O.D. Anosike calls himself an optimist.
He’s maintained that viewpoint throughout a senior season in which he has continued to sparkle for Siena, but all there is to show for it is a 7-23 record that puts the Saints on the brink of a historically poor season.
There’s something about a tournament setting that turns everyone into an optimist, though, so the Saints are doing their best to convince themselves that they have as good a chance as anyone as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament begins today at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass.
Siena is the ninth seed and will open against No. 8 Marist (10-20) at 7:30 tonight, followed by the other first-round game between Fairfield and Saint Peter’s.
Niagara is the top seed and will play the Siena-Marist winner at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“It’s wide open,” Anosike said. “The first-place team is young and inexperienced. There’s definitely holes in every team. Every team is vulnerable. Anything can happen.”
The next Siena loss would give the Saints 24 to equal the most in the program history, set in the 2004-05 season.
The only other 20-loss season for Siena came in 1995-96 (22).
Getting past Marist will be no easy task, as the Red Foxes have their whole roster healthy and have an explosive offense.
In a college basketball season that has seen some bizarrely low scores, like Manhattan’s 34-31 win over Fairfield, Marist has some eye-opening offensive outputs, including a 112-74 win over VMI, and 105-104 double-overtime win over Iona and a 94-69 win over Maine.
Chavaughn Lewis hit a 65-footer as the overtime buzzer sounded to send the Iona game into double overtime.
The Red Foxes had a stretch of 12 losses in 13 games in the middle of the season, but won five of their last seven and are formidable, now that Jay Bowie and Devin Price are healthy again and have joined Lewis (16.5 points per game) and center Adam Kemp.
“Their five or six are playing as well as anybody in the league,” Siena head coach Mitch Buonaguro said.
“We know Marist well,” Anosike said. “Offensively, they’re playing well, and in order for us to have a chance to win, we’ve got to try to contain Lewis, Kemp and Price. They’re too good to fully stop them, but if you can hold them around their average, then you have a chance.”
“Everyone remembers the shot Chavaughn made, then we were down in overtime and down again in double overtime and hung in there and hung in there,” Marist head coach Chuck Martin said. “But it’s no coincidence that that was the first game back for Jay Bowie, and he had 21 points and seven rebounds. That reminded them of what they had early in the season, when we had everyone.”
“Not that this year is over, but mark my words, Marist will be one of the best teams in the league next year,” Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson said. “Me, personally, I wouldn’t want to see them in the tournament. They’re talented and healthy.”
Kemp had a big game against Siena in a 76-74 win on March 1, with 24 points and 14 rebounds.
The Red Foxes hurt the Saints with lobs over the top of Anosike to Kemp, a wrinkle Siena wasn’t expecting.
Turnovers have plaqued Siena all season, but Marist is the only team against which Siena has had more assists than turnovers, and the Saints pulled that off in both games and had a pretty effective offensive output in back-to-back games to finish the season, although both were losses.
Davis Martens has come on for Siena, averaging 13.3 points and seven rebounds over the final four games.
“The press is helping us get some easy baskets,” Anosike said. “I like the shot selection, and Davis has given us some nice offense off the bench.”
“Sunday, we played a good half [in an 80-61 loss at Iona],” Buonaguro said. “In this tournament, we can’t have a bad half. Not with the state of the team and the lack of depth.”
Siena may get Rakeem Brookins, who has been out with ecurring back problems, for today’s game, but Buonaguro doesn’t expect to use him much.
Brookins returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday.
“It’s up to Hammer [trainer Greg Dashnaw], but I’m excited to be back, especially because it’s tournament time, and it’s the last time we get to play with O.D.,” Brookins said. “It depends on the approach. If we come out with the mentality that we can beat these guys, we will.”
“To have him available will help, even if he plays 10-15 minutes,” Buonaguro said. “But to ask him to play 30, 35 minutes would be tough, if we want him on Saturday. He really hasn’t practiced since the Fairfield game.”
At the MAAC awards on Thursday, Iona’s Momo Jones was named player of the year, Niagara’s Joe Mihalich won coach of the year, Fairfield’s Maurice Barrow was sixth man, Manhattan’s Rhamel Brown was defensive player and Fairfield’s Amadou Sidibe and Manhattan’s Shane Richards shared the rookie award.