By Kevin Sweeney
It had been a frustrating start to the season for Siena sophomore sensation Nico Clareth. He was fighting a knee injury, had been suspended 3 games for a violation of team rules, and was shooting just 35% from the field.
That all changed tonight.
Clareth posted a career-high 33 points and carried the Saints to an 80-73 win over Fairfield Saturday night in Albany, NY. The game was a rare conference game in early December, as the each team in the MAAC, in order to play a 20-game conference schedule, plays a pair of December conference games.
The Saints, who had shown flashes of excellence early this season, had struggled to put it all together and stumbled to 2-5 record to start the season. However, Siena came out firing on all cyclinders, using a huge 27-4 run to run out to a 27-8 lead early. Clareth knocked down a flurry of 3-point shots and setting the Times Union Center abuzz. The Saints were able to work the ball down low before reversing it back to the perimeter and got some easy looks as a result. However, the Stags were able to get back into things as the half wore on, especially once Siena point guard Marquis Wright had to leave the floor with 2 fouls. A pair of 3’s by the Stags’ Jerry Johnson Jr., who was in his first game back after missing 4 games with an injury, cut their deficit to 10. That margin remained constant until halftime, with the Saints going to the break with a 42-32 lead.
Siena seemed to seize full control of the game in the early stages of the second half. A triple by Clareth gave the Saints a 56-40 lead with 13:13 to play. Siena seemed like it was about to run away with it, but Fairfield wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
Tyler Nelson, fresh off of a 38 point outburst against Rider, led an improbable 16-0 run that allowed the Stags to tie the game. Fairfield switched to a zone defense, which slowed down the Siena offense to a halt, and were able to execute at the other end to stun the Siena faithful.
Unfortunately for the Stags, Clareth just wouldn’t let Siena lose. With the game tied at 58, Clareth scored 11 of the game’s next 17 points, including a 4-point play, to give the Saints a 73-60 lead with 3:46 to go.
Fairfield showed no quit, fighting back to within 5 with 33 seconds to go on a layup by Curtis Cobb, who had 19 points & 8 boards on the night. However, that was a close as the Stags would come, and the Saints were able to escape with the 80-73 victory.
One negative for Siena was the continued struggles from the free throw line. After shooting 18-32 from the stripe in a Wednesday loss to St. Bonaventure, the Saints were 9-19 today. A team with the high expectations that Siena has can ill afford to leave so many points at the charity stripe.
Javion Ogunyemi had 17 points and 7 rebounds on the game, while Wright stuffed the stat sheet with 9 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists. Nelson stayed hot with 23 points, while senior forward Amadou Sidibe posted his 4th straight double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
The Stags return home for a Tuesday non-conference showdown with Bucknell, while Siena travels to Rider for a Monday matchup with the Broncs.