ALBANY — Nico Clareth made a statement with his play.
Then, Jimmy Patsos made one with his words.
Together, the duo sent the Siena College men’s basketball team into MAAC play on a high note.
That started with Clareth, a junior, who scored an efficient game-high 29 points on 14 shots in the Saints’ 71-65 win Friday against Holy Cross at Times Union Center.
Meanwhile, Patsos — the program’s fifth-year coach — offered a charismatic response to how he feels about the state of his team as it heads into MAAC play next week, a fiery take backing his team and its process.
“I’m happy,” Patsos started. “We went 4-9 in a really tough schedule. I wish we were 9-4, like everybody else. Nobody wants to be 9-4 more than me for the fans. I want to thank the fans that came out and they were supportive. It’s funny. I feel a lot of positivity around the program.”
Just getting started, he went on.
“It’s funny because you go around the country and people say, ‘You alright?’ [because], you know, they’re not used to seeing Siena 4-9 — but people in the business know the schedule we’re playing. But we’re playing better in December than we [were] in November — and last time I checked, we’re supposed to play better in January and February. I’ve said this before.”
But on Friday Patsos didn’t mind offering a reminder that his young team — which gave 59 percent of its minutes against Holy Cross to freshmen and sophomores, including a game-high 36 to freshman Roman Penn — deserves time to prove itself this season.
So, he went on.
“And the fans around here are great. They’re very supportive and I appreciate everyone this summer saying that we’re going to be young and we’re going to be patient — but I know when it gets down to the nitty gritty that they’re not happy to see us lose because the Siena brand’s a winning brand, and I accept that as the coach here. It’s why I came here, because it’s a really good brand and it’s a really good program.”
Go ahead, Coach. You're rolling.
“But they don’t call it ‘November Madness.’ And I’ve said that before. They call it ‘March Madness’ and we’re getting better. And for the people that counted us out, that’s OK. The people that are with us, which is most of the people, I want to say, ‘Merry Christmas, thank you and your words of encouragement are great.’”
Clareth tried to fly after this 3, but it didn’t work. pic.twitter.com/lpUOC16mz8— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) December 23, 2017
Siena, playing its second game in three nights, came out slow Friday. Holy Cross (3-8) scored the game’s first 10 points, but Siena (4-9) then got going. The Saints first went ahead 25-24 after a pair of Clareth free throws, and they went ahead for good after a Clareth jumper put Siena up 33-32 with 4:30 left in the first half.
Siena made ample use of small-ball lineups in the first half. For the final 14:40 before halftime, the Saints never played more than a single player taller than 6-foot-5 — and Siena outscored Holy Cross 31-17 during that stretch.
Siena stayed with small lineups for the duration of the second half. Patsos said to look for the Saints to continue with that in MAAC play.
“This is a guards’ league,” Patsos said, “and if we got to go small, we’ll go small.”
Here’s Jimmy Patsos on Union College grad Bill Carmody missing tonight’s game for Holy Cross. pic.twitter.com/jCd7y49qfd— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) December 23, 2017
Holy Cross was without head coach Bill Carmody, a Union College graduate. Per a release from Holy Cross, Carmody missed the game “attending to a family matter.” In his place, assistant coach Joe Scott served as the Crusaders’ head coach. Patsos said he had no “inside information” about the situation.
“I know one thing,” Patsos said. “He’s a great guy, great family. I hope everything is OK with him.”
Besides his 29 points, Clareth added three assists and three steals to lead the Saints, which also received 13 points from Penn and nine from freshman Prince Oduro.
“It’s a huge win for the team,” Clareth said. “It’s a huge win.”
Siena starts MAAC play next Friday against Marist. After a rocky non-conference slate which started with four consecutive losses, Penn said the Saints are ready for league play.
“Oh, yeah. We’re ready for that. Marist on the 29th,” Penn said. “We’ll be ready. Prepared. Legs will be fresh. No excuses.”
While Siena only managed four wins in 13 non-conference games, Patsos was right — the Saints did play much better in December than they did in November. In the season’s first month, Siena was outscored by an average of 12.7 points per game, while the Saints have been outscored by an average of 4.6 points in December.
That’s still not where the Saints want to be, but . . .
“There’s no quit in this team,” Patsos said, “and I’m looking forward to MAAC play.”
Niego 4-7 1-2 11, Floyd 5-8 0-0 10, Green 3-7 0-1 7, Charles 0-2 5-8 5, Zignorski 2-3 2-3 8, Butler 2-6 0-0 4, Benzan 4-9 3-3 12, Faw 3-6 1-1 8, Grandison 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 23-50 12-18 65.
Fisher 1-3 1-2 3, Friday 0-0 0-0 0, Richard 2-8 3-4 7, Penn 3-7 5-5 13, Shivers 0-4 1-2 1, Bentley 1-1 0-0 2, Smithen 1-2 3-4 5, Oduro 4-6 1-4 9, Horn 0-4 2-4 2, Clareth 8-14 10-11 29. Totals: 20-49 26-36 71.
Halftime score: Siena 40, Holy Cross 33. Three-point shooting: Holy Cross 7-19 (Niego 2-4, Green 1-3, Charles 0-1, Zignorski 2-3, Butler 0-3, Benzan 1-2, Faw 1-2, Grandison 0-1), Siena 5-17 (Fisher 0-1, Richard 0-2, Penn 2-3, Shivers 0-1, Horn 0-2, Clareth 3-8). Rebounds: Holy Cross 28 (Floyd 7), Siena 36 (Fisher 8). Assists: Holy Cross 12 (Charles 3), Siena 11 (Clareth 3). Turnovers: Holy Cross 16, Siena 12. Total fouls: Holy Cross 25, Siena 16. Fouled out: Floyd, Butler. Technicals: None. Attendance: 5,526.