ALBANY — Siena needs sophomore Jalen Pickett to play with a score-first mentality this season, something his teammates and coaches made sure he understood during the Saints’ MAAC men’s basketball opener last Monday.
The same, though, goes for redshirt sophomore Don Carey.
“When those two guys are scorers first, teams have to key on [them] and now they cannot collapse on Elijah [Burns] in the post,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said Friday in advance of the Saints’ final non-conference game of the season, which is a 2 p.m. Sunday matchup with Holy Cross at Times Union Center.
Pickett has said he’s still learning to play with a score-first approach. For Carey, growth needs to come from asserting himself within the Saints’ attack on a more consistent basis.
“I think Don, kind of, is passive,” Maciariello said. “He lets it come to him.”
Carey is averaging 13.4 points per game, which ranks fourth on the Saints behind Pickett (16.3), fifth-year senior Burns (16) and junior Manny Camper (13.6). Those four Saints have scored 77.9% of Siena’s points this season.
Carey, though, is likely the best option for Siena when it needs someone to create his own shot. The combination of his smooth ball-handling and shooting ability makes him one of the toughest players to cover in the MAAC. On the season, the 6-foot-5 guard is shooting 88.2% from the foul line and 41.3% overall from the field despite taking 43.5% of his shots from 3-point range.
For long stretches, though, Carey can play without taking a shot.
Two games ago, against Bucknell, Carey didn’t take his first shot until there was 13:54 left in the first half, then didn’t take his second until there was 5:50 to go in the period. He missed both those shots, but made it to the foul line shortly after that second miss and then stayed aggressive. Starting with those made free throws, Carey scored eight of his 12 total points in a span of 3:08 of action.
Then, against Canisius, Carey didn’t take his first shot until there was 8:37 remaining in the opening half. Starting with that shot, Carey took five in less than four minutes of game action, and scored all 10 of his points.
To some degree, Carey is still growing comfortable in his role at Siena. After sitting out last season as a transfer, he’s still learning how to play off his teammates, as well as getting used to playing consistently off the ball since Pickett remains the team’s primary ball-handler.
But Carey also said Maciariello is correct in that the player doesn’t always look to score.
“I think when I score, I just let it come to me. I don’t really try to force scoring,” Carey said. “So I think that’s why it’s like that, but my coaches always tell me just to stay aggressive all game long, [to] look to score, [to] look to make plays for my teammates.”
Carey has made plays for others. He is second to Pickett on Siena in assists per game with 2.6, and has had a pair of games with five assists. Carey is averaging 4.1 rebounds per game, too, and has shown an ability to use his length on defense to disrupt opposing offenses.
And when Burns, Camper, Carey and Pickett are all in the Saints’ lineup, offensive production isn’t something Maciariello said he’s concerned with finding. It’ll be there. On defense, Maciariello said, is where the Saints still have the most work to do as 2019 closes.
“It’s going to be really valuing each defensive possession,” Maciariello said of what’s most important for the Saints moving forward. “For me, that’s what it’s all about. It’s never going to be about scoring the ball.”
CAN’T TAKE THEM LIGHTLY
Maciariello said Friday that “I don’t ever look at anyone’s record.”
A quick glance through Holy Cross’ resume, though, shows why Maciariello was making that point Friday.
With first-year head coach Brett Nelson replacing Bill Carmody — a 1975 Union College graduate — at the program’s helm, Holy Cross has only won one of its first dozen games. Included in its 1-11 start is an overtime loss to UMass Boston, a Division III program that topped Holy Cross 69-66 on Dec. 10.
Siena is 4-5 on the season, but did lose this season when it played likely its weakest foe. That was Cal Poly, a team that kenpom.com had ranked No. 334 in the country as of early Saturday afternoon — three spots behind Holy Cross.
Siena is undefeated at home this season, but Maciariello said the Saints cannot rely solely on home-court advantage to earn their fifth win.
“Our guys have to realize, night in and night out, you have to give that same effort,” Maciariello said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing — and Holy Cross is a formidable opponent.”
Siena’s matchup with Holy Cross will serve as the Saints’ second annual “Sensory Friendly and Autism Awareness Game.”
Siena partners with Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region for the game, which will be played with modifications made within the arena to establish a more sensory-friendly atmosphere for fans with autism and other special needs. Lights will be dimmed, music and public-address volume will be lowered, and there will be no flashing advertisements displayed. Public-address reads and video features will also be designed to help raise autism awareness, while coaches and team staff personnel will wear autism awareness ribbons.
Additionally, the arena’s media room, located between sections 101 and 102, will serve as a “sensory safe space where spectrum guests and others with special needs and their families can also watch the game on monitors,” according to a press release from the Siena athletic department.
Siena players and coaches will also meet with families in the media room after the game.