Fairfield, Conn — Siena Saints coach Carmen Maciariello challenged his players to play better at halftime on Sunday afternoon, and the difference turned out to be palpable from the second half to the first half.
The Saints played as aggressors in the second half, and it paid dividends as they outscored the Fairfield Stags 35-27 in that half to earn a grind-it-out 62-59 victory at a sold-out Alumni Hall, extending their winning streak to five games. It marks their highest winning streak since 2010, which was Fran McCaffery’s final season as Siena head coach. Overall, they won eight of their nine games with their only setback coming to MAAC co-leader St. Peter’s, who beat Rider 73-54 on Sunday at Jersey City.
“Happy for our guys finding a way to win on the road,” Maciarello said of the Saints’ first game of the three-game road trip. “We dug in during the second half. We made shots. We played great defense. It was a team effort. Sammy (Friday), Elijah (Burns) and Donald Carey contributed. Jalen (Pickett) made the right reads. Manny cleaned up the glass.”
After every time the Saints (15-10, 11-5) made it close just to see Fairfield (11-16, 7-9) extend its lead, they put together a 14-2 run to take a 60-53 lead after trailing 51-46 with 6:27 to go in the game.
Camper (13 points) hit a 3-pointer to start the run followed by Jordan King (nine points) hitting a 3-pointer, giving Siena a 52-51 lead. Then, Friday executed a 3-point play, extending its lead to 55-51. After Vincent Eze (14 points) hit two free throws for Fairfield, Carey executed a layup, giving the Saints a 57-53 lead.
King put the game away for good by hitting another three-pointer, completing the run that would give Siena a 60-53 lead.
King made it a point to praise his teammates rather than credit himself to give the Saints the lead and put the dagger on Fairfield along with forcing Taj Benning (11 points) to miss by putting his hand on the shot.
“We all had a role to play on offense and defense, so I wasn’t the only one,” he said. “Me and Jalen switched on defense. It was a great team defense. We boxed out, which coach stressed at halftime.”
Maciarello made it a point to get Camper, Pickett (14 points), Friday and Burns (game-leading 15 points) to play better to give the Saints a chance to win.
But for all of Maciariello’s motivational tactics, it was more of him playing his hunches in putting King in the game with the idea good things could happen.
“I had confidence in him,” Maciariello said of King being on the court in Siena’s 14-2 run. “He was great defensively in the second half, so I went with my gut in keeping him there. He made great shots.”
King expressed his gratitude for playing in crunch time.
“It was a great feeling that a coach trusted me in that spot,” he said. “I was able to make plays and make shots.”
Fairfield and Pickett made it interesting in the end.
Aidas Kavaliauskas hit two free throws to cut Fairfield’s deficit to 62-59. Then, Pickett missed two free throws in an attempt to ice the game. It set Fairfield up with a couple of opportunities to tie the game with a 3-pointer. Benning missed a 3-pointer on King’s alteration of the shot, and Landon Taliaferro missed a 3-pointer that ended the game.
“We grinded it out,” King said. “It took energy to execute on defense. It was the things we did to win a game on the road.”
With the Saints continuing their three-game road trip with a game against Quinnipiac on Wednesday and Marist on Friday, they understood the significance of this road win.
“Every single game is important,” Maciariello said. “Our sense of urgency has to be higher. Jay Young (Fairfield head coach) does a good job with his team, and they came off a great win against Niagara. It was a great environment for us to play in the end.”
Camper offered the best take of all.
“We control our destiny, so every game is a big game for us,” he said about the Saints’ chances of winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and getting the No. 1 seed in the MAAC tournament.