Clareth scores 20 off bench in Siena basketball victory
Siena junior guard Nico Clareth took it as a slap in the face, literally.
No, he wasn’t talking about coming off the bench for the first time this season.
Clareth meant getting the contact lens knocked out of his right eye by a Robert Morris player on Saturday. He had to come out of the game with 17:03 left and went back to the locker room for a replacement lens.
“After they hit me in my face, I was a little upset,″ Clareth said. “Yeah, I think that was really it. They hit me in my face.”
Clareth got his revenge with back-to-back 3-pointers after Robert Morris had sliced Siena’s 16-point lead to four midway through the second half.
Siena (2-5) held on the rest of the way and survived a late Robert Morris barrage for a 76-74 victory before a paid attendance of 5,749 at Times Union Center.
Clareth finished with a team-high 20 points on 6-of-11 from the field after head coach Jimmy Patsos decided Friday night to take him out of the starting lineup. Clareth was the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Sixth Man of the Year as a freshman and was a reserve most of last season. He was coming off a 2-for-10 shooting performance in a 20-point loss to St. Bonaventure on Wednesday.
“It’s worked in the past,″ Patsos said. “The most success he’s had is off the bench. Sometimes you just have to go back to basics.”
Clareth led four Siena players in double figures. Sophomore guard Ahsante Shivers added 16 points, including a key late three-point play, freshman point guard Roman Penn had 14 assists and nine rebounds and freshman center Prince Oduro chipped in with 14 points and seven rebounds.
The Saints built a 48-32 lead on an Oduro tip-in with 14:11 to play. But then Robert Morris (4-4) switched to a zone defense the Colonials had rarely used this season. Siena became stagnant against it and Robert Morris roared back with a 12-0 run.
Chris Coalmon hit a 3-pointer to bring the Colonials within 48-44 with 10:42 to play.
But then Clareth nailed a 3-pointer from the left side. After Robert Morris missed a jumper, Clareth came down the left side in transition and let another fly for a 54-44 advantage with 9:50 on the clock.
“He’s going to make 3s, and I kind of knew he was going to make them because they had made one,″ Patsos said. “Typical Nico. They make one and then he kind of has to go back after them.”
“I mean, that stuff is fun to me,″ Clareth added. “That all goes back to the playground. Somebody hits a 3 in your face, it’s like, ‘All right, I got you.’ If it’s there, I’m going to take it. If it’s not there, no need to force it.”
Robert Morris wasn’t discouraged and rallied back to within 64-60 on a drive by Dachon Burke (26 points) with 1:16 to play. But Siena, out of timeouts, came right back when they broke the Colonials press and Penn fired downcourt to Shivers for a layup while being fouled. He made the foul shot for a 7-point lead.
“I just slipped behind and Roman, he’s a good passer, so he found me,″ Shivers said. “It was an easy play.”
In the final 33 seconds, Clareth shot 4 of 4 and Penn 3 of 4 from the foul line to preserve the victory. The Saints needed every one of them against Robert Morris, which made five 3-pointers in the final three minutes.
“That was about the longest three minutes of my life,″ Penn as he entered the press conference.
Siena will play at Louisville on Wednesday, and it appears they’ll go forward with Clareth coming off the bench.
“Maybe some guys are just born for certain roles,″ Patsos said. “That’s a huge asset to have, a guy that can come off the bench and be a really, really good player in many areas.”
Clareth said it gave him a chance to “analyze” the game before checking in.
“I guess I’m like the good seasoning,″ Clareth said. “You’ve got to cook it up a little bit and then you throw the good seasoning in, and it’s like, ‘boom.’”
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