With an emphatic road win in its regular-season finale, the Siena men’s basketball team established itself as the favorite in next week’s MAAC tournament.
An 86-72 win Friday at Monmouth pushed the surging Saints’ winning streak to nine games, and clinched them the league’s outright regular-season title and the No. 1 seed for the upcoming tournament at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Siena will open that tournament in Wednesday’s 7 p.m. quarterfinal against the winner of a first-round game played Tuesday between No. 8 Fairfield and No. 9 Manhattan, two teams that played Friday night in a game Fairfield won 66-50.
For a night, though, Siena first-year head coach Carmen Maciariello wanted his players to focus on the regular season now behind them rather than the postseason in front of them.
“I want these guys to enjoy this,” Maciariello said in a phone interview. “It’s something that can never be taken from them.”
Siena (15-5, 19-10) led Monmouth (12-8, 18-13) by as many as 19 points in Friday’s win at OceanFirst Bank Center in West Long Branch, New Jersey, and the Saints maintained a double-digit lead for nearly all of the second half. Siena received 14 points and 18 rebounds from junior Manny Camper, 15 points and 11 assists from sophomore Jalen Pickett and a team-high 18 points from redshirt sophomore Don Carey. Meanwhile, fifth-year senior Elijah Burns contributed 14 points and freshman Jordan King added a dozen off the bench.
Deion Hammond had a game-high 27 points for Monmouth.
The night’s post-game handshakes were not without drama, as players on both teams needed to be pulled away from each other by teammates after appearing to exchange words. Siena freshman Gary Harris and Monmouth redshirt junior Ray Salnave appeared to be at the center of the brief incident, which Maciariello credited to the game getting “chippy late” between the MAAC rivals.
Siena started MAAC play 3-4 before winning 12 of its last 13 games. Including non-conference play, Siena lost its first nine road games of the season, but finished its regular season with a 5-5 road mark in MAAC games in addition to its 14-0 overall home record in Albany.
“Ah, man. It feels great,” Maciariello said during a post-game interview aired on ESPN+. “So proud of our guys, just for being resilient.”
Later, he added: “They competed, they got better and they get to hang a banner.”
Siena finished the regular season a game ahead of Saint Peter’s, which will be the No. 2 seed for the MAAC tournament. The Peacocks, in order, will be followed by Rider, Monmouth, Quinnipiac, Niagara, Iona, Fairfield, Manhattan, Canisius and Marist.
In winning the MAAC’s regular-season title, Siena guaranteed it will play postseason basketball beyond its conference tournament. While three more wins will net the program its first trip to the NCAA tournament since the 2009-10 season, the Saints will play in the NIT if they lose next week in Atlantic City.
Against Monmouth, Siena struggled with turnovers, committing 16 of them to Monmouth’s four. The Saints, though, out-rebounded Monmouth 43-27 and made 10 of 27 3-pointers on their way to their 11th win of the season by at least 10 points. While Hammond had 27 points on 11 of 22 shooting, the rest of Monmouth made 16 of 47 shots from the field.
“We stuck to the game plan,” Maciariello said in a phone interview. “I love when we do that.”
Heading into the game, Maciariello said he was confident. His team’s approach in its Thursday practice, a day after it dominated Niagara in the Saints’ home finale to earn at least a share of the conference’s regular-season championship, was stellar and that continued with Friday’s pre-game shootaround.
“We were all business,” Maciariello said.
Not long ago, Siena was far from that, as the Saints finished 8-24 in a 2017-18 season that was Jimmy Patsos’ last leading them. Jamion Christian — now the head coach at George Washington — helped start Siena’s turnaround last season with a 17-16 campaign in his one season leading the program, while Maciariello continued the Saints’ resurgence after ascending to the head-coaching position after serving as an assistant last season.
“I feel like we’re doing a great job of restoring that meaning to that Siena jersey for our great fans,” said Maciariello, a 2001 Siena graduate.
The credit for that, Maciariello said, belongs to the players for the team picked to finish sixth in the league’s preseason poll.
“Siena basketball is a players’ program,” Maciariello said. “It’s not going to be about me, ever. It’s about the guys wearing the uniform who sweat.”
Carey 7-11 0-0 18, Pickett 5-13 4-5 15, Camper 6-12 2-2 14, Burns 4-4 5-5 14, Harris 3-6 1-2 7, King 4-6 0-0 12, Friday 3-4 0-0 6, Young 0-1 0-0 0, Darwiche 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 32-58 12-14 86.
Hammond 11-22 2-2 27, Salnave 3-14 5-7 12, Chaput 3-6 0-0 6, Ibizugbe 3-4 0-0 6, Traore 1-4 3-4 5, Papas 3-10 2-2 10, Rutty 2-3 0-0 4, Martin 1-4 0-0 2, McClary 0-2 0-0 0, Gabriel 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 27-69 12-15 72.
Halftime score: Siena 43, Monmouth 34. Three-point shooting: Siena 10-27 (Carey 4-8, Pickett 1-6, Camper 0-4, Burns 1-1, Harris 0-1, King 4-6, Darwiche 0-1), Monmouth 6-27 (Hammond 3-10, Salnave 1-8, Chaput 0-2, Papas 2-6, Martin 0-1). Rebounds: Siena 43 (Camper 18), Monmouth 25 (Traore 5). Assists: Siena 20 (Pickett 11), Monmouth 18 (Chaput 11). Turnovers: Siena 16, Monmouth 4. Total fouls: Siena 15, Monmouth 15. Technical fouls: King, Salnave. Fouled out: King. Attendance: 2,657.