Siena basketball to spend more time ‘working on ourselves’

The Siena men’s basketball team didn’t hit its stride until 20 games into last season, head coach Carmen Maciariello pointed out after Sunday’s 63-50 victory over Marist.

That’s when they started their 10-game winning streak that closed the 2019-20 season.

To this point, the Saints have only played 10 games, halfway through the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference schedule in a season like no other because of COVID-19, which wiped out their nonconference games and didn’t allow Siena to play until January.

While the Saints are still an impressive 8-2 overall and in MAAC play, Maciariello sees room for improvement, especially at the offensive end. The Saints are 2-2 in their past four games.

“We found out how to coach this team after about 20 games last year, right?” Macariello said. “We’re at 10 games right now. So it’s still a learning curve with these guys, but like I said, we need to do more work on us in practice.”

Maciariello said he’ll take the blame for Siena’s offense, which has averaged only 56.5 points over the past four games compared with 75.8 through the first six. Of course, the Saints also ran into head coaches the past two weekends, Saint Peter’s Shaheen Holloway and Marist’s John Dunne, who are very good at the defensive end.

“We’ve got to work more on ourselves,” Maciariello said. “I get so caught up in wanting to stop other teams and dealing with the scouting and two-day preps (for opponents). We’ve got to work on ourselves. We have too many new guys that haven’t gone through a typical preseason and a typical offseason.”

Maciariello noted Siena had Gary Harris Jr. and Don Carey running the wings in transition last season. They transferred to Georgetown and Loyola Marymount, respectively. Elijah Burns of Troy was the man in the middle, but he graduated after a second-team all-MAAC performance.

Now there’s a largely new cast surrounding all-MAAC first-teamers Jalen Pickett and Manny Camper. Sophomore Jordan King and graduate student Nick Hopkins man the wings. Both are fine shooters who aren’t as big as Harris and Carey. Freshman Aidan Carpenter has been added to the mix with the impressive but erratic results typical from a first-year player.

Junior Jackson Stormo and sophomore Kyle Young, with freshman Colin Golson mixed in, are sharing Burns’ responsibilities at center. Stormo, the Pepperdine transfer, is showing skill and good hands while averaging 8.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 64.3 percent from the field.

Young started the season strongly, then barely played in back-to-back games against Saint Peter’s and Marist. He rebounded to score eight points in 10 minutes on Sunday, though Maciariello said he’d like to see fewer mistakes, like an ill-timed late foul.

Maciariello said he’ll spend more time in practice versing his team in the finer points of the offense.

“Just all the little intricacies that lead to successful offense with execution and timing and spacing and how hard guys have got to move,” Maciariello said. “Also, to get these younger guys locked into that process.”

On the other hand, Siena’s defense hasn’t suffered. The Saints lead the MAAC in scoring defense at 61.9 points per game and are third in field-goal percentage defense at 40.6.

Siena players gather around coach Carmen Maciariello during their game against Marist on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021.

Connor Giblin/Marist Athletics

“We’re a great defensive team when we really lock in and communicate,” Pickett said. “We’ve been working on that a lot, so our offense has slipped a little bit. But I think now we’re trying to put together a good 40-minute game, where we can talk on defense … and then try to get into the flow offensively.”

Camper, averaging a double-double, said the Saints need to do a better job of running through their entire offense, beyond just the initial cut.

“Hard cuts, better screening so we can get guys open and just continuing to compete and pushing every day to get better,” Camper said.

Pickett, still trying to find his old self following a hamstring injury, said the Saints can’t afford to wait until the 20th game to find their rhythm this season with coronavirus disruptions a way of life.

“We’re definitely going to go back and look at film and see what we need to improve on,” he said. “We can’t use that as an excuse because we don’t know how many games we’re going to get. We’ve got to keep learning, keep improving every time we step on the court.”

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