LOUDONVILLE — It’s too soon for a statement game.
More than anything, anyway, the Siena men’s basketball program is concerned with securing its first road win. That Rider is the next opponent for Siena makes winning Sunday’s 2 p.m. road game more challenging, but that the MAAC’s two teams that have played the best to this point in the season are meeting in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, doesn’t necessarily provide extra motivation for an early-January matchup.
Both sides agree on that.
“I mean, we swept Rider last year, and we got swept by Monmouth and Canisius,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said after his team’s win Friday against Monmouth in Albany. “But Rider’s very talented. They’ll play four guards. They’re big. They’re athletic. Just lost a tough game at Wisconsin where they struggled to score the ball, and now they’re going to come home and they’re 1-0 in the MAAC. They beat Marist. We’re 2-0 in the MAAC. So I think it’s just another tough MAAC game on the road, and we’ve got to prove we can win on the road.”
“It’s an early January game between a couple MAAC teams — and we’ve lost our last two to Temple and Wisconsin,” Rider head coach Kevin Baggett said Friday in a phone interview. “And that’s no knock on Siena, by no means. But we just need a win. We’re home, and we have to get off our losing streak.”
Siena has won its last four games, and is seeking to put together its first five-game winning streak since the 2009-10 season when the Saints won 15 games in a row during one stretch. The Saints, though, are 6-0 on the season at home and 0-5 away from it — and they get that’s not OK.
“We have to go there and be the aggressor,” Siena junior Manny Camper said.
Siena (2-0, 6-5) has started slowly in both of its MAAC games, a trend the Saints cannot let continue at Rider (1-0, 7-4). Siena faced a double-digit deficit at halftime of its first two league games before rallying in the second half for wins.
In both the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) and kenpom.com rankings, Rider ranks No. 1 among MAAC teams and Siena is No. 2. The teams last met in the 2019 MAAC tournament quarterfinals, a matchup the Saints won.
“They’re playing at a faster pace and they’re playing well together. They’re sharing the ball,” Baggett said of this season’s Saints. “I think they’ve all bought into what Carm’s asked them to do.”
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Before last season started, a talented Rider squad was the unanimous selection in the MAAC preseason poll to claim the league’s title.
Then . . . the season happened.
An up-and-down campaign ended with a 16-14 record for Rider, a disappointing season that Baggett said he saw heading down the wrong path early in the campaign.
“Too many guys were worried about all the wrong things,” Baggett said. “It’s something we talked about all year long.”
This season, Baggett said his team is in a better place. Chemistry is stronger, and the experience from last season is something from which Rider learned.
“The expectations were we were supposed to finish first. It was pressure for everybody,” Baggett said. “We didn’t handle it right, starting from me on down.”
Four players — Stevie Jordan, Tyere Marshall, Frederick Scott and Dimencio Vaughn — average at least 12.3 points per game for Rider. Baggett credited Jordan, a four-year starter at point guard, with providing ample leadership for the Broncs this season.
“It’s a coach’s dream when you have a point guard like Stevie who has been there and done that, and played at a high level for four years,” Baggett said. “The fact he’s a senior, as a coach, he’s an extension of you. . . . He says a lot of the things I want to say, but I don’t have to say them.”
HARRIS & HEIN
Outside of its core group of fifth-year senior Elijah Burns, Camper, redshirt sophomore Don Carey and sophomore Jalen Pickett, Siena has often struggled this season to find a fifth contributor.
In Friday’s win against Monmouth, Siena received strong efforts from a pair of role players in freshman Gary Harris and fifth-year senior Matt Hein, as Harris had a dozen points in 27 minutes and Hein had nine in 22.
Hein — a starter who averages 3.3 points per game — played Friday’s game without wearing a protective mask he wore for the previous three games after breaking his nose earlier this season.
“It messed with my head a little bit,” Hein said of the mask that affected his peripheral vision. “Just happy to have it off now.”
Besides his points, Harris offered two blocked shots — including an emphatic, chase-down block late in the game when the team’s were tied at 63. Harris has had a pair of double-digit scoring efforts in Siena’s last five games, and Maciariello mentioned the possibility of finding more minutes for Harris in future games at the 4 after the freshman had mostly played at the 2 or 3 through Siena’s first 11 games.
“We know what he can be,” Pickett said, “and how special of a kid he is.”