ALBANY — It’s become one of Jimmy Patsos’ go-to phrases.
“We are the Siena Saints, not the Golden State Warriors.”
That line is used to explain the head coach’s desire to feed the bigs on the Siena College men’s basketball team, a staple of Patsos’ style. At Siena, Patsos’ teams have generally favored 2-point shots over 3-point attempts, even as the college game — like the NBA with those Warriors — has started to see more teams base their offenses around the 3-point line.
Quietly, though, that’s changed recently for the Saints. They’re still not likely to be confused with the group Steph Curry — you know, the guy Patsos once famously threw double- and triple-teams at back when he coached Loyola — leads, but Siena’s dramatically increased the percentage of shots it’s taking from 3-point territory in the past couple weeks.
“I have no problem with 3s as long as the ball [first] goes inside,” Patsos said Thursday as the Saints prepared for Friday’s 7 p.m. game against Holy Cross at Times Union Center. “I just don’t want to jack 3s up without running the offense.”
Siena wraps up its non-conference slate Friday against Holy Cross. pic.twitter.com/Gn8zFxgIHK— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) December 22, 2017
In Siena’s first eight games this season, the Saints took an average of 17.3 shots from 3-point territory. Overall, Siena took 28.9 percent of its field goals from 3-point range during that time.
The last four games, Siena’s averaging 24.0 attempts from 3 . . . and a whopping 44.2 percent of its total shot attempts have been from behind the arc.
And, Siena’s shooting it pretty well from deep.
This season, the Saints have made 38.5 percent of their 3s after never shooting better than 36.8 percent in Patsos’ first four seasons at Siena. Compared to a season ago, Siena’s shooting 5.8 percent better from 3, while averaging 2.8 more attempts from 3 per game.
The key to it all? Yes, the ball’s going inside, but more off dribble penetration than by a pass to a big man on the block. That’s caused opposing defenses to shift more than in past seasons against the Saints, allowing the team’s 3-point shooters to find better looks.
“I know we’re taking more 3s,” Patsos said, “but the ball’s getting to the paint and we’re kicking it out — and making another extra pass and another extra pass.”
Part of that, too, is because of the change in personnel Siena’s made in its recent stretch of games. Three-guard lineups have become the norm for the team, while the Saints regularly used four-guard lineups Wednesday against Memphis when freshman Prince Oduro sat so the 6-foot-8 forward could rest his hurting right foot (plantar fasciitis) for a night.
And, that night, Siena made 14 of 30 3s, its most since making 15 in a 2001 game against Fordham. That came a game after Siena made 12 of 25 3s against Bryant.
Freshman Roman Penn said having an extra playmaker or two on the floor has been the difference for the Saints.
“It’s helped out a lot,” Penn said. “We knew [the defenders] were going to help — they were going to collapse — when we drove, so I think having a lot of guards out there [made it so] everybody was able to take their man off the dribble and make the extra pass.”
The last two games, freshman Jordan Horn has benefitted the most from Siena’s better ball movement and increased use of perimeter-oriented players. Horn made four 3s against Bryant and eight against Memphis. Nearly all of Horn’s 3s were shot off the catch.
“We still have to work on our spacing, but for the possessions that we did have really good spacing, we made some really good plays,” Horn said.
As was the case a season ago, junior Nico Clareth leads Siena in 3-point makes and attempts. From deep, he’s averaging 2.4 makes on 6.3 attempts.
Unlike last season, though, Clareth has plenty of company behind the arc. While only then-senior Marquis Wright averaged 1.0 or more made 3s per game last season, there are three Saints — Penn, sophomore Khalil Richard and sophomore Ahsante Shivers — making that many this season, with Horn at 0.9 per game after his recent shooting barrage.
The extra 3s have helped Siena become a more competitive team, too. While Siena is 3-9 on the season, it’s shown clear progress from the season’s opening month to its second. On average, Siena was outscored by 12.7 points per game in November, and that number’s at 6.3 in December as the Saints ready to play 3-7 Holy Cross to wrap up their non-conference season.
“I feel like we’re clicking a lot right now,” Penn said. “I feel like we’re taking baby steps, but we’re getting there to where we want to be.”