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UAlbany-Siena men's basketball rivalry back back with three-year deal

Siena and UAlbany play for at SEFCU Arena for the only time in the Division I era.
Ian Pickus
Siena and UAlbany play for at SEFCU Arena for the only time in the Division I era.

One of the most popular sporting events in the Capital Region is coming back.

The University at Albany and Siena College men’s basketball teams have battled 54 times since 1940, including 17 matchups between 2001 and 2017 with both programs at the Division I level.

About 10 minutes apart, the two campuses have thousands of alumni across the Capital Region, making the annual non-conference game one of the hottest tickets in town.

But it all ended four years ago amid a long-running dispute about where to play the game. All but one of the games since 2001 took place at Siena’s home court, now MVP Arena in downtown Albany, which can hold more than 15,000 fans.

UAlbany had pressed for alternating sites as the rivalry grew. The Great Danes hosted the game in the smaller SEFCU Arena uptown for the only time in 2016.

But both programs have different head coaches now, an important factor in the détente, and on Tuesday, they came together for a Capital Region kumbaya.

Dwayne Killings is in his first season as UAlbany head coach. He says renewing the series was a priority when he got to town.

“An opportunity to play a city series, it’s bragging rights, it’s the reason why people wear Albany shirts so proud, the reason why people wear Siena apparel so proud in town, because they’re excited for their universities, they’re excited for their players to go out there and represent them,” Killings said. “And in reality, I think for the Capital Region, it becomes like the Super Bowl.”

Third-year Siena coach Carm Maciariello played for the Saints just before the series was renewed two decades ago.

“Being a guy that played at Siena, obviously, and was a local guy, a NewsChannel 13 all-star, played at Shenendehowa, I think it’s just great for people of the area," he said. "It’s great to be able to have South Pearl Street rocking again and hopefully to continue to really grow the community down here.”

UAlbany athletics director Mark Benson says the game will be a much-needed boost for the region after the coronavirus pandemic.

“The beauty of sports is it can bring people together and give them something to rally behind, whether it’s UAlbany, whether it’s Siena, whether it’s just sports in general,” he said. “With sports, it gives people a small break from maybe our reality, it gives you a couple hours away where you can put aside the challenges you have at work, maybe you can put aside the challenges you have in some other places, and just have some pure joy and some excitement about a great event, this case with the rivalry.”

“It’s important to the fans. It’s important to show people throughout the country, actually, how important college basketball is in this area,” Siena counterpart John D’Argenio said.

Under the new agreement, the fall 2022 game will take place downtown, 2023 will be a UAlbany home game, and 2024 will be back at MVP Arena.

The first tilt in the new series will be considered a neutral site game, right down to the logos on the court, which Benson says was a key aspect to jumpstarting talks.

“For UAlbany and our student-athletes, our basketball players, this is something they want to see happen, that they’re excited about, and I’m sure the same for Siena," he said. "For our fanbase, this is something that’s an important game, we’re a couple miles apart from each other, it feels like we should be playing on a regular basis and we’re happy to be back here.”

In the Division I era, Siena has a 10-7 edge in the rivalry game, although UAlbany has won six of the last eight. Dates for the games have not been determined.

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