LOUDONVILLE — They labeled it a “business trip.”
The Saints need to bring home from it a win.
“We lost our last three games,” Siena men’s basketball junior Manny Camper said Wednesday. “Hopefully, we can get back on track with this one.”
Heading into its cross-country trip to play Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California, on Saturday at 10 p.m., the Saints lost winnable games at Harvard, Yale and Colgate. The first two games were ones Siena could have won with better late-game execution, while the defeat at Colgate came in a contest that saw star sophomore Jalen Pickett not play for disciplinary reasons.
Pickett is expected back in Siena’s starting lineup against Cal Poly, and the Saints offered a glimpse at how much they need his presence when they committed turnovers on nearly 30% of their offensive possessions against Colgate.
Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said he needs to do a better job helping Pickett navigate the “external pressures” that are there for the player after his stellar freshman season in which he was a first-team All-MAAC selection. Pickett, too, understands he needs to step up after twice being disciplined for being late to team functions through the team’s 2-4 start.
“I definitely think we had some distractions, myself included,” Pickett said of the Saints’ start to the season. “I think that’s been holding us back a little bit.”
Siena, though, has played the toughest part of its non-conference schedule. Starting with its game at Cal Poly — a 1-7 team that beat a non-Division I program for its lone win — the Saints play several games in a row they should be able to use to improve their winning percentage.
Siena only won eight games in the 2017-18 season, then improved to a 17-16 mark last season with Jamion Christian leading the program. Maciariello — a Siena assistant last season — said the Saints’ first batch of games this season have provided for them a solid base from which to grow.
“Now, it’s about building a program on solid footing, right?” Maciariello said. “We’re not trying to build a foundation on quicksand.”
While Siena lost last weekend when it played without Pickett, his absence did allow several other Saints to play increased minutes. Freshman Jordan King and redshirt sophomore Jimmy Ratliff each played at least 25 minutes off the bench, while freshman Gary Harris — a California native — received the first start of his college career.
“Obviously, with Jalen not playing, guys had to step up,” said Maciariello, who said he liked the “energy” Harris provided despite the player committing five fouls in 15 minutes. “They got thrown into the fire, and it was a chance to see what they could do in meaningful minutes.”
“Knowing it’s a long season, the starters can’t play a lot of minutes every game for the whole season,” Camper said.
Camper, redshirt sophomore Don Carey and Pickett are each averaging at least 36.2 minutes per game this season, but a chance for some rest is ahead of the Saints. After playing at Cal Poly, Siena doesn’t play again until it hosts Bucknell on Dec. 21.
Heading into that break, the Saints know they don’t want to carry a four-game losing streak.
“We have to box out and do the little things,” Camper said.