ALBANY — It was a striking sight, and a grim reminder of the added challenge to this rebuilding Siena College men’s basketball season.
Even with head coach Jamion Christian standing throughout the Saints’ 70-66 MAAC loss against Canisius Saturday night at Times Union Center, the chairs making up the Siena bench hosted more people in suits than uniform. Once it had five players on the floor, Siena only had seven players in uniform — and four of them usually were non-scholarship players — on its bench, along with five assistant coaches, a strength coach and several players unable to play for one reason or another.
“That won’t be an excuse for us,” Christian said.
“We embrace challenges around here,” Christian said. “Life’s going to throw a lot of things at our team, individually and as a team. This is another challenge we’ve got to continue to embrace. That’s why I think we have such great warriors in there. I don’t know if any other team in this league could handle that — losing the guys [we] have on the end of the bench. I don’t think any other team could handle that, but we’re finding a way to handle it, play better and perform better every single day. That kind of mental toughness is what greatness is made of.”
Siena, though, couldn’t find a way to even its record in MAAC play on a night when a fantastic start gave way to a disappointing second half in which the Saints often looked fatigued. Key among those plays was the one that came with 10 seconds to go when Canisius sophomore Takal Molson rebounded his own missed free throw and had to be fouled again with the Saints down 66-63. Molson made the ensuing free throws, icing Canisius’ comeback win.
Siena senior Evan Fisher had 21 points and 17 rebounds in his career’s first-ever double-double, but said he shouldered the blame for the missed rebound.
“I got to get the ball,” said Fisher, who played 37 minutes. “That’s the best I can put it. He got over my back. I didn’t do a good enough job boxing out.”
That the game came down to the final possessions, though, was the result of Siena being unable to carry its momentum from the first half into the second. Siena missed its first six shots of the night, but surged ahead after a barrage of 3s. In a stretch of 3:23, Siena made 6 of 7 from 3-point territory as it turned an 8-3 deficit into a 21-13 advantage. Siena led by as many as 15 points in the first half, during which the Saints made 9 of 22 3s and each of the six players that attempted a shot made at least one 3.
Siena freshman Sloan Seymour made a 3 to start the second half, but Siena only made 3 of 12 3-point attempts the rest of the game as Canisius upped its defensive pressure on the perimeter.
“It was our rotations and being alert once the ball went to the other side of the floor,” Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon said of what he emphasized with his team for the second half. “Then, when they were open, we wanted to get out there as fast as we could to try to get them to rush a few. They’re an excellent shooting team, so it was a challenge.”
As Canisius (2-0, 5-8) increased its pressure on Siena (0-2, 5-10), the Saints had few options off the bench to offer help for Fisher or freshman Jalen Pickett, the latter of whom scored 14 points, dished 11 assists and grabbed seven rebounds. Siena only used its bench players for 19 minutes, and received just three points from its reserves.
For Siena, four players missed the game with injuries. Three of those players — sophomore Manny Camper, junior Sammy Friday and redshirt freshman Jimmy Ratliff — are averaging at least 14.7 minutes per game, while junior Khalil Richard has missed the whole season with a knee injury. Also out for Siena were redshirt junior Elijah Burns and sophomore Don Carey, both inactive because of NCAA transfer rules.
“Just next man up,” Pickett said. “We’ve got to keep going and embrace the challenge.”
Pickett was one of four Siena players to play at least 35 minutes.
“We’re in shape,” said Siena freshman Sloan Seymour, who scored 15 points in 35 minutes. “We’re ready for it.”
Canisius, though, was better down the stretch, outscoring Siena 13-8 in the final 5:47. Three of those points for Siena came on a last-second 3 from Fisher with the game’s outcome already decided.
“I’m proud of our fight,” Fisher said, “but I think we just had a few plays we weren’t really focused in on.”
Siena next plays Friday at Marist. Christian said it’s likely Camper will be available for that game, but Siena will still remain short-handed as it looks to gain its first MAAC win of the season.
“I get a lot of strength out of this opportunity here,” Christian said, “and I think [our] guys in that locker room feel the same way.”
White 4-5 0-0 8, Hitchon 4-9 3-4 11, Johnson 1-5 0-0 2, Reese 6-11 6-6 20, Molson 8-16 6-9 23, Henderson 1-2 1-1 3, Sanks 0-2 0-0 0, Lotts 0-1 1-2 1, Faulkner 0-3 0-0 0, St. Louis 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 25-55 17-22 70.
Fisher 9-19 1-3 21, Degnan 3-8 0-0 8, Pickett 5-17 2-4 14, Seymour 5-12 0-0 15, Darwiche 1-5 2-2 5, Bayer 0-0 0-0 0, Smithen 1-2 0-0 3, Huerter 0-0 0-0 0, Tchougang 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 24-63 5-9 66.
Halftime score: Siena 40, Canisius 30. Three-point shooting: Canisius 3-15, Siena 13-35. Rebounds: Canisius 39 (White, Reese, Molson 8), Siena 33 (Fisher 17). Assists: Canisius 9 (Johnson, Reese 3), Siena 14 (Pickett 11). Turnovers: Canisius 11, Siena 13. Total fouls: Canisius 14, Siena 14. Attendance: 6,432.