ALBANY — All season, Siena College head coach Jamion Christian has preached to his men’s basketball team to stay “present in the moment,” a reminder to focus on each task as it comes and not before that.
That’s never been more important this season than now for Siena, which is scheduled to start its MAAC tournament run 9:30 p.m. Saturday against Rider at Times Union Center.
“Everyone,” Christian said earlier this week, “understands the opportunity to play for a dream is right there.”
“The team that’s not going to dream — that’s going to do — that team has the opportunity to be at their very best when it matters the most,” Christian said.
To win its first MAAC championship since 2010, Siena would need to be at its best through a frenetic schedule. Siena’s quarterfinal against Rider is likely to start at least a half-hour later than its scheduled tipoff, and the winner then has to play in a 6 p.m. Sunday semifinal with the hopes of making Monday’s 9 p.m. championship game. That’s three games tipping off in less than 48 hours of each other.
“But,” Siena redshirt senior Kadeem Smithen said, “as long as we do what Siena does, we’ll be fine.”
Siena had gone through that jam-packed schedule two years ago when it made it to the MAAC championship game and fell in overtime to Iona.
“I just remember that whole weekend was crazy,” Siena senior Evan Fisher said.
“What can I do to make this work?”— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) March 2, 2019
That’s the question @SienaSaints senior Evan Fisher spent the last year answering for a @SienaMBB program that needed someone to lead through a tumultuous end and a new beginning.
Via @dgazette: https://t.co/JMXgfxU0vu#MAACHoops @MAACHoops pic.twitter.com/bCdIvZl9rI
Siena (No. 5, 16-15) topped Rider (No. 4, 16-14) when the teams met in the regular season with a 59-57 decision on the Broncs’ home floor. Since that win, Siena split its final six games of the regular season and gave away a couple of those losses with poor execution down the stretch.
“Those were great learning experiences for us,” Siena freshman Jalen Pickett said.
Pickett leads Siena into the MAAC tournament after earlier this week becoming the first freshman to earn an All-MAAC first-team selection in more than 30 years and winning the MAAC Rookie of the Year award.
“It’s definitely a different feeling going into my first tournament, but my teammates have been telling me how it’s going to be all year,” Pickett said. “The roughness and the physicality of it.”
When Jamion Christian took over the @SienaMBB program, he needed a foundational player— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) March 7, 2019
"I’ve always had this fundamental belief that the first guys you recruit will define where your program moves."
A week later, Jalen Pickett was a Saint
Via @dgazette: https://t.co/BrFtVKy0tz pic.twitter.com/hKkKOwwgtl
This whole season was supposed to be a rough one for the Saints after they went 8-24 last season, had a number of players transfer out of the program following the resignation of former head coach Jimmy Patsos, and then saw themselves picked to finish in last place in the conference’s preseason coaches poll.
But Siena went 11-7 in MAAC action and finished the regular season in a four-way tie for second place along with Canisius, Quinnipiac and a Rider program that was picked to finish in first.
Despite its late start, Saturday’s game should feature a lively hometown crowd to back the Saints. Such an environment, Fisher said, is one the Saints are eager to take part in after not playing since Sunday’s overtime win at Niagara.
“That’s why you want to play college basketball,” Fisher said.