Siena relied heavily on its starters last year because the Saints had no bench, and no choice.
Head coach Mitch Buonaguro isn’t in that position this season, but nevertheless has reached the point where he will give most of the minutes to the starters until the Saints start winning some games.
Or even one game.
Heading into this afternoon’s 2 p.m. game at Rider, that’s something Siena hasn’t done since Nov. 17, as the Saints’ losing streak reached 10 games after a 66-62 loss to Iona at home on Friday.
It was Siena’s best game in a long time, and still not good enough to win, albeit against what is considered one of the most talented teams in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Senior forward O.D. Anosike played over 39 minutes, and guards Evan Hymes and Rakeem Brookins and small forward Rob Poole each played at least 38.
Sophomore forward Trenity Burdine will miss his second straight game — and fifth this season — due to suspension, which doesn’t help the depth.
But the Saints probably won’t go deep on the bench, anyway, as they desperately continue to search for a way to cobble together a victory.
“Last year, we played with six guys and won some games,” Buonaguro said on Saturday. “We’ve been in close games the last two years, but last year, we won them. You can make the argument for and against [using just the starters]. You’ve got to win games, so my philosophy is on the ‘for’ side. I’d rather use guys who are tired, but making plays.”
Freshman Brett Bisping and redshirt sophomore Davis Martens showed flashes of productivity and energizing plays against Iona, but freshman Rich Audu got the quick hook after a turnover, and freshman Ryan Oliver was in the middle of one of the plays that turned the game in the Gaels’ favor midway through the second half.
Hymes and Brookins combined for a poor night offensively — 4-for-20 from the field, 1-for-9 from three-point range — but Hymes had seven assists and no turnovers, a departure from his many turnover-prone games.
Power forward Imoh Silas gradually keeps getting better and looks more comfortable playing in the frontcourt with Anosike, the leading rebounder in the country for the second year in a row.
“When I went to the bench tonight, in two seconds, it went from a five-point lead to down one,” Buonaguro said on Friday. “So there’s the dilemma I have. I’m bringing in kids who are not experienced, and they’re not making plays. The other kids played great. What more can you ask from the five starters?”
The coach was more animated than usual after the Iona loss, because the Saints had a good plan against one of the most explosive teams in the country, put the plan to work, but still fell short.
It may be a meager thread to grasp at this point, after the Saints fell to 2-12 overall and 0-3 in the MAAC, but that’s what they have.
“We can’t dwell on the loss,” Brookins said. “We played well and just couldn’t get over the hump in the end.”
“We played extremely well,” Anosike said. “By no means do I think my teammates are giving up. I’m not giving up. There’s no need to mail it in, and I’m not panicking. I still think we have enough talent in this room to win. We showed that tonight, but we didn’t show it for the whole 40 minutes.”
“We just need to play the same way we played today, share the ball, pass it, and we can win this Sunday,” Poole said. “It wears you down a little bit psychologically. We’ve lost 10 straight games. But this team’s strong. We’ve got a lot of tough kids. I think we can come back and win the next game, and build off this game.”
Siena has already lost to Rider this season, 62-56, on Dec. 7, when the offense fell apart in the second half.
The Broncs (1-2, 6-9) are in position to sweep a season series and win three straight against Siena for the first time since they joined the MAAC in 1997-98.
Burdine, who is averaging 5.2 points and 23.1 minutes per game, is out indefinitely. Unlike this academic suspension, his previous suspension, for the first three games of the season, was for violating athletic department policy. He can practice, but can’t travel.
“I certainly agree with the school on this, because we take academics seriously here,” Buonaguro said.
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/.