LOUDONVILLE — When Siena plays Friday night vs. Rider, it’ll do so at a later start time than usual. That 9 p.m. tip-off is to accommodate the game being aired for a national TV audience on ESPNU, a nod to this particular MAAC men’s basketball matchup as the best the league has to offer this week.
That makes for a unique opportunity for players in a mid-major league.
The stakes of the game, though, are what matter to Rider and Siena, not the TV placement.
“I don’t think that’s really a factor into how hard we’re going to play on Friday night,” Siena redshirt sophomore Don Carey said at Thursday’s practice.
That’s to say the matchup with Rider, a program Siena has routinely played competitive — and, occasionally, contentious — games with in recent years, doesn’t require much artificial hype for the Saints. That’s true, too, for the Broncs. While Rider topped the Saints earlier this year in a game that saw a player ejected from each side, Siena ended Rider’s season last year in the MAAC tournament and hasn’t lost to head coach Kevin Baggett’s program in Albany since the 2012-13 season.
“We know this is going to be a challenge,” Baggett said earlier this week in a phone interview. “That’s how we’re facing it.”
Rider (8-5, 14-9) is tied for first place in the MAAC with Saint Peter’s, while Siena (7-5, 11-10) is in a three-way tie for third place. With a victory at its home Times Union Center in Albany, it’s possible for the Saints to end Friday night alone in first place if the outcomes of games around the MAAC cooperate.
This season, playing in Albany has certainly cooperated with the Saints, who are 10-0 at home. Siena has outscored opponents by an average of 11 points per game inside Times Union Center this season.
“Just playing at home is always a bonus for us,” said Siena sophomore Jalen Pickett, who has shot 50.8% from the field at home and 40.2% on the road this season.
“We take pride in not losing at home,” Carey said. “Defending our house.”
Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello wants to see the Saints take pride in controlling their defensive backboard against Rider. Siena has been out-rebounded in each of its last two games, and was outdone on the glass in its 85-77 loss at Rider earlier this year. In that loss at Rider, too, the Saints were outscored 34-28 in the paint.
In its practice gym, several signs impressing upon the Saints the need to correct that were posted this week.
“TO BEAT RIDER WE MUST OWN THE PAINT!!!!!!!” the signs read.
“That’s the onus for us,” Siena fifth-year senior Elijah Burns said. “We’ve got to be able to rebound the basketball.”
Generally, that’s something Siena has done well this season. Through Wednesday’s action, Siena ranked No. 50 in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and No. 59 in defensive rebounding percentage, according to kenpom.com’s database. Within the MAAC, Siena ranks second in both those categories, while Rider is tops in the league in defensive rebounding percentage.
“We’ve got to be able to protect our paint,” Maciariello said.
If the Saints do? In all likelihood, they will move their home record to 11-0 ahead of another pivotal MAAC game Sunday, when Siena plays Manhattan.
“If we take care of what we’ve got to take care of,” Maciariello said, “we’ll be in a great spot.”