Saints want to make most of opportunity
The message for the Siena Saints during spring break last week: Don’t get too comfortable.
And they were OK with that.
The possibility of another game in the College Basketball Invitational became a reality on Sunday night when Siena was invited to the 16-team tournament.
They’ll open with an intriguing matchup against Stony Brook of the America East Conference at 7 tonight at the Times Union Center.
The game will be played concurrently with an NCAA tournament first-round game between UAlbany, which knocked off Stony Brook in the AE championship game on Saturday, and Mount St. Mary’s in Dayton, Ohio.
Perhaps it will be difficult for the recently vanquished 23-10 Seawolves, who had their sights set on an NCAA appearance, to get motivated for the CBI, but that won’t be the case for Siena.
The young Saints finished the season on a high note before a close loss to Canisius in the quarterfinals of the MAAC tournament, and are hungry to get at least one more win this season.
“Going home, then getting a text two days before we had to come back that we might be playing was just a great feeling that we even got invited,” freshman point guard Marquis Wright said.
“You check out for a little bit because you think you’re done, and then you’ve got to get right back into it,” junior forward Rob Poole said. “But I think we have a good group of guys who want to play the game and have fun, and I think we’ll be ready to play.”
Head coach Jimmy Patsos said factors that opened the CBI door for Siena were a strong finish that moved the Saints into the fifth seed and a first-round bye for the MAAC, good home attendance (6,593 per game) and the tradition of the program, which has been to the NCAA tournament six times since 1989.
Manhattan will represent the MAAC in the NCAA on Thursday against Louisville in Orlando, Fla., Iona is in the NIT, and Canisius and Quinnipiac are playing in the 24-team CollegeInsider Tournament, which seeks to fills its field with mid-majors.
The rest of the CBI field includes Wyoming, Texas A&M, Morehead State, Illinois State, Radford, Oregon State, South Dakota State, Old Dominion, Fresno State, UTEP, Princeton, Tulane, Hampton and Penn State.
The Siena-Stony Brook winner will play the Penn State-Hampton winner next Monday.
The other America East team in the postseason is Vermont, which is playing at Georgia Tech in the NIT on Wednesday.
“I think it’s great for the area when teams play in the postseason, whether it’s Union hockey, Albany — and I mean that, because I like [coach] Will [Brown] and I’m rooting for them to beat Mount St. Mary’s — and we’re part of it, even if it’s the CBI,” Patsos said. “Obviously, it’ll be a different thing, but it’s the first step.”
Stony Brook appeared to be in good shape to make the NCAA, playing fourth seed UAlbany in the Seawolves’ claustrophobic Pritchard Gym on Saturday, but a run by the Great Danes in the closing minutes decided it.
Stony Brook is averaging 71.8 points per game with a balanced offense led by 6-foot-8, 260-pound Jameel Barney, who is averaging 14.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, and sophomore guard Carson Puriefoy.
Poole and Puriefoy are from New Jersey, near Philadelphia, and have played against each other several times in high school.
Patsos is looking at the CBI as a means of getting tournament experience for his team, which only graduates walk-on Steve Cruz.
“If we were all seniors, would we go? I don’t know,” Patsos said. “I’ve heard of some teams turning down some tournaments. We’re not in that position here.
“Second of all, it’s been a good group, and they want to play. We want to win a tournament game. We haven’t done that, and we want to get practice doing that.”