Who doesn’t like two weeks off?
The Siena men’s basketball team, that’s who, if the Saints don’t beat Manhattan at Draddy Gym at 2 this afternoon.
Siena won’t play again until a road game against Fordham on Dec. 23, and they’ll have a seven-game losing streak to stew over if they can’t find a way to squeeze out a victory today.
“Every time you step on the court, you want to get a win, but at this point, especially,” senior forward O.D. Anosike said after a 62-56 loss to Rider on Friday night. “It is a league game, we are struggling a little bit, and we are going into a long break. For us, especially from a confidence standpoint, it would be nice to get a win.”
Even the 2-8 Saints’ two wins have been hard to come by, as they needed overtime to beat Navy and defeated Northern Kentucky by just four points in San Diego.
Siena was encouraged by the early return from a back injury by guard Rakeem Brookins against the Broncs, but that wasn’t enough to pull out a win.
Manhattan has had its own problems, losing its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference opener to Marist on Friday to fall to 2-5, the third game in a row without George Beamon, a first-team all-conference all-star who led the MAAC in scoring at 19.0 points per game last season.
He’s been out with an ankle injury, and it’s unclear whether he’ll play today.
Brookins, who missed all of last season with a back injury, came back from his latest injury weeks ahead of schedule and looked like his old self, if a little off on his outside shot.
He was on the floor for 15 minutes of the second half and teamed with Anosike, Rob Poole and freshmen Brett Bisping and Ryan Oliver when Siena made a run at Rider late in the game.
“It was the energy he brought,” head coach Mitch Buonaguro said. “It was a different game when he was in there. The energy level that he brought to the team because of his hustle and wanting to win was what made the difference. Obviously, he’s a little rusty. Any player would be. But it’s his intensity and competitiveness that he brings to the team that turned the whole game around.”
“My back felt fine, no complaints,” Brookins said. “I thought the tempo needed to be picked up.”
While two starters, Evan Hymes and Trenity Burdine, scored just two points in over 20 minutes apiece, the three freshmen on the roster quietly had productive games.
Oliver, Bisping and Rich Audu each hit the only three-pointer they attempted, and Audu scored five points in just four minutes, making both free-throw attempts on a night when the rest of the team was a combined 4-for-15 from the line.
Bisping had five points and five rebounds with no turnovers and just one foul in 17 minutes.
“I thought Bisping and Oliver played really well,” Buonaguro said. “They really competed and played hard.
“It’s [free-throw shooting] been a problem in every close game. Six-for-17, 2-for-9 at the half … that doesn’t get it done in close games. We’ve got to clean it up.”
Remarkably, the Saints had the same numbers, 6-for-17, from the three-point arc, with Poole hitting three of five.
Siena beat Manhattan in overtime in the MAAC tournament the last time they faced each other.
The Jaspers press under second-year head coach Steve Masiello, which could give the turnover-prone Saints a problem, but they’re looking forward to seeing how the offense can improve with the infusion of energy and speed from Brookins.
“We’re a positive group; I’m an optimistic person,” Anosike said. “Again, there’s no reason to get down. We played pretty well, I thought, the effort on defense was really good. It’s just a matter of cleaning up the offense. And the offense is fickle. You can’t always control if the shot goes in, but you can control the effort on defense, and that’s always been there. You can’t smash your head against the wall when you’re not making shots. You just have to have confidence, and hopefully, they’ll start falling in.”
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 395-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The college basketball blog, “Division I Hoops,” can be found at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/division-i-hoops/.