LOUDONVILLE — Defend the 3-point line, win the game.
Perhaps it’s not that simple for the Siena men’s basketball team when it plays 7 p.m. Wednesday at Quinnipiac. But, at the very least, it’s close to that — and, as luck would have it, the Saints have been the MAAC’s top team defending the 3-point line this year.
“We just make a point of taking it away,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said at Tuesday’s practice.
Opponents have only made 32.1% of their 3-point attempts against the Saints this season, and that figure drops to a MAAC-leading 30.1% in league games. While Siena’s defense has been a work in progress throughout the season, its combination of quickness and length on the perimeter has allowed it to disrupt opposing 3-point shooters on a consistent basis.
That matters a lot against Quinnipiac (7-9, 12-14), a squad Siena (11-5, 15-10) breezed past earlier this season to an 84-61 victory. In that game, Quinnipiac only made 7 of 23 shots from 3-point range. On the season, Quinnipiac is connecting on 35.2% of its 3s, and the Bobcats take a higher percentage of its total field-goal attempts from 3-point range than every team in the nation except North Florida.
Siena’s ability to defend the 3-point line showed in its first meeting with Quinnipiac. Besides head coach Baker Dunleavy’s squad only making 30.4% of its attempts from downtown, the Bobcats only attempted 42.6% of its field-goal attempts from 3-point range even though it trailed by as many as 25 points in the second half.
But despite bringing a five-game winning streak into its matchup with Quinnipiac, Siena is coming off a road win at Fairfield in which Maciariello said the Saints “played good for about 12 minutes.” The coach said the team’s play in “our first 20 minutes stunk” and that Siena defensively exhibited “fake activity on the ball.”
Fairfield? Maciariello thought the Stags played harder than his group, and he made sure the Saints knew that in a film session.
“I made our team watch how hard Fairfield played in that first half,” Maciariello said.
The Saints, though, found a way to win that game at Fairfield to secure its second win away from Times Union Center on the season. That’s no small thing for a second-place club that has to play three of its final four regular-season games on the road.
“It’s definitely a big win and it shows how much we’ve grown this season,” Siena junior Manny Camper said. “But there’s still work to be done.”
That work starts Wednesday at Quinnipiac, which is led by junior guard Rich Kelly who averages 16.3 points and 4.5 assists.
“He has a lot of moves in his game and he sees the floor very well, so pressuring him is definitely the hardest to do because you know he has so many moves,” said Siena freshman Jordan King, who will see plenty of time defending Kelly at People’s United Center in Hamden, Connecticut. “He’s probably the toughest I’ve had to guard so far.”
Sophomore Jalen Pickett, Siena’s lead guard, is coming off a week for which he earned his third MAAC Player of the Week award of the season. When Siena first met Quinnipiac, Pickett outscored Kelly 25-12 and had twice as many assists as the Bobcats’ point guard with eight.
“I’m going to try to slow him down. He’s going to try to slow me down,” Pickett said. “Just going to be a great matchup.”
Siena can clinch a first-round bye in the MAAC tournament with a win against Quinnipiac. With a win, too, Siena will move into a tie for first place with Saint Peter’s, which next plays Thursday at Niagara.