Siena’s young guns are no longer that young, but tournament play puts a different kind of pressure on freshmen.
First-year Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos will find out just how tough his youngsters are when the fifth-seeded Saints take on fourth-seeded Canisius in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinals today at 2:30 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass.
The last time these two teams met, the Golden Griffins pulled out a thrilling 92-88 triple-overtime victory at the Times Union Center. Billy Baron scored 40 points to outduel Siena’s Rob Poole, who had a career-high 33.
“We promised you an exciting, entertaining team, and we’ve been playing some exciting basketball,” said Patsos, whose Saints are riding a four-game winning streak, their longest in four seasons. Two freshmen are in the starting lineup, along with two sophomores, and three freshmen are key players off the bench.
“The tournament games are just like regular-season games. We’ve played very entertaining games against Iona,
Canisius and Quinnipiac, just to name a few. We must challenge them [the Golden Griffins] on the three-point line. We can’t allow Billy Baron to score 40 points against us again. I think the Baron and dad [head coach Jim Baron] connection has been doing a great job for Canisius, and I also think that Billy Baron is the best player in the league.”
Siena freshman point guard Marquis Wright, the first rookie to lead the MAAC in assists in at least 20 years, agreed that slowing down Baron will be one of the keys for the Saints (15-16).
“We’ll probably use several different players to defend him,” said Wright, who is also second in the MAAC in steals. “We really need to focus now, but we can’t treat it like it might be our last game of the year. It’s just a little different kind of focus. The key for our team is to play good defense. Talking on defense is the main thing. We’ve done a better job of talking on defense over the last three or four games.”
Sophomore forward Brett Bisping, the team’s second-leading scorer at 10.3 ppg, has averaged more than 13 points and nearly eight rebounds over his last nine games, but he agrees with Wright that the main priority for the Saints will be on the defensive end.
“We’ve got to play our game,” he said. “For us to play well, we must contain Baron. He’s a very good player. We’ve also got to get some stops. We’ve been playing good defense down the stretch. I really like our defense lately. Imoh Silas had an unbelievable game for us [last Sunday], and we are all focusing more on defense.”
The underrated Silas averages only 4.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, but he blocked six shots in the regular-season finale against Monmouth and is fifth in the league in blocks (1.8 per game).
“We have a few guys who can make some three-point shots,” said Bisping. “But our game is to go inside, get fouled and make our free throws. We can make some three-pointers when we have to, but that’s not our game.”
Patsos thinks his players are ready for another competitive performance.
“Playing in the tournament is special,” he said. “The guys are ready.”