Siena sails in to the Naval Academy on a leaky ship this afternoon.
For two more games the Saints will have to weather the loss of Rakeem Brookins and Trenity Burdine to three-game suspensions.
Siena’s inexperience was exposed by Vermont in a 54-53 season-opening loss on Friday night at the Times Union Center, when a potential game-winning play never developed in the final six seconds.
It’s just one game, though, so Siena remains optimistic as it embarks on a five-game road swing that will send it coast-to-coast-to-coast, beginning with a 2 p.m. game at Navy today.
“With our youth, we’ve got to be really careful,” senior captain O.D. Anosike said. “They’re playing their first college games. We’re not going to be perfect, by any means. We know we’re going to be playing our best basketball as the season goes on. We have to try to play well now, correct our mistakes and keep moving forward.”
“There was no Brookins and Burdine; this team was not a makeshift team, but a team that I had to adjust with because of [player] losses,” head coach Mitch Buonaguro said. “I feel good. We’ve got to put this behind us and get ready for Navy. The road trip will be good for the team.”
Buonaguro said during the preseason that there were several non-conference games early in the schedule that would be good opportunities to bolster the Saints’ record.
Navy certainly falls in that category, based on last year’s result, the first-ever meeting between the schools.
Siena won, 65-56, despite the fact that Anosike was held to one point in a season in which he had the second-longest streak of double-doubles in Division I in the last 15 years, and point guard Evan Hymes missed the last 13:03 of the game with leg cramps.
The Saints also played without starting senior small forward Owen Wignot for most of the game after he banged his head early in the first half.
To illustrate what a mishmash Siena’s lineup was on Friday night, at one point in the first half, Buonaguro had sophomore Rob Poole on the floor with three freshmen, Brett Bisping, Rich Audu and walk-on Chris Leppanen, and sophomore Imoh Silas, who was playing in his first college game after sitting last year due to an NCAA eligibility ruling.
Siena is just going to have to live with a young roster that is in a fluid state, for now.
“Coach is trying to figure that out,” Anosike said. “He went deep into the bench, just trying to figure out different lineups and put guys in different spots and see what works and what doesn’t. It’s going to take some time. We’re optimistic.”
Buonaguro had praise for Leppanen, a Christian Brothers Academy graduate who probably wouldn’t have played at all if Brookins was available and Hymes hadn’t hurt his Achilles’ heel in the preseason.
Leppanen had two points and three rebounds in 12 minutes, more than Buonaguro had anticipated, but forced on him when Hymes, for the second year in a row, had to leave the game with leg cramps.
The problem was severe enough this time that Hymes was carted off on a stretcher because every time he tried to stand up, his calf seized up on him. He said the cramping won’t prevent him from playing against Navy.
“Chris Leppanen played pretty well, especially for his first game,” Buonaguro said. “Losing Evan hurt, because he makes us go, but for a walk-on player to come in and play like he did was a real positive.”
“This’ll be a steppingstone for us,” Anosike said. “We’ll build on it and try to get a win on Sunday.
“It’s going to be a tough turnaround. We’ve got to put this one behind us, get our rest and get ready for Navy.”
After the Navy game, Siena will play three games in San Diego Friday through Sunday at the NUCDF Basketball Challenge, then play at Maine on Nov. 25.