LOUDONVILLE — There was no hint of panic at Thursday’s Siena men’s basketball practice. There was, though, a tacit acknowledgement that the unusual two-week break the Saints had between games came at a good time for the program.
Head coach Carmen Maciariello described it as a “great couple weeks to improve,” and the Saints needed that after a four-game losing streak ended with an ugly loss at Cal Poly. Against a team that hadn’t previously defeated a Division I program this season, Siena pushed to an 11-point lead early in the second half, found itself down 12 with 1:09 to go, then saw a frantic last-minute push come up short.
That Dec. 7 defeat was the lone bad loss Siena has suffered this season, but it sent the Saints into their break before Saturday’s 6 p.m. game vs. Bucknell at Times Union Center in Albany with plenty of motivation to improve. Maciariello listed several areas — on-court communication and 1-on-1 defense, to name a couple — that the Saints focused on in practices ahead of their four-game homestand that followed four consecutive road games.
“All things that were glaring to us in our losses — to be honest with you, even in our wins,” Maciariello said.
Siena has only won at home this season. The Saints are 2-0 in Albany and 0-5 away from it. Meanwhile, Bucknell brings a 4-7 mark into the matchup, and also hasn’t played since Dec. 7 when it defeated UAlbany.
Bucknell will present issues for the Saints on the defensive end — “We have to be very disciplined,” Siena junior Manny Camper said — with its attack that’s heavy with shots from 3-point range, but Siena is confident it can get back on track at home. Its overall record, sophomore Jalen Pickett said, doesn’t reflect what the Saints can be this season.
“I think we’re in a good place,” Pickett said. “I think we had the same record at this point last year, so we’ve definitely got a chance to grow there. We’re trying to be better than we were last year, so now we know what we need to do.”
The parallels are there between last season and this one for the Saints. Siena started 2-1 last season, just as it did this season. A four-game losing streak followed each of those two seasons for the Saints, who have started 2-5 in four consecutive seasons.
Siena did win its eighth game last season, a three-point victory against a Harvard program the Saints fell to earlier this season on the road. While Siena never lost more than two games in a row after starting 2-5 last season, the Saints also didn’t get their record to stay at .500 or better until after their 28th game in a 17-16 campaign.
Finishing a game above .500 last season was a major success for a program coming off an 8-24 season, a coaching change and being picked to finish in last place in the MAAC. This season, the Saints again have a new head coach, but the expectation is Maciariello has a group that can contend for the program’s first league title since 2010.
“We play really good, at times,” Pickett said. “But we’ve got to try to put together a whole 40-minute game.”
Against Bucknell, the added challenge to doing that is the weeks off between games. In all likelihood, both offenses won’t be incredibly sharp early in the game.
“If there’s a little rust, there’s a little rust,” Maciariello said. “But that’s never going to stop our defense. So even if we’re not making shots, we can always defend to the best of our abilities every single second.”