LOUDONVILLE — As a player at Siena, Carmen Maciariello made the trip once to western New York for what’s considered by many to be toughest men’s basketball road trip in the MAAC.
That team, the 2000-01 Saints that won 20 games? They finished 0-2 on that trip to play at Canisius and Niagara, and weren’t competitive in either game. Maciariello — now Siena’s head coach — remembers several Saints were battling the flu during that January trip 19 years ago that saw them lose by 21 points at Niagara and 18 at Canisius.
“But there’s no excuses,” Maciariello said earlier this week, ahead of his Saints playing 7 p.m. Friday at Canisius in Buffalo and 1 p.m. Sunday at Niagara in Lewiston. “You’ve got to have that mental toughness, regardless of who you’re playing or where you’re playing.”
So far this season, Siena (3-2, 7-7) hasn’t consistently shown that mental toughness away from its home court in Albany. The Saints are 7-0 at home and 0-7 on the road, and while Canisius (1-4, 6-10) and Niagara (2-2, 4-11) are both struggling this season, Siena isn’t a lock to leave this weekend with its road losing streak snapped.
Since the Saints swept Canisius and Niagara in Fran McCaffery’s final season leading the program in 2009-10, Siena’s put together a 6-11 mark in games played at those schools. Siena swept its trip to western New York in 2016, but has been swept on three occasions — and that doesn’t include when the Saints didn’t play at Niagara in 2018, but lost at Canisius that year by 24 points.
“Just having two road games back to back, that’s a difficult challenge,” Siena redshirt sophomore Don Carey said. “But I think we’re ready for that challenge.”
To turn this year’s two-games-in-three-days trip into a success, Maciariello said his team has to bring an intensity to the court — something the coach didn’t think his team did last weekend at Manhattan when it flirted with suffering a blowout loss before eventually losing by a dozen.
“For me,” Maciariello said, “it’s about these guys playing with an edge.”
Siena needed a 3-pointer from fifth-year senior Elijah Burns in the final seconds of its first meeting with Canisius to escape with a one-point win. To earn a sweep of Canisius, the Saints cannot plan to rely on late-game heroics.
“This is about guys understanding what they have to do every single second on the court,” Maciariello said. “You can’t have any slippage if you want to be a championship team.”
Freshman Luke Sutherland can’t remember a time previously in his career that he didn’t consistently log minutes for his team.
So he knows that the seven-game streak he just endured without playing, a stretch he ended with his appearance Sunday at Manhattan, was easily the longest of his career.
“But that’s the process,” Sutherland said. “You know that coming in.”
Sutherland was a four-year varsity player in high school at West Genesee, which he helped lead to a Class AA state championship last year. Before scoring two points, grabbing three rebounds and blocking a shot in eight minutes at Manhattan, Sutherland had scored three points and collected four rebounds in his first four appearances. Prior to Sunday, the 6-foot-7 Sutherland had last played Nov. 29 at Colgate.
“But every single day in practice, coach Harley [Fuller] and coach Carm, they preach to stay ready because opportunities can come at any time,” Sutherland said.
When his opportunity arrived last weekend, Sutherland produced a solid outing. He credited that to embracing the “learning process” at each practice.
“I got better every single day,” Sutherland said.
Aidan Carpenter joined the Saints this week, but won’t play until next season.
The 6-foot-4 Carpenter signed as a member of Siena’s recruiting class for next season, but he has enrolled at Siena for the spring semester after starting his academic year with Lee Academy in Maine. Carpenter will be able to practice with the Saints once he passes his physical, but will be a freshman for the 2020-21 season. Former Siena players Tommy Mitchell and Roman Penn also enrolled at Siena for the spring semester ahead of their true freshman years.
Carpenter is from Hamden, Connecticut, and committed to Siena in September.