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Defense stars in latest Siena men's basketball win

Defense stars in latest Siena men's basketball win

Switch to man-to-man plays key role
Defense stars in latest Siena men's basketball win
Siena's matchup board is shown during Saturday's win.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

LOUDONVILLE — All season, they have tinkered with it, making changes of varying degrees to attempt to fix their team’s porous defense. Siena College men’s basketball head coach Jamion Christian and assistant coach Carmen Maciariello, the Saints’ defensive coordinator, have worked beyond normal hours to do that, too.  

“There’s been a lot of late-night conversations with Carm trying to get the defense situated,” Christian said after Siena’s 75-54 win Saturday against Cal Poly at Times Union Center in Albany.

And, in that win that ended the Saints’ non-conference season, Siena may have found some solutions to its season’s biggest problem.

While the Saints ranked No. 343 in adjusted defensive efficiency through last weekend’s games, according to kenpom.com, Siena turned in its best defensive performance of the season against Cal Poly. Besides yielding a season-low 54 points, Siena’s defense also allowed less than a point per possession for the third time this season.

Helping along that defensive effort were a pair of boards seen held up from the Siena bench, one a mainstay and the other a newcomer.

On the old one were pictures of turkeys, monsters and a Godzilla, the symbols the team uses to mark when it achieves a certain number of defensive stops in a row. Saturday’s game included the Saints earning their first Godzilla, which is for 10 stops in a row.

The new board was less fun, but more significant. That “matchup board” included pictures of Siena players, each with a space next to it for the number of a Cal Poly player to be positioned.

“We just wanted to make sure we’re getting the right guys on the right players,” Christian said.

“It helped us identify guys the coaches wanted us to try to match up with, guys we’d be comfortable with,” Siena freshman Sloan Seymour said.

While Siena has nearly exclusively played some form of zone defense this season, the Saints often played man-to-man against Cal Poly and used their matchup board to keep their defensive assignments set. Christian said the Saints have been trending toward utilizing more man-to-man principles when playing its matchup zone, anyway, but Saturday’s game represented a significant change for Siena in the amount of pure man-to-man defense it played.

“And I think that allows us to be more aggressive,” Christian said.

In particular, Christian said the change helps the Saints take advantage of the ability of redshirt senior Kadeem Smithen — and sophomore Manny Camper when he returns from a lower-leg injury — to lock down opposing perimeter players.

“With those two guys, we felt like we were wasting possessions [in our matchup zone] with them guarding the other team’s worst offensive player,” Christian said of Camper and Smithen, the latter of whom played a season-high 28 minutes against Cal Poly. “That just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for us, and it was putting our team in a bad spot.”

The defensive change, too, helped the Saints defend the 3-point line better than it had all season. While Cal Poly still made 50.0 percent of its 3s, the Mustangs only took 14 — more than 10 under its season average.

“When we start defending the way we can,” Christian said, “it’s going to be scary — and we can be really good.”

SAINTS SWEEP AWARDS

Siena senior Evan Fisher was named Monday the MAAC Player of the Week, while freshman Jalen Pickett earned MAAC Rookie of the Week honors.

Fisher paired eight rebounds with a career-high 26 points in Siena’s win against Cal Poly, while Pickett had 16 points and 11 assists for his second double-double of the season.

Siena next plays Thursday at Saint Peter’s to start MAAC play.

Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.

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