O.D. Anosike said he was getting the ball “in my sweet spots.”
Suddenly — astonishingly — the free-throw line is one of them.
Siena’s 6-foot-8 senior forward is under 50 percent from the line for his career, but he took — and made — many of them this weekend, and it’s no coincidence that Siena has won two straight, after beating Saint Peter’s, 66-53, at the Times Union Center on Sunday afternoon.
Anosike scored 20 points and made 12 of 17 free throws to go 19-for-27 (70.1 percent) on a weekend that also included Friday’s upset of Canisius to stop an 11-game losing streak.
Saint Peter’s committed 27 fouls, and the Saints made the Peacocks pay by going 27-for-36 (75 percent).
“Typical Saint Peter’s-Siena game; just grind it out, tough defense,” Siena head coach Mitch Buonaguro said. “We’ve worked hard on free-throw shooting the last two weeks. When you shoot them more, guys are making them and getting more confident.”
“It’s not mechanics, it’s simply confidence,” Anosike said. “I look to the bench, and I see coach and my teammates have confidence in me, I feel like I can make the shot. I didn’t do anything drastic with mechanics, I just spread my feet out a tiny bit.”
Siena improved to 4-13 overall, and after coming into the weekend on the verge of its first-ever 0-5 start in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, is 2-4 and out of last place, tied with Fairfield for seventh.
Sophomore starter Rob Poole, the hottest player on the team over the four games prior to this weekend, missed his second straight game because of the flu.
Then the Saints lost his replacement, freshman Ryan Oliver, less than two minutes into the game when he sprained his surgically repaired left knee.
Freshman Rich Audu shook off a slow start as his replacement and made back-to-back three-pointers to give Siena a 57-47 lead to essentially put the game away with 3:17 left.
Both of those shots were products of passes from the post by Anosike, as he made quick reads on Saint Peter’s (1-5, 6-10) double-teams.
Darius Conley, a thorn in Anosike’s side last year, fouled out in 21 minutes, and another post defender, Markese Tucker, fouled out in nine minutes, although he scored 10 points during that short tour of duty.
“Anosike was the difference,” Saint Peter’s head coach John Dunne said. “In the past, we’ve done better with our late double-teams on him. Today, he was aggressive, turned baseline or tried to drive it off the doubles. We played with our hands and not our feet, and put him on the free-throw line. He had a banner day from the line.”
“The one thing I did was we spent a lot of time trying to help O.D. out with some different looks,” Buonaguro said. “I told him what they were going to do, and he read the double-teams well today, especially in the second half, when he made those kickouts which got Rich Audu the threes.”
“Coach ran some great sets to get me the ball,” Anosike said.
Siena controlled the first half and led, 29-20, but the Peacocks got back into it by pressuring Siena’s guards in the halfcourt.
The Peacocks took a 34-33 lead on a basket by Desi Washington (16 points), and the teams traded leads before Anosike finished a three-point play to make it 38-36.
Audu, who hurt his shooting thumb in practice last week, made two free throws, and after Washington hit a three, Anosike made two more from the line for a 42-39 lead with 10:37 left.
It remained close until a three by Rakeem Brookins (18 points) gave Siena a little bit of breathing room at 46-41.
The Saints continued to plug away at the free throw line until Audu made his two three-pointers in a span of less than a minute for the 57-47 lead.
“We came a little early on the double team, he [Anosike] got the ball moving and Audu hit the two shots, and he’s a catch-and-shoot guy,” Dunne said.
“Audu was ready,” Buonaguro said. “It took him awhile to get going, but he had a very good second half. Without those two threes, who knows?”
“I’ve always been confident, and as a group, we’ve always been confident, so everything is falling in place the way we want it,” Audu said. “I was prepared because I knew Robbie was out. I knew I would have to contribute, we all would have to. In the first half, I was kind of struggling with it [thumb], but going to the free-throw line kind of helped me get a rhythm, and loosened it up.”
After not having won since Nov. 18, the Saints have a little momentum heading into the western New York trip for games at Niagara on Thursday and Canisius on Saturday.
“We won two games without Robbie, we should probably kick him off the team,” Anosike said with a grin. “All joking aside, we’re looking forward to getting him back. He and I have great chemistry.”
SAINT PETER’S (53)
Jackson 3-9 2-6 8, Conley 1-4 0-0 2, Raymond 4-10 1-3 10, Washington 6-13 0-0 16, Ffrench 1-6 0-0 2, Desport 0-0 0-0 0, Prescott 1-4 0-0 3, Burke 1-2 0-0 2, Tucker 4-5 2-3 10. Totals: 21-53 5-12 53.
Anosike 4-7 12-17 20, Silas 1-2 1-2 3,
Oliver 0-0 0-0 0, Hymes 3-11 4-5 12, Brookins 6-11 5-6 18, Audu 2-7 3-4 9, Leppanen 0-0 0-0 0, Martens 0-1 0-0 0, Bisping 1-1 2-2 4. Totals: 17-40 27-36 66.
Halftime: Siena 29, Saint Peter’s 20. Three-point goals: Saint Peter’s 6-18 (Raymond 1-2, Washington 4-9, Ffrench 0-2, Prescott 1-4, Burke 0-1); Siena 5-14 (Hymes 2-7, Brookins 1-3, Audu 2-4). Rebounds: Saint Peter’s 27 (Raymond 6); Siena 28 (Anosike 7). Assists: Saint Peter’s 9 (Ffrench 5); Siena 8 (Anosike, Hymes, Brookins 2). Total fouls: Saint Peter’s 27; Siena 17. Attendance: 6,299.