LOUDONVILLE — It’s not the most important contribution fifth-year senior Elijah Burns makes for the Siena men’s basketball team.
Realistically, it’s nowhere close to that.
But, still, how Burns starts nearly every game for the Saints is impressive in its own right.
The 6-foot-8 forward has won his last 11 tip-offs. Overall, he is 19 of 23 on the season in securing the game’s first possession for the Saints.
He's not doing anything elaborate. Really, Burns is just keeping it simple.
“I just go in there, see the ball go up and I get it,” Burns said after Siena’s 65-64 win Wednesday vs. Iona, a victory in which he made the game-winning free throw with 2.3 seconds to go.
Before this season, Burns said he hadn’t ever contested a jump ball at the college level. He didn’t seek out any advice or tips on how to handle every game’s first play, and the Siena coaching staff hasn’t spent much time, if any, working with him on what’s largely an inconsequential play in the grand scheme of things.
It makes sense, though, that Burns has found a way to win one opening tip or another. He’s competitive and smart, and that combination of traits shows through in the serious approach he takes to winning the first 1-on-1 battle of every basketball game.
“I’m just trying to get it,” said Burns, who compared winning a tip-off to grabbing a rebound away from an opponent. “I don’t really think about who I’m going against. I just try to get every jump ball, so we can start the game on offense, and get attacking and get going.”
More than competing against an opponent, Burns said he fixates on the official preparing to toss the ball up.
“I just focus on when the ref’s getting ready to throw ball, and, honestly, just anticipating when he’s going to release it and when it’ll be at its highest point,” said Burns, who is averaging 14.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game heading into Sunday’s game at Fairfield.
“I love being able to have the ball first, just to set the tone offensively,” said Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello, whose squads ranks as the MAAC’s top offense on a per-possession basis within conference play. “But in the same vein, if we’ve got to get a stop to start the game, that’s fine, too.”
Siena, though, has become accustomed to starting nearly every game looking to score.
“We’re kind of used to Elijah always winning it,” redshirt sophomore Don Carey said, “so we just flow right into things.”
‘SIGN OF OPPORTUNITY’
Opposing defenders still often challenge Siena junior Manny Camper to knock down jump shots — and he’s fine with that.
“I just see it as a sign of opportunity,” said Camper, whose team is tied with Saint Peter’s at 10-5 for first place in the MAAC.
Camper is averaging 13.9 points per game this season, up from 6.4 last season. He reworked his jump shot during the offseason, and has shown progress with his ability to make opponents pay for not respecting his jumper. While his overall shooting percentage of 49.1% is only slightly up from last season’s 48.6%, Camper’s made 34.3% of his 3-pointers this season after making 13.3% last season. His free-throw shooting is up to 62.6% this season from last season’s mark of 52.2%, too.
Most impressive, perhaps, is that Camper has improved his shooting numbers while taking many more shots from a season ago. Camper has already taken 84 more shots this season than he did last season.
“So I’ll continue to take those shots and the opportunities [defenses] give me,” Camper said.