Siena finished the regular season 8-23 overall with a 4-14 league record and will enter the MAAC tournament as the #10 seed. The Saints will open play Thursday evening at 7:00 against #7 seed Quinnipiac.
For as long as the MAAC tournament remains in Albany, the Saints will benefit from playing in their home arena at the Times Union Center. The Siena faithful are sure to turn out in droves with hopes of their team turning the tables on Quinnipiac, which swept the season series.
Player To Watch: #13 Khalil Richard, So. G
Siena has endured a tumultuous year following the graduation of 1,000-point scorers Brett Bisping, Marquis Wright, Javion Ogunyemi, and Lavon Long. No one would call this season a success, but head coach Jimmy Patsos has worked to get the most out of a young roster very much on the rebuilding path.
Losing your top returning scorer certainly doesn’t help, and that’s exactly what the Saints dealt with when junior Nico Clareth took leave of the program shortly after the start of MAAC play. Clareth averaged 13.7 ppg as a sophomore last season and had been leading the Saints with 15.1 ppg this year, but was held to just 13 points combined in the Saints’ first two MAAC contests.
Clareth’s final game as a Saint came against Quinnipiac on New Year’s Day, a game which the Bobcats survived 71-70 thanks to Abdulai Bundu swatting away an Ahsante Shivers shot at the buzzer. Khalil Richard then led the Saints with 14 points on 4-5 three-point shooting in the rematch on Jan. 21, but it was not enough as the Bobcats took that one as well, 76-69.
Richard has been a pleasant surprise and steady presence for the Saints, averaging 9.1 ppg this season after positing just 3.7 ppg as a freshman last year. The Baltimore native has scored in double figures five of his last seven games, twice breaking the 20-point plateau.
In addition to having Clareth leave the program, freshman point guard Roman Penn went down with an injury to his left heel at the end of January, ending his season. Since Clareth’s departure, Penn had been leading the Saints in both scoring (9.7 ppg) and assists (3.0 apg) while pulling down 4.9 rebounds per game.
With neither Clareth nor Penn in the lineup for this third meeting against Quinnipiac, others will seek to make an impact. One such player is junior forward Evan Fisher, who scored a career-high 21 points on 7-11 shooting with a 4-6 mark from three-point range against the Bobcats on New Year’s Day.
Fisher followed that up with another 13 points in the second meeting, and has played well overall this season with opportunity available in the frontcourt. Behind last year’s talented senior class, Fisher averaged just 1.4 ppg and 1.2 rpg, but has increased his productivity to 7.9 ppg with 4.9 rpg this season.
Speaking of the frontcourt, freshman Prince Oduro is sure to play a major role for as long as Siena draws breath in this tournament. The 6-foot-8 Toronto native was named to the All-MAAC Rookie Team earlier this week while averaging 9.2 ppg and a team-leading 5.1 rpg. Oduro will face as challenge while matched up against both Bundu and senior Chaise Daniels in the paint on Thursday.
“I’m really proud of Prince Oduro, what a job he did,” Patsos said of his freshman. “All-Rookie is a tremendous honor in this league and hopefully that can springboard him to making one of the all-league teams next year. I said, don’t let this be the highlight, don’t let this be the end of it. Let this be the beginning of the journey.”
Throughout the season, Siena has morphed into one of the most deliberate teams in the league. The Saints play at the second-slowest tempo next to only Saint Peter’s. Although this has led to offensive struggles (last in the MAAC in offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage), Siena’s defense has held its own. The Saints own the second-best eFG% defense during league play while allowing opponents to connect on just 33.5% of attempts behind the arc, also second-best in the MAAC.
The Saints have not won back to back games all season, but have been able to surprise the likes of Iona and Canisius, who they will meet should they get past Quinnipiac. All four of Siena’s MAAC wins this season came within the friendly confines of the Times Union Center, and it never hurts to have the home crowd at your back.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.