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A Seat in the Bleachers: Saints will have some growing pains

Saturday, November 9, 2013
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— Q: When is the Albany Cup not the Albany Cup?

A: When it’s the Albany Petri dish.

Yes, UAlbany crowded at midcourt and deservedly hoisted the silver trophy that will never be mistaken for Lord Stanley’s iconic chalice.

Bearing the fingerprints of polit­icos and school administrators from pre-game photo ops, the gracefully understated Albany Cup fell back into the Great Danes’ hands for the third time in four years on Friday night, well after most of the crowd of 11,311 had left. If there was any envy, the green was either out the exits or in the lockerroom.

As much as anything, though, the game represented the first template upon which a very young Siena team began to grow.

Jimmy Patsos has brought his hyperkinetic coaching style to the Times Union Center sideline many times, but for the first time it was on the Siena bench instead of visiting Loyola’s, to the delight of the fans.

Besides the coaching change, the Saints have undergone significant and profound change to their roster.

Without a wave of transfers, that means one thing: Freshmen. Lots of freshmen.

And Patsos didn’t coddle his young players with limited minutes.

On the contrary, Siena’s four top first-year players — point guard Marquis Wright, forward Lavon Long, shooting guard

Maurice White and Troy High School graduate Javion Ogunyemi — accounted for over 50 percent of the minutes played in the game.

Wright, Long and Ogunyemi started, and at one stretch in the close second half, junior Rob Poole was out there with all four.

This will be Siena’s identity for the duration of the 2013-14 season.

Wright, in particular, gave the Saints something they haven’t had since Ronald Moore graduated — a true pass-first point guard who can get the team into the offense.

For two seasons, Mitch Buon­aguro tried to cobble together the position with Evan Hymes, who is still with the team, and Rakeem Brookins, who is long gone. They’re shooting/scoring guards, not point guards, and that was painfully evident for two years.

Now, they have someone who actually can assemble an assist-turnover ratio somewhere well north of terrible.

Wright, who was committed to Loyola but followed Patsos to Loudonville, had six assists and three turnovers and looked like a Division I player right from the opening tap.

“Always,” he answered, when asked about pre-game jitters. “Until I step on the court. My stomach was bubbling until I stepped on the court.”

While Patsos was scanning the box score to assess Wright’s game, his eye caught an 0-for-4 from three-point range in mid-sentence . . . “he got picked at the end, and I thought he took a couple too many threes — whoops — you know what happens when you get old? You start being right. Next thing I know, it’s going to be a funeral.

“Oh-for-4. You take out his four threes, which I didn’t want him to take, and he’s 4-for-8. But he’s a freshman.”

While hometown favorite Ogunyemi had his moments, it was Long and White who made the biggest impact on the game.

White showed an affinity for the baseline and was a coach’s dream 11-for-14 from the free throw line on a night when the rest of the team was 1-for-9, including some crucial misses at the end when they were trying to claw away at Albany’s lead.

Meanwhile, Long, who has a chiseled 6-foot-6 frame that doesn’t look freshman at all, blasted around in the middle, hitting the deck several times, and also showed vers­atility.

The same guy who swished a three-pointer — his only attempt — from the left wing in the first half also made a sweet alley-oop lay-in early in the second half.

Perhaps what I was struck with most from Long, though, was the long face he had in the lockerroom after the game.

In fact, the whole team was in a gloomy group floor stare. There was no cheerful looking at the “positives.” Losing stinks.

“I thought I played pretty well, and towards the end, it dwindled a little bit,” Long said in a mon­otone.

Hymes, a junior, started, but played just five minutes in the second half as Patsos relied on White.

That just seems to be the way it’s going to be around here on many nights.

“Without the freshmen, it wouldn’t even have been a close game,” Poole said. “For the first game of their college career, the played outstanding. They gave us great minutes, they hustled, they scored for us . . . they did everything.”

Siena’s future showed itself in the first half, when the Saints took a 20-7 lead.

Their present showed itself in the second, when the experienced and mentally disciplined Great Danes remained tough and steady, while Siena missed all 16 three-point attempts.

It wasn’t all the freshmen’s doing, not by a long shot, Patsos said, without naming names.

“Some other guys have to buy in, and at halftime, we talked about this is going to be a war of getting to the glass, loose balls and making some extra passes,” he said. “I saw some things that, quite frankly, woke me up, without going into detail.

“I’ve got a lot of teaching to do.”

“Oh, yeah. He was mad after the game,” Wright said. “But I’m guessing it’s the first game of the season, and he wants us to learn off of this and fight hard.

“It’s going to get better. Everybody cares.”

 
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