has plenty of room around it for UAlbany’s Peter Hooley to sprint out of bounds and vault over four rows without harming a soul, as he did while chasing a loose ball late in the Great Danes’ systematic and methodical 69-56 manhandling of Siena on Saturday night.
Just based on sheer size, the TU Center is unlike most gyms in the America East and Metro Atlantic Athletic conferences, as is Siena’s locker room, which is roomy enough for O.D. Anosike to engage three TV cameras and half a dozen reporters in a corner without interfering with the usual post-game shuffling around of his teammates.
So why does it seem like the walls are closing in on Siena?
Here’s the primary reason: A team like UAlbany, with an undistinguished battalion of big men, can put together a pretty simple plan and compartmentalize the leading rebounder in the country and squeeze him right out of the picture, as the Great Danes did on Saturday.
Here’s another reason: The loss dropped the Saints to an ugly 2-6 heading into a difficult game at St. Bonaventure on Tuesday.
Head coach Mitch Buonaguro continues to say all the right things and maintain a positive approach, as does Anosike, his only senior and the willing and able face of the Siena team.
Increasingly, they’ve had to fend off questions about the negative fan reaction that’s out there on call-in shows and social media like Twitter. How long will it be before they start to hear actual boos within the walls of the TU Center?
“I’m only concerned with the people in this locker room,” Anosike said. “I can’t start worrying about what people say outside the locker room, whether it be good or bad. We just have to stay focused, stay the course, not go crazy, not panic . . . and try to, internally, figure out how to win games.”
The story in the other locker room is the yang, the light, to Siena’s shadowy yin.
As the Saints dropped into a 2-6 hole, the Great Danes improved to 6-2, forging onward from a spectacular upset at Washington three weeks ago.
Their win on Saturday was a product of Blake Metcalf, John Puk, Sam Rowley and Luke Devlin tirelessly working to push Anosike away from the basket, not only when he was setting up for scoring position, but when he went after missed shots, “no secret, my bread and butter,” Anosike said.
One big man would sacrifice himself to prevent Anosike from getting near the wayward shots, and someone else would be there to clean up the mess.
It worked. In its ugly way, it worked beautifully, especially since they did it without hacking away at Anosike and sending the sub-50-percent free-throw shooter to the line. That wasn’t even necessary.
It underscored one of the biggest flaws on Siena’s roster right now, the lack of any front-line support for Anosike, which was supposed to be a strength this year, but hasn’t materialized.
Davis Martens and Imoh Silas are still finding their way, and in the meantime, teams are teeing off on Anosike.
“We talked about gang-rebounding, and I really just tried to focus on, if I don’t get the rebound, he’s not getting the rebound,” Metcalf said. “He’s a tough kid to guard, he’s strong.”
“This is a recurring theme now,” Buonaguro said. “That other spot, we’ve got to get some productivity.”
“If he did touch the ball, it needed to be off the block,” UAlbany head coach Will Brown said. “If he gets deep position, lights out.
“I told whoever was guarding O.D., I don’t care if you get a rebound all night, you can’t let him get a rebound.”
Brown had been preaching about what a cohesive team he was working with this year, and that, too, was pretty clearly illustrated on Saturday.
His two best scorers, Mike Black and Jacob Iati, were a combined 8-for-28 in the game.
Black, averaging 17.4 points per game, did not score until the second half, and yet the Great Danes led by six.
Anosike was held to eight points and seven rebounds, on just seven shots and one free throw. He had just one offensive rebound.
“It’s time for people to start respecting the other guys that play [other than Black and Iati],” Brown said. “How good was Sam Rowley in the first half? How good was Peter Hooley in the second half? How good were Blake and Puk? We’re a good team, but a no-frills type team. We don’t have a lot of room for error. We’ve got to compete, we’ve got to execute. We’re a team.”
Siena has even less room for error.
UAlbany put Anosike and — by extension — Siena in a box on Saturday, leaving the Saints in a shadow that keeps creeping darker.
“Everyone just has to relax,” Buonaguro said. “We’re fine. We’re a work in progress. I’m going to admit it, that, right now, Albany is a better team, it’s as simple as that.”
“People are going to have something to say about us, both good and bad, and it can’t affect you either way,” Anosike said. “It doesn’t matter. You can’t get too high or too low. So, for me, I just choose not to listen to it at all. The only thing I’m interested in is the feeling, the mood and the morale of the people in this room. We feel like, internally, if we do that, we can turn this around.”