The Alumni Recreation Center was a beehive of basketball activity on Thursday.
It started at 11:30 a.m., when busloads of screaming young fans were dropped off to watch the Siena women play Fairfield in their annual Kid’s Day game.
The concession stand had to pop more popcorn in the afternoon in preparation for a girls-boys double-header between Shenendehowa and Shaker to honor their classmates who were killed and injured in the Dec. 1 Northway crash.
Almost as an afterthought, the Siena men practiced from 2-4 p.m., while TV camera crews cooled their heels in the corners waiting for the high school games.
The Saints will be back in the spotlight at 7 tonight when they play Canisius at the Times Union Center. It was only a few years ago that Siena was getting most of the attention in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, while the Golden Griffins were mired in a decade-long string of futility.
This season, everyone in the MAAC is buzzing about Canisius and how the Griffs have been resurrected under first-year head coach Jim Baron. Siena, meanwhile, is in the midst of an 11-game losing streak that is approaching historical proportion.
“They’re a really good team,” Siena head coach Mitch Buonaguro said. “Right now, I’d say they have every bit of chance to win the league. They’re playing as well as anybody in the league. Their non-conference wins have been impressive.”
“I always thought they had talented players,” Siena senior forward O.D. Anosike said. “Now, with a new coach, it seems like there’s been an influx of energy and an influx of hoopla around the program, so I’m not surprised they’re playing well.”
At 10-5 overall, Canisius (3-1 MAAC) already has twice as many wins as it had last season.
Baron’s next win will be the 400th of his career as a head coach, most of which was spent at St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island.
The Golden Griffins’ non-conference wins include Boston University, Buffalo and Temple.
Besides hiring Baron, Canisius has benefitted from the transfer of his son, Billy, from Rhode Island.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound guard is one of three Golden Griffins, with Harold Washington and Isaac Sosa, averaging better than 40 percent from three-point range.
“Baron is a great player,” Siena sophomore guard Evan Hymes said. “He’s not that quick, but he uses angles to get by you, because he’s a big, physical guard, so we can’t lose focus on him.”
“I thought they’d be better, anyway, but the big difference is Billy Baron,” Buonaguro said.
Siena has dominated Canisius, winning 13 of the last 14, and is 13-2 all-time at the Times Union Center. The Saints (2-13, 0-4), however, are off to their worst start at Division I.
Their losing streak is tied for the second-longest in program history and is five shy of the 16-game losing streak that spanned the last 15 games of the 1995-96 season and the 1996-97 opener.
Siena has never been 0-5 in the MAAC.
“Canisius is a team that can knock you out in the first half with threes if you’re not focused,” Anosike said. “It’s going to be a fun night. We’re going to try to get a win, which is something we definitely need.”
Hymes hurt his shin and missed the end of practice on Thursday, but he should be OK to play tonight.
There’s some uncertainty about Rob Poole, who has been playing well lately.
He missed practice with the flu, but his teammates seemed to believe he would play. The Saints will be without redshirt sophomore small forward Trenity Burdine, who is on academic suspension and will be out of the lineup indefinitely.
At 12.7 points per game, Poole is the second-leading scorer on the team and was the lone bright spot in Sunday’s ugly loss at Rider, scoring a career-high 22.
“He’s really progressed, he’s shooting 40 percent from three and I think he has tremendous focus right now,” Buonaguro said.
“Poole’s been great,” Anosike said. “He’s been playing like the player we thought we were getting when we recruited him. He’s playing with a high IQ, rebounding, knocking down shots, getting to the basket. He’s really developing his game. He’s playing with a lot of confidence, and we’re going to need him to keep it up the rest of the year.”