Saturday, December 5, 2015

Energetic Saints blow out Manhattan in MAAC opener

Lavon Long led Siena with 19 points as Saints routed Manhattan, 89-54, in MAAC opener. (Photo courtesy of the Albany Times Union)

BY NORMAN ROSE
Special to A Daly Dose Of Hoops

ALBANY, NY - It wasn't always pretty, but the outcome was never in doubt as the Siena Saints blew out the visiting Manhattan Jaspers last night. 

"Tonight, it was about our energy," said Jimmy Patsos after the 89-54 victory to kick off conference play in the Times Union Center in Albany.

Don't be fooled by the score. It was a struggle on both sides, with each team's first two possessions ending in a turnover. The Saints were bothered by the early pressure as much as Manhattan was bothered by Siena's full court press, but the Saints were fortunate to be bailed out by a number of whistles, and Patsos knew that their style was going to come with some... errors.

"We are spreading out all our statistics, including turnovers and fouls," Patsos joked. After meeting with Fran McCaffery and his wife this summer, he recalled their advice: "you're gonna score points, but you're gonna turn it over."

The Saints had 20 turnovers - 27% of their possessions. Manhattan's defense - trapping, high-pressure - was a factor, but not enough to get the Saints out of their rhythm.

Steve Masiello mentioned the whistles - Siena went to the line 44 times to Manhattan's 13 - but the Jaspers left Siena players wide open to drive or shoot from the corners all through the first half. And the scent of desperation was on the squad from the opening 15-2 run.

Siena shot 3-for-8 from beyond the arc in the first half, while Manhattan shot 1-for-8 from distance, and had 17 turnovers... to just one assist. Manhattan's first half efficiency was 0.49 points per possession. In other words, everything involving basketball was a struggle, which is a real problem in a basketball game.

"Total embarrassment to the Manhattan uniform," Masiello said from the losing side, apologizing for his team's performance.

The Jaspers were held to four points in the first ten minutes, ending possessions with turnovers, futile drives into the lane and difficult jump shots. Some part of that was Siena, who played tough defense. But watching the turnovers, the slow rotations after traps, the unforced errors - and given the fact that Siena actually struggled in the first half, shooting 29 percent inside the arc - maybe Manhattan's offensive play was as much of a factor in the blowout.

Manhattan made a run early in the second half, looking to drive inside with Shane Richards (team-high 26 points for Manhattan, 22 in the second half) and Zane Waterman, who was playing with four fouls until fouling out with about ten minutes left in the game.

But Siena managed to string some solid possessions together in the beginning of the second off to ward off the Jaspers' hopes, calmly swinging the ball to open areas while the Jaspers scrambled to cover. So the Saints paraded to the free throw line and kept Manhattan off the boards in a beginning-to-end pounding of a team expected to challenge for the conference crown at the end of the year.

"I thought we played with the defensive intensity," Patsos said, continuing to laud the effort. "The kids showed a lot of emotion."

The interior for Siena was ready, with Javion Ogunyemi (13 points, five rebounds, 34 miunutes) playing big, and Lavon Long (19 points) and Brett Bisping (10 points) solid on defense.

Marquis Wright and Kenny Wormley both added 14 points, giving the Saints five starters in double figures. Nico Clareth, a freshman from Baltimore, added nine and some strong defense and athleticism.

For Masiello, the issue is about maintaining culture with a new team, and new leaders.

"In my five years here, we've put a certain product out that involves passion, that involves character," Masiello said. "It's bigger than basketball, we've always said that. For certain guys, it's easy to be a ninth man when you have [Ashton Pankey, Emmy Andujar, George Beamon], to be a part of it. But it's like going from an assistant coach to a head coach when you go from the eighth to the third man [in the rotation], there comes an ownership of the process."

Patsos knows the Manhattan Jaspers last night won't be the same team he sees in a month on the road. "That team has had a million injuries," Patsos said. "Don't be fooled, they're the two-time defending champs for a reason and Steve will have that team ready. Our kids are fired up to play Manhattan, and I've been there with the injury thing, it's not fun."

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