LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It was certainly a “confidence boost,” but Andrew Platek saw Siena’s men’s basketball program’s double-digit Thanksgiving win as an example of how seriously the Saints should be taken this season.
“Every team that is on the pitch with us has to play against us,” said Platek. “They have to play the Siena Saints.”
On Thursday, Florida State of the ACC couldn’t keep up with the Saints, who began their stint in the ESPN Events Invitational with a stunning 80-63 win to advance to Friday’s semifinals. Siena plays Mississippi on Friday at 11 a.m., who beat Stanford 72-68 on Thursday.
After losing back-to-back games to Army and Harvard, Siena never fell behind on Thursday, leading by as much as 20 points in their first win over an ACC opponent since beating Georgia Tech — led by former Saints head coach Paul Hewitt — in Albany in 2010 . Platek posted a career-high 20 points on 7-of-9 shots, including 5-of-6 from 3-point territory, and led Siena, who also had 18 points and a career-high eight assists from Florida’s Javian McCollum against Florida State.
With a 17-point lead at half-time, Siena’s lead never dwindled to less than nine points after half-time. Siena maintained at least a four-ball lead for the 17:25 final after a layup by Zek Tekin, one of several Saints who made a strong contribution from the bench.
“This,” said Carmen Maciariello, Siena head coach, “is the team we can be.”
Florida State (1-5) has struggled so far this season, with its first win on Monday against Mercer after head coach Leonard Hamilton’s program lost games to Stetson, Central Florida, Troy and Florida earlier in the 2022-23 season.
Still, the way the Saints (3-2) treated Florida State during their Thanksgiving win at State Farm Field House was unexpected. Siena got off to a quick start on Thursday, weathering a comeback surge at Florida State in the opening period and ending with a 21-6 run at halftime to lead 43-26 at halftime. Siena built an early 16-5 lead before Florida State hit back to draw up to 22-20 midway through the half, and the Saints’ semifinal run included the last 10 points of the period.
“At the beginning of the game we placed great importance on moving the ball and keeping our offensive movement flowing,” said Platek. “I think we did really well. Javian prevented the ball from sticking; As soon as we brought it to him, he flipped it again, and we got all our boys into a rhythm.
McCollum scored a dozen points in the first half while Platek added 10. Jared Billups scored seven points and recorded two blocks — including one from Florida State’s Naheem McLeod at 7ft 4 — in the opening stanza, which saw eight Saints score.
The end of Siena’s semi-closing surge came with 1.8 seconds to go from free throws by McCollum after McLeod was ejected after being hit to the head by Siena’s newcomer Killian Gribben. McCollum took the foul shots resulting from the flagrant foul.
“It was a nice little elbow there,” said Gribben.
Before Thursday’s win, Gribben had only played a few seconds in his young Siena career. Foul trouble for starting center Jackson Stormo – who scored 10 points in 20 minutes before fouling – initially helped Gribben, a 6-foot-10 freshman from Ireland, get on the court against Florida State.
However, Gribben quickly earned extra minutes with his production. In 13 minutes, Gribbin scored nine points, grabbed three rebounds and blocked a shot. The Saints outscored Florida State by a dozen points during Gribben’s time on the court.
“I will definitely have a little more self-confidence [next game] because when I stepped onto the square [against Florida State]I was a little bit nervous, a little bit,” said Gribben. “But as long as I stay the course, I should be fine.”
Florida State made its only significant second-half push right after halftime. Florida State scored the first eight points of the half as Siena had four turnovers before recording its first shot attempt of the period. Maciariello called a timeout 63 seconds into the second half to level the Saints after Florida State’s first two turnovers and back-to-back dunks.
“Actually, it was Jared Billups [who] came over to me and he also wanted the break,” smiles Maciariello.
A goal from Tekin ended Florida State’s 8-0 run, then freshman guard Turkey found Stormo for a layup to give the Saints a 47-34 lead. From there, Siena never lost control in their most lopsided win since a 77-55 win over MAAC opponent Niagara in March 2020.
Matthew Cleveland’s 14 points led Florida State, which Siena overtook 31-29.
For McCollum, the win was a comeback after the runner-up scored two points in Siena’s loss at Harvard on Sunday.
“I was just focused on winning the game with my teammates,” said McCollum, who averaged 20.3 points per game in Siena’s first three competitions. “I mean, that’s in the past. . . . I have to grow as a player. I don’t want that to bother me. So we focused on FSU in this game and just won as a team.”
Next, Siena has a chance to become the first MAAC program to make the championship game of the ESPN Events Invitational. Maciariello said he plans to “enjoy the moment” preparing the Saints for another tournament competition.
“Meaningful games are great,” Maciariello said.
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