National : Shorthanded Siena adjusts game plan to overcome injuries

first_imgDavonte Beard’s abrupt transfer from Siena shocked the already thin Saints basketball team.Averaging 22.7 minutes and 5.2 points per game through the team’s first 10 contests, the freshman was one of just eight healthy, scholarship players on roster.But when Beard transferred, the thin Siena roster got even more depleted.‘Even in this world, where you get guys transferring a lot, it’s something that you never can expect, and you never can prepare for,’ assistant coach Craig Carter said. ‘… But at the same time no one wants to hear you make excuses. You’ve just got to put your nose to the grind and move on.’The Saints (8-9, 3-4 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) did just that, bouncing back from a 1-7 stretch leading up to Beard’s departure with five wins in their next seven games. And they did it almost exclusively with an absurd six-man rotation. Led by senior guard Kyle Downey and the nation’s leading rebounder, junior forward OD Anosike, the shorthanded Saints have turned what was shaping up to be a bleak, drawn-out season into an inspirational campaign.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textEvan Hymes, Owen Wignot and Brandon Walters fill out head coach Mitch Buonaguro’s starting lineup, with freshman guard Rob Poole coming off the bench. The six have played a whopping 1,375 of Siena’s last 1,400 minutes.Though the Saints have three other active players, none have impressed Buonaguro enough in practice to earn anything but garbage time.‘I think guys know that with a short bench, they can play,’ Anosike said. ‘They’re not worried about looking over their shoulder or coming out. They’re just playing with extreme confidence no matter if they make a mistake or not.’Even before Beard left, it was clear before the season the starters would be playing extensive minutes. Freshmen Lionel Gomis of Senegal and Nigeria native Imoh Silas are sitting out the year per an NCAA ruling, and sophomore Rakeem Brookins and junior Davis Martens were shelved before the season with injuries.Now, with sophomore forward Trenity Burdine’s return from a foot injury delayed indefinitely, Siena’s six are forced to play the minutes most teams disperse among 10-12 players.But Carter said players are cherishing the opportunity to play close to an entire game, if not the whole 40 minutes.‘I think guys just realize that you’ve got to do a little bit more, and plus none of these guys ever like coming out of the game,’ Carter said. ‘They all like to play as much as they can, and they understand that there’s no excuses to be made.’Though no excuses are being made during the team’s 75-minute practices at the Alumni Recreation Center in Loudonville, N.Y., just outside of Albany, both the players and coaches have had to make adjustments.With only nine healthy bodies, the 42-year-old has been forced to trade his coaching gear for sneakers and shorts. Two decades removed from running the point for Rutgers, Carter is clashing with players half his age every practice.‘We’ve already asked these guys to do a little bit more and that extends to coaches, so everybody has to do a little bit more,’ Carter said. ‘If that means that I have to get on the court and practice so Rob (Poole) can get some reps with the starting team, and so Kyle Downey can take a break here or there, then that’s what we need to do.’The Saints have also needed to change their defensive strategy.Since Beard’s transfer, the Saints have run a 2-3 zone. This allows the players to save energy, puts them in position to start the fast break and helps prevent them from picking up fouls, which they’ve succeeded in all season, Downey said.Siena averages the second-lowest fouls per game in the nation. And it has had to.With only four substitutes, Downey said the players are cognizant to not pick up fouls on the court.‘We’ve been taught so well by our coaches to keep our hands up and make people make tough shots over us instead of bailing them out and putting them on the free-throw line,’ Downey said.But against Rider on Jan. 12, Downey fouled out with 5:09 left in regulation with the Saints leading 74-59. Battered and already exhausted, the remaining five attempted to withstand a frenetic, late-game run by the Broncos.With 1:56 left, the lead was down to four.While Downey watched anxiously from the bench, his replacement Poole knocked down 6-of-8 crucial free throws in the final 1:35 to stave off Rider.‘It was frustrating just because our team as a whole wasn’t playing very well,’ Downey said. ‘We were kind of letting them back in the game, but I was very confident in Rob Poole coming off the bench and playing solid.’With 11 conference games left on its schedule, starting with a trip to Loyola (Md.) on Thursday, Siena has a chance to continue its climb from the cellar of the MAAC standings. At 3-4, the Saints are currently in a four-way tie for fifth.The return of Burdine, who was originally slated to debut Dec. 28 at Florida Atlantic, would help alleviate the heavy workload the Saints’ legs are bearing.For the time being, the six players will continue to do their best to fill the void expanded by Beard’s transfer.‘I think we just have to continue doing what we’ve been doing,’ Anosike said. ‘We’ve just got to keep playing the zone well, rebounding under the zone, running, executing and just trying to stay fresh late in games.’Game of the weekNo. 3 Baylor (17-1, 4-1 Big 12) vs. No. 5 Missouri (17-1, 4-1 Big 12), Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPNThe Bears won their first 17 games of the season, but they were thoroughly outplayed by Kansas and star forward Thomas Robinson on Monday, suffering their first defeat. The freshman torched Baylor with 27 points and 14 rebounds to propel KU to victory.Luckily for BU forward Perry Jones III and company, the Tigers most prominent threat around the basket is senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe, who averages 13.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. An adequate challenge, but his 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame pales in comparison to Robinson’s. Missouri’s starting backcourt of Marcus Denmon and Kim English are first and second on the team in scoring with 17.8 and 14.6 points per game, respectively.Saturday’s winner will improve to 5-1 in the Big 12 and seize sole possession of second place in the conference standings, behind only 5-0 Kansas. Published on January 18, 2012 at 12:00 pm Contact Stephen: sebail01@syr.edu | @Stephen_Bailey1 Facebook Twitter Google+center_img Commentslast_img read more