ALBANY — For the second time in as many MAAC men’s basketball games, Siena found itself Friday facing a double-digit deficit at halftime.
And, for the second time in as many league games, the Saints left Times Union Center with a win.
“These guys got tremendous heart,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said after the Saints’ 75-72 win against Monmouth.
The Saints also could play better in the opening 20 minutes of games moving forward, something they acknowledged after a victory that saw six Siena players score at least nine points. The Saints trailed Canisius 41-30 at halftime of their first MAAC game — that one ended with a 73-72 win after fifth-year senior Elijah Burns made a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final seconds — and were behind 36-26 against Monmouth after a sloppy first half.
“I don’t know, man. I don’t know,” Siena sophomore Jalen Pickett said of what’s led to Siena’s sluggish starts in conference play. “I know we need to come out better. I think that’s going to be a focus for us from here on out, is coming out and trying to play a full 40 minutes. We talk about it a lot, but I think after tonight it’s happened to us a couple times. I think we’re going to come out the next couple games and really play hard.”
“I think that’s the answer we’re trying to find as a team right now,” Siena redshirt sophomore Don Carey said.
Siena, though, has the offensive firepower to make a comeback, and the Saints pulled even with Monmouth at 47 with just less than a dozen minutes to go on a 3 from fifth-year senior Matt Hein. The teams played within six points of each other the rest of the way, but Siena took the lead for good with five consecutive points from Burns that made the score 71-66 with 46.7 seconds to go.
“He’s just a big-time player,” Maciariello said of Burns, who finished with 14 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. “He makes big plays.”
Carey added 15 points for Siena, while Pickett had 13 on 5 of 15 shooting despite missing his first seven shots. Junior Manny Camper had 11 points and 13 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season, freshman Gary Harris had 12 points and Hein added nine.
For Monmouth, junior Deion Hammond scored 23 points and redshirt junior Ray Salnave had 20.
Siena (2-0, 6-5) made 16 of 31 shots in the second half after it made 9 of 28 in the first, while Monmouth (0-1, 6-6) was 16 of 41 in the opening half and 10 of 26 in the second. While Monmouth shot 39% in the first half and 38.5% after it, Monmouth head coach King Rice was displeased with his team’s shot selection immediately after halftime when Siena opened the half on a 23-11 run.
“Our problems started at the beginning of the second half,” Rice said. “The end of the game, it can go either way. What happened at the start of the second half was we had a 10-point lead and my kids, because they’re kids, thought, ‘Oh, these guys can’t do anything with us.’ And, then, you saw the level of shot that we were taking flip-flop. That’s not somebody’s defense.”
Later, Rice added: “We started thinking that they couldn’t deal with us, and then they kicked our butt in the second half.”
After five consecutive points from Burns broke a 66-66 tie, Salnave pulled Monmouth within 71-69 after making 3 of 4 free throws in two separate trips to the foul line. From there, Carey made 4 of 4 free throws to seal the win, which ended with Salnave making a 3 at the buzzer.
Any pressure felt before those free throws?
“No, no, no,” said Carey, who has made 88.4% of his free throws this season. “I take free throws very seriously in practice, so there’s no pressure with them in games.”
Siena, which improved to 2-0 in MAAC play for the first time since the 2009-10 season, hadn't beaten Monmouth in the regular season since March 2014. After the loss, Rice seemed to take issue with how Siena supporters enthusiastically celebrated their team’s win.
“Everybody is funny to me how people celebrate when they beat Monmouth. We’re fifth or sixth in this league,” Rice said. “That tells you that the name on the front matters. I didn’t see everybody celebrating when they beat Canisius. I didn’t see that.”
Asked if he took that as a compliment, Rice said: “Of course. Everybody seems to have Monmouth with an X. We’re not the first-place team. We’re, I think, fifth or sixth, from what the coaches think. So, you beat the fifth-place team. Cool.
“Like, fans, I don’t — like, I’m serious. I don’t get it. Like, why’s everybody — it’s the first game of 20. First of 20. We’ve got a long way to go. We had a hard preseason. Six and five, nobody thought we could do what we did. Now, we lost our first MAAC game. Last year, at this time, you know what my record was? One and fourteen. I think we’ll be OK.”
Siena was picked to finish sixth in the league’s preseason poll, while Monmouth was picked fourth.
Next up, the Saints play Sunday at Rider, which was picked to finish in second place in the MAAC behind Iona. Rider and Siena, though, have generally been the league’s most impressive teams to this point in the season, setting up an early-season showdown.
That game will take place away from Times Union Center, where Siena is 6-0 on the season. That means the Saints are 0-5 away from Albany, and Maciariello said ending those road woes is more important than anything else in terms of Sunday’s game.
“So I think it’s just another tough MAAC game on the road,” Maciariello said, “and we’ve got to prove that we can win on the road.”
Traore 3-8 0-2 6, Salnave 6-15 7-8 20, Hammond 7-20 4-4 23, McClary 1-1 0-0 2, Chaput 1-6 0-0 2, Martin 0-2 0-0 0, Papas 2-4 0-0 6, Rutty 1-2 0-1 2, Pillari 4-8 0-0 9, Ibiezugbe 0-0 0-0 0, Gabriel 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 26-67 11-15 72.
Burns 5-7 4-4 14, Carey 4-12 4-5 15, Camper 2-8 6-11 11, Hein 4-6 0-0 9, Pickett 5-15 1-1 13, Harris 5-10 1-3 12, Friday 0-1 1-2 1, King 0-0 0-0 0, Young 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 25-59 17-26 75.
Halftime score: Monmouth 36, Siena 26. Three-point shooting: Monmouth 9-24 (Salnave 1-4, Hammond 5-11, Chaput 0-2, Martin 0-1, Papas 2-4, Pillari 1-2), Siena 8-20 (Carey 3-6, Camper 1-3, Hein 1-2, Pickett 2-5, Harris 1-4). Rebounds: Monmouth 36 (Traore 6), Siena 47 (Burns, Camper 13). Assists: Monmouth 14 (Chaput 6), Siena 13 (Camper 4). Turnovers: Monmouth 7, Siena 13. Total fouls: Monmouth 21, Siena 13. Attendance: 6,273.