After fruitlessly rubbing two sticks together for over a month trying to get something to ignite, Siena finally has a few precious licks of flame.
The Saints will try to get the fire burning a little brighter by adding to a modest two-game winning streak at 7 tonight at Niagara.
They’re presented with a difficult assignment on the annual swing through western New York, as Niagara has ascended to a tie for first place with Iona in the Metro Atlantic Conference.
Saturday afternoon’s game will be a quick rematch with resurgent Canisius, which Siena defeated last Friday night to stop an 11-game losing streak dating back to the middle of November.
“The two-game winning streak is great. It was much needed,” head coach Mitch Buonaguro said after Siena beat Saint Peter’s on Sunday to improve to 2-4 in the MAAC and 4-13 overall. “But in the MAAC, every game is tough. We’ve got to get back to work.”
“In the standings, we’re right back in the mix in the MAAC,” senior forward O.D. Anosike said. “Secondly, from a confidence standpoint, with a young team, to get two wins at home is really important for our confidence. It was a great weekend, but we cannot get complacent, by any means.”
Sophomore Rob Poole, who was in the midst of an offensive surge for the four games prior to last weekend, did not make the trip and will miss his third and fourth games since coming down with the flu.
Freshman Ryan Oliver, though, was cleared to make the trip after hurting his knee early in the Canisius game. What isn’t clear is how much he’ll be able to contribute, but the fact that the injury, to the same knee that he had surgery on as a junior in high school, wasn’t worse is good news for him and Siena.
One thing the Saints have packed for the trip is a newfound ability to make free throws at a solid rate, most notably Anosike, who was a combined 19-for-27 in the two games last weekend.
“We’ve worked hard on free-throw shooting the last few weeks,” Buonaguro said. “When you shoot them more and guys are making them, they get more confident.”
“We’re a team that has some deficiencies on the offensive end, so if we can get to the line, we’ve got to cash them in,” Anosike said. “It starts with me. I’m obviously the focal point of every opponent’s scouting report. I’m going to be getting double-teamed and fouled, and I’ve got to step to the line and make them.”
“It’s a little bit of the free throws, and also we’ve been playing 40 minutes, playing at our pace and being patient,” guard Rakeem Brookins said.
That will be the test of wills Siena will face in both games this weekend.
Niagara and Canisius each average 74 points a game and trail only Iona’s explosive offense in scoring in the MAAC.
The Purple Eagles (5-1, 9-8) have two of the top six scorers in the MAAC, Antoine Mason (18.4 points per game) and Juan’ya Green (16.4).
The Saints are averaging 58.3 ppg and lead only Manhattan — barely — in that category. But they’ve been able to play many close games, and that finally translated to two desperately needed wins.
“The one thing I’m very excited about with this team is how they prepare,” Buonaguro said. “These last two games, the scouting has been very good, and the players have carried the scouting over into the games.”