Siena has been sticking close to opponents, but scoring in the final 10 minutes has been a problem as the Saints head into tonight’s game against Fairfield at 8:30 at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.
In fact, it was exactly that scenario that materialized the last time the Saints played the Stags, a 64-54 loss last Monday in which Siena was down by just two points with nine minutes left, then managed just two free throws over the next 6:30.
By the time Siena scored another field goal, the Saints trailed, 59-47, with under two and a half minutes to play.
That loss started a three-game losing streak that has Siena, 4-10 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and 6-19 overall, on the verge of its third 20-loss season in program history.
In the particular case of the Fairfield loss, Siena had a difficult time with the defense played by the Stags’ guards, although Fairfield (7-7, 15-11) likely will be without point guard Desmond Wade after he injured his knee in a win over Saint Peter’s last Thursday.
He did not play in a 62-40 loss to Manhattan on Tuesday that stopped Fairfield’s five-game winning streak.
“We’ve got to find ways to score other than in the halfcourt,” Siena head coach Mitch Buonaguro said. “We’ve got to manufacture some shots, maybe through second-chance shots or foul shots. They do foul a lot.”
During Siena’s three-game losing streak, the Saints have been outscored in the final 10 minutes, 66-44, and Siena has been outscored in the second half in each of its last eight games.
From having scouted the Manhattan game, Buonaguro said the loss of Wade could have a profound effect on what Fairfield is trying to do, especially on offense.
“He’s a really good player, and it does affect them,” he said. “They looked out of sync against Manhattan, because [Derek] Needham has to play the point now, and they’re thin in the backcourt, anyway.”
One thing in the Saints’ favor is that they are healthy for the final push to establish some momentum heading into the MAAC tournament next month.
Reserve forward Brett Bisping is practicing again after being sick, as is starting small forward Trenity Burdine, who also was sick.
“We’ve got eight, nine guys that we’ll use,” Buonaguro said. “The objective is to win every game and prepare as hard as we can so we can get some momentum.”
This should be another low-scoring game, as Fairfield leads the MAAC in scoring defense, at 60.3 points per game, and Siena tries to keep scores low, also, by playing zone defense in the halfcourt and milking the shot clock on offense.
The Saints held Fairfield to 5-for-23 (21.7 percent) from three-point range last week.
“I think our zone’s been pretty good lately,” Buonaguro said. “The key is that, if a team makes a couple shots early, you can’t get out of it, you have to stick with it.”
Senior forward O.D. Anosike became the third Saint and ninth MAAC player to reach 1,000 rebounds in Sunday’s 72-62 loss at Saint Peter’s, and is one of only three active Division I players who have 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
Fordham’s Chris Gaston and Oregon’s Arsalan Kazemi are the others.
Siena has lost 17 of its last 19 road games.
After tonight, the Saints play their next three at home, including a BracketBusters game on Feb. 24, before finishing the MAAC regular season at Iona.
With the loss to Manhattan, Fairfield dropped into a tie with the Jaspers for sixth place, an important development for the Stags this late in the season, because they’ll be stuck with a first-round game in the tournament if they drop to seventh.
First place in the conference is still very much up for grabs, with Niagara in the lead at 10-4, but followed closely by Loyola, Canisius and Iona at 9-5.