LOUDONVILLE — The goal for Friday night?
Lose that bizarre label.
That being, of course, that the Siena men’s basketball team is the lone remaining program in the country that is undefeated at home and winless on the road, with nine wins at Albany’s Times Union Center and nine losses away from that arena.
“I do want to put it to rest,” Siena sophomore Jalen Pickett said earlier this week. “In order for us to win the MAAC [tournament], we’re going to have to play away from [Times Union Center], so we have to get used to it now and try to get a win.”
The latest chance for Siena (5-4, 9-9) to shed its unique distinction arrives at 7 p.m. Friday at Iona (3-5, 5-10), the MAAC’s four-time defending champion that has struggled throughout the 2019-20 season. With head coach Tim Cluess sidelined so far this season for undisclosed health reasons, Iona has only once won back-to-back games. In Cluess’ absence, associate head coach Tra Arnold has led Iona, which remains a talented group with seniors Tajaun Agee and E.J. Crawford, and juniors Asante Gist and Isaiah Washington all averaging double-digit scoring on the season.
“Regardless what their record is, you know they’re talented,” head coach Carmen Maciariello said. “You know they’re going to play hard. You know they’re going to be ready to play after a home loss to Monmouth.”
Siena, too, has four players averaging double-digit scoring this season in fifth-year senior Elijah Burns, junior Manny Camper, redshirt sophomore Don Carey and Pickett — but what matters at Iona for the Saints is how their defense performs. In back-to-back home wins, Siena just held Marist to 32.8% shooting and Quinnipiac to 42.6% shooting, as the Saints’ defense showed signs of improvement after three consecutive games — all losses — in which their opponents shot 50% or better.
“Guys are starting to have a sense of urgency every single possession,” Maciariello said.
Siena plays at Iona, then Sunday at Saint Peter’s before starting up a four-game homestand. The Saints head into their game at Iona in a three-way tie for third place in the MAAC, but only sit a game behind first-place Monmouth. Off a pair of double-digit wins, Siena heads into its latest road trip with momentum and the opportunity in front of it to put itself in great position to continue climbing up the league standings.
“We need to band together . . . and be able to compete together for a full 40 minutes,” Burns said.