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Siena men's basketball adjusting to new defensive approach

Siena men's basketball adjusting to new defensive approach

Saints fouling more through 4 games than they did last season
Siena men's basketball adjusting to new defensive approach
Jalen Pickett takes a shot during a game earlier this season.
Photographer: Erica Miller

LOUDONVILLE — Partially, it’s because of the way the Siena men’s basketball team wants to defend this season. Besides that, growing pains learning how to apply pressure within head coach Carmen Maciariello’s defensive system are responsible for some of the uptick.

But this season’s Saints foul more than they did last season — and that appears to be a change with staying power.

“Last year,” Siena sophomore Jalen Pickett said at Monday’s practice, “we weren’t the fastest team, so we really focused on popping our hips back and staying away from people, trying to make people shoot over our size. This year, we’re a little quicker, so we’re under people. . . . We’re trying to be a little more physical and force people to turn the ball over.”

Through Siena’s 2-2 start and ahead of Wednesday’s game at 2-2 Yale, the Saints are averaging 18 fouls and opponents are averaging 17.8 free-throw attempts per game. During the 2018-19 campaign in which the Saints played a lot of zone defense, Siena averaged 14 fouls per game and opponents took an average of 14.5 free throws each game.

(Siena is also getting to the foul line more often this season. After averaging 25.7 3-point attempts and 13.3 foul shots per game in 2018-19, Siena is averaging 20 3-point attempts and 20.1 free throws per game this season.)

Pickett had two early fouls in Siena’s 59-56 loss last Thursday at Harvard, and only ended up playing seven minutes in the first half because of them. While Siena is likely to foul more this season because of its increased reliance on man-to-man defense and desire to play with smaller, quicker lineups, Maciariello said the foul trouble Pickett ran into at Harvard could have been avoided.

“I also want him to be a little more disciplined on that side of the ball,” Maciariello said. “That wasn’t the scouting report. We don’t pick up guys at half-court and ride them. We don’t gamble in passing lanes. That’s not our defense.”

Through Sunday’s games across the country, Siena ranked No. 160 in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com. The Saints’ offense ranks No. 232.

FIRST POINTS

Through Siena’s first four games, Kyle Young has looked the part.

He is a freshman big man, learning as he goes what’s needed to succeed at the college level. There has been more struggling than succeeding, but Young isn’t getting discouraged.

“A big part of it is knowing the scout on other guys, but it’s really just about me knowing our plays and knowing what to do on the court to help my team,” Young said.

The 6-foot-9, 239-pound forward scored the first basket of his college career at Harvard. He finished that game — his third appearance of the season; he didn’t play against St. Bonaventure — with four points and two rebounds in five minutes.

In his college career’s first games, Young has struggled not to foul, but has also been solid on the glass. In 14 minutes split between three games, Young has committed five fouls and grabbed six rebounds.

Essentially, fifth-year senior Elijah Burns, senior Sammy Friday and Young have split time at the lone forward position within Maciariello’s system. For now, Young understands he’s the No. 3 option at that spot, and said he’s trying to make the most of his opportunities.

“Coach has preached that whenever your number is called to be ready or you’re not going to play,” Young said. “I never know when my name is going to get called, but whenever it does I have to go out there, have fun, play hard and play as well as I can.”

OLD FRIENDS

Even before Siena started work breaking down Wednesday’s opponent, Siena freshman Jordan King had a solid handle on what to expect from Yale freshman August Mahoney, an Albany Academy graduate from Saratoga Springs.

“That’s a good friend of mine,” said King, a Christian Brothers Academy graduate.

Over the years, King said he’s worked out with Mahoney through the Dags Basketball training group, which former Guilderland High School and Saint Rose star Steve Dagostino operates. 

On the season, Mahoney is averaging 10.8 minutes and 2.8 points per game off the bench for Yale. Meanwhile, King is averaging 22 minutes and 3.5 points per game for Siena. 

Since making 3 of 8 shots for eight points in his debut, King has made 2 of 16 shots.

“The first game, I took really good shots. I saw the ball go in the basket, and thought I should keep shooting,” King said. “These last few games, I think I’ve been taking not-the-best shots.”

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