For all of the steps forward Siena took in year one, it appeared that the group that went 20-18 last season faced hard prospects in grabbing a top five seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference by the month of December.
The Saints still rank one game behind Canisius for the fifth seed in the MAAC, with the effort they showed in a seven-point loss at Manhattan turned around into a seven-point win against Rider.
However early on Monday night it didn’t appear things were fixed for head coach Jimmy Patsos. The Saints were lethargic, down 16-4 to the Broncs, and the second-year head coach of the Saints pulled out one of his few wild cards; asking for the sometimes oft given technical.
“We played so hard against Manhattan, but didn’t come up with a win, but I thought maybe I was being too nice in terms of, ‘hey we played really well against a good Manhattan team,’ that being said, let’s keep this thing going and we were a little flat,” Patsos said. “I also thought there were a couple of calls this way, a couple of calls that way and maybe it was just to kind of get everybody energized.”
“I think it just the technical was sort of to say, ‘Hey this is a real game, this isn’t an exhibition.’ We’re not just going to roll over just because Rider’s won seven in a row on the road and it kind of woke them up.”
From there the Saints made a run of their own to beat the Broncs 79-72, a team that had went 5-1 in conference on the road prior to the game. One of the few adjustments Patsos has made is inserting senior Evan Hymes into the starting lineup, beside Marquis Wright at the guard spot, and reducing his rotation to key players such as Ryan Oliver (6.1 ppg) and Jimmy Paige (2.6 ppg) who has recently surprised off of the bench.
“I think Jimmy Paige, like most freshmen, first didn’t realize how good he was, second of all he didn’t realize how how good the MAAC was and how physical it was and how quick the guys were,” Patsos said of the freshman who has often faced off against sophomore Lavon Long in practice. “It was kind of like, ‘Hey you can play, but we need you to play the four and not the three,’ because you’re 6’4” and he just wants minutes.”
Add to that sophomore starter Javion Ogunyemi who has started to come into his own, averaging 8.6 ppg and 4.6 rpg, which has helped the Saints in the absence of Brett Bisping (toe) and Imoh Sials (ACL).
“Javion’s been a model of consistency,” Patsos said of the sophomore. “Javion just continues to get better because I think he’s a smart kid and that’s one of his biggest assets.”
The Saints will play their next three games on the road, where they are 4-6 on the season, and will need all these contributions to pick up key victories in conference play.
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.