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Siena men's basketball earns MAAC tournament bye

Siena men's basketball earns MAAC tournament bye

Saints beat Niagara in overtime
Siena men's basketball earns MAAC tournament bye
Siena's Jalen Pickett, right, uses a screen from teammate Evan Fisher.
Photographer: Michael Kelly

LEWISTON — The MAAC tournament starts in a matter of days.

The Siena College men’s basketball team’s stance on that?

Bring it on.

That was the message the Saints delivered with a 72-65 overtime win Sunday in its regular-season finale against Niagara, and one they doubled down on after pulling out a road win at Gallagher Center despite shooting 22 of 61 from the field.

“It’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a war,” Siena redshirt senior Kadeem Smithen said of the Saints’ upcoming matchup with Rider. “It’s MAAC tournament time. It’s March. Let’s get it going.”

With the victory, Siena finished the regular season in a four-way tie for second place. The Saints, though, will be the No. 5 seed for the MAAC tournament played in its home Albany arena, and take on No. 4. Rider at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Times Union Center.

“I’m sure [Rider is] going to feel like they’re the underdog coming into this tournament, but I don’t know if anyone feels more like the underdog than we do,” said Siena head coach Jamion Christian, whose team was picked to finish in last place in the conference’s preseason coaches poll. “The story of our season is still being written, and the story of our season starts with us believing in each other in that locker room. It’s going to be about us when we get into that tournament.”

As it often has been this season for the Saints, Sunday’s win was largely about the all-around performance from freshman Jalen Pickett. In 44 minutes of action, Pickett delivered 27 points, six rebounds, eight assists, three steals and two blocks while committing only one turnover as he concluded his MAAC Rookie of the Year resume with one more spectacular performance.

“I thought [Pickett] really dominated for us,” Siena senior Evan Fisher said. “They had a tough time stopping him — and even if they did, he made some really good reads for us. He’s been doing that all year.”

Niagara (6-12, 13-18) senior Marvin Prochet forced overtime with a late 3-pointer in regulation to tie it at 56, but Siena (11-7, 16-15) swiftly took control in the overtime period. Pickett recorded back-to-back assists on Siena’s first two possessions of the extra period to help start a 9-2 run for the Saints who led by as many as nine points in the overtime.

“I thought our response was outstanding,” Christian said.

So, too, was Pickett’s response after a rough Friday night at Canisius and a poor start to Sunday’s game. Pickett shot 5 of 20 at Canisius and missed his first six shots at Niagara before make 8 of 14 to close the game.

“Just keep playing through it,” Pickett said of his tough start. “My teammates were great, just telling me to keep shooting it.”

Besides Pickett’s production, Siena received 15 points and 10 rebounds from Fisher, plus a dozen points from redshirt senior Kevin Degnan. Off the bench, Smithen was a difference-maker for the Saints; the guard scored eight points and grabbed eight rebounds in 35 minutes of play in which Siena outscored Niagara by 19 points.

For Niagara, Prochet had 21 points and 10 rebounds.

Three-time defending champion Iona will be the No. 1 seed for the MAAC tournament that starts Thursday, while Canisius is No. 2 and Quinnipiac is No. 3. Below Siena is No. 6 Monmouth, No. 7 Manhattan, No. 8 Marist, No. 9 Saint Peter’s, No. 10 Fairfield and No. 11 Niagara.

With its win against Niagara, Siena secured its first-round bye. To win a MAAC championship, Siena will need to win three games all scheduled to start within less than 48 hours of each other. The Saints only played six players more than one minute against Niagara, and Christian said he’ll operate in the MAAC tournament with a shortened rotation, if needed.

“You really can’t look at it like there’s a tomorrow. You have one game and you’ve got to go with the opportunity to play your very best in that one game,” Christian said. “You’re going to go down with your very best every single time. We’re going to do that, and then we’ll worry about the next day when the next day gets here.”

SIENA

Seymour 2-7 0-0 6 Fisher 6-13 3-4 15, Degnan 3-8 3-6 12, Camper 1-7 2-2 4,  Pickett 8-20 8-8 27, Smithen 2-6 4-4 8, Huerter 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 22-61 20-24 72.

NIAGARA

Prochet 8-19 2-4 21, King 5-7 0-0 10, Robb 1-5 0-0 2, Barton 4-7 7-9 16, Hammond 1-7 0-0 3, Solomon 3-8 0-0 8, Towns 0-2 0-0 0, Tate 1-2 0-0 2, Fragala 1-1 0-0 3, Kuakumensah 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 24-58 9-13 65.

Halftime score: Niagara 27, Siena 24. Three-point shooting: Siena 8-32, Niagara 8-25. Rebounds: Siena 34 (Fisher 10), NIagara 41 (King 11). Assists: Siena 9 (Pickett 8), Niagara 4 (Prochet 2). Turnovers: Siena 6, Niagara 14. Total fouls: Siena 13, Niagara 18. Attendance: 1,378.

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

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