Everyone was curious about what the Saints would look like this year as they welcomed a young crew. Here is what we’ve seen so far and what to expect for the rest of the season as the Saints close out their stretch of home games with a 63-55 victory over Lafayette.
LOUDONVILLE, NY- It is the most wonderful time of the year: of course, I am not referring to the Christmas season but to the return of basketball. For Saints fans, basketball is a heavily anticipated season. But this year, many Saints fans may have looked at the roster and not recognized a lot of the players’ names. That is because Siena is only returning a handful of players for the 2022-2023 season after graduating seven and losing others to transfer portal. Of the 15 members on the team, 13 of them are either freshmen or sophomores.
After watching the Saints dominate Post University in an exhibition game last week, it was no surprise to see the Saints take an early 17-7 first-quarter lead over the University of New Hampshire. Despite getting the 78-58 victory over the Wildcats, the Saints got into some situations that could cost them some games in the future. The Saints got into serious foul trouble early in the game, allowing the Wildcats to keep it close and even bringing the lead down within three points before Siena took over before the half.
With 7:17 left in the third quarter, junior guard Ahniysha Jackson received her fourth foul and eventually fouled out after a cheap reach-in foul with 7:57 remaining in the game. The veteran guard was one of four players in foul trouble and one of two to foul out. This allowed New Hampshire to shoot 31 free throws, making 21 of them. What won the game was the Saints’ dynamic defense. Their high-intensity double-team man press really frazzled the Wildcats, forcing 23 turnovers. Their ability to control the defensive boards and push the ball up the court led to easy baskets for the Saints and helped them secure the win at home.
There is no better way to welcome the return of Capital Region basketball than with a cross-town rivalry. The Saints took on the University of Albany Great Danes in the battle for the Albany Cup. After two 20-plus wins, Saints fans were excited about what this new batch of potential was turning out to be and was hoping to welcome the Cup back to Loudonville. The Great Danes had other plans. Things just did not go well for the Saints. For starters, they could not make a basket, shooting 27.1% from the field and making only 19 of 70 shots taken, not including three-pointers. The Saints shot 16% from behind the arc, making only four three-pointers the entire game.
The Saints’ youth really showed in this game. They played an incredibly good and veteran Albany team. The Great Danes, who started three seniors, were very patient with the ball, working it around getting the Saints out of position, which led to easy baskets. Once the Saints were down by double digits, they started to get panicky. They got into foul trouble, causing key players to have to sit out, and instead of working through their plays, they started forcing shots. Despite all of this, Siena did make a fourth-quarter comeback, outscoring the University of Albany 22-13 and bringing the game that they were once down by 21 with a little over three minutes left into a seven-point difference.
Trying to bounce back, the Saints looked for a win over St. Bonaventure and changed things up. Instead of playing man-to-man, Siena head coach Jim Jabir transitioned into a 2-3 zone defense. The two top defenders would pressure the ball and make the passing lanes a little harder to find, which allowed the two wing defenders to read passes and intercept them. The new strategy worked for the Saints as they caused turnovers, but more importantly, they were getting points off these turnovers. Of course, this zone was not perfect, and when Siena did get out of position, the Bonnies were able to get open shots. But this zone was very promising, and it worked well for the Saints overall.
Unfortunately, what seems to be a common occurrence in these early season games is that the Saints keep getting into foul trouble early in the game. Before halftime, the Saints had given the Bonnies 19 chances at the free-throw line. Their shooting was a little better from the field than the UAlbany game, but they still were only shooting 33.7%, making 28 of 83 shots taken and only shooting 12% from three. The Saints were able to keep it close, though, as they only lost by six. Right now, they are relying too much on their outside shooting game. To stay competitive with teams, especially when MAAC play starts, they are going to have to use the inside game with sophomore forward Anajah Brown until they can get their outside shots going.
Things look promising for the Saints with their latest 63-55 victory over Lafayette, despite sophomore captain Valencia Fontenelle-Posson being out with a knee injury. Their continued use of Brown in the paint forced the Leopards to collapse, which freed up the wings. This got some momentum going for the Saints from behind the arc thanks to junior guard Ahniysha Jackson who had four three-pointers. Although Siena’s defense has been very scrappy this year, they needed to put the pieces together, and Jabir did just that. He alternated between his man-to-man defense and his 2-3 zone. If Siena was starting to fall out of position, he would switch to zone for a few possessions, but if they started to make too many outside shots, then he would shift back to man. This proved to be effective for the Saints, and it wouldn’t be crazy if Jabir decided to use this approach in future games.
The Saints start their stretch of away games with Duquesne on Nov. 22 at 6pm before they head up North for the TD Bank Classic where they will face Oakland at 3pm on Nov. 26.