Monday, January 16, 2017

Siena ends road drought with defensive lockdown at Fairfield

Jimmy Patsos and Siena have reason to celebrate as Saints earn first road win of season with 63-54 triumph over Fairfield. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Winless in ten games away from the Times Union Center and playing without one of their more dynamic scorers and personalities, Siena may not have been the favorite going into their matchup against Fairfield on Sunday.

But in the unpredictable Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, any team can win on any given day, and the Saints may have turned in arguably their best performance of the season.

In an effort unlike the traditional uptempo style Siena normally employs, the Saints slowed the game down against a Fairfield team that is also intent on pushing the basketball, and tied the second-lowest point total surrendered on the year in defeating the Stags in a 63-54 matinee at Webster Bank Arena to secure a season sweep after scoring a home victory against Fairfield in December's league opener.

"I just thought it was our defensive effort," head coach Jimmy Patsos remarked as the Saints (7-11, 4-3 MAAC) erased a 1-3 start to MAAC play with their third consecutive win, one in which they held a strong three-point shooting Fairfield team to just three makes from beyond the arc in 22 attempts. "They're the best transition team in the league; they throw it ahead, they fire threes. We took that away, and Kadeem (Smithen) was on (Tyler) Nelson, and we doubled him. It was just a grind-it-out game."

Led by 16 points and seven rebounds from Brett Bisping, Siena seized control for good with just under eight minutes remaining in the first half, when a three-pointer from Evan Fisher broke a 17-all tie. When the buzzer sounded on the opening stanza, the Saints went into the intermission on a 28-17 run, leading 35-27 at the break in their first game without Nico Clareth, who on Saturday was announced as having taken an indefinite leave from the program.

The second half saw the visitors clamp down even further on Fairfield, as the Stags (8-7, 3-3 MAAC) were limited to just a 32 percent shooting display over the final 20 minutes. Despite three players in double figures and yet another double-double for Amadou Sidibe, (10 points, 14 rebounds) Sydney Johnson was left to pick up the pieces and ponder what could have been.

"We've got to share it a little bit more," he conceded. "There were a couple of possessions where I thought we could have gotten better shots, whether it was from three or two. I think we have to look closely at that as a team."

Both teams' next contests are home games, with Fairfield hosting Saint Peter's on Tuesday while Siena prepares to avenge a December loss to Rider when the Broncs make the trek to Albany. Before then, we offer a handful of takeaways from both sides as the middle of the MAAC standings became an even greater logjam:

1) A resilient performance from Siena's upperclassmen.
While most of the attention this season has been focused on Clareth and what he would do for an encore following his Sixth Man of the Year rookie season, the Saints' veterans were essential to victory Sunday, with three seniors reaching double-figure point totals (Bisping's 16 joined 11 apiece from Marquis Wright and Lavon Long) while a fourth; Javion Ogunyemi, posted eight markers to accompany seven rebounds in a solid all-around afternoon.

"Our seniors are doing it," Patsos proclaimed. "I thought Lavon was a little sloppy early, but he clearly didn't give up. Lavon made some great plays at the end." 

2) Evan Fisher's impact went beyond his stat line.
Fisher scored just three points in nine minutes, but pulled in five rebounds in a lunchpail-esque role for the sophomore, of whom Patsos raved throughout the offseason.

"You're going to play defense and rebound before you shoot threes," said Patsos of Fisher's reformation, where he has gotten the forward to become more of a two-way player instead of the primary shooter he was as a freshman a year ago. 

"It's my fault, because I've let several people get away with a lot of things they shouldn't have," said Patsos. "I said, 'Evan, I let you down, but now you're going to rebound and you're going to play defense. If you do, you'll fight your way back into the rotation.'"

3) League parity is at a high.
Tim Cluess mentioned it in the wake of Iona's loss to Quinnipiac on Saturday, and the belief was reinforced less than 24 hours later.

"It's the MAAC," said Patsos, a 13-year veteran of the conference between Siena and Loyola. "It's a grind-it-out league, everybody's good. I haven't seen Monmouth in person, but I obviously know that they're good, because I just talked to two NBA scouts that called me about Justin Robinson."

4) Fairfield's supporting cast stepped up in a losing effort.
The final box score will focus on Tyler Nelson, the MAAC's leading scorer, being held to 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting; and Curtis Cobb to just five on 2-for-8 from the floor, but the Stags got good days from their ancillary options as well. Amadou Sidibe posted a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds, and Jerry Johnson Jr. led the way with 14 points to mitigate the setback.

"I actually thought the supporting cast was there," Sydney Johnson admitted. "Sometimes, Curtis has 46 (a nod to his record-setting night at Manhattan last week). The supporting cast was solid, but our two all-conference kids had a tough night."

5) Tyler Nelson, Player of the Year?
The junior has managed to equal, and on some nights, surpass Justin Robinson and Canisius' Kassius Robertson through the first part of the season, and when asked to validate Nelson's case for MAAC honors, his coach broke down his candidacy:

"He's a potent player," Johnson began. "He can score a lot of different ways. We want him to lead us defensively and kind of leadership-wise, vocal, pick us up, things of that nature. Offense comes easy for him, and teams are throwing a lot of different things at him, and he seems to be able to have some success most times than not. I think it's a credit to how he's diversified his game."

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