Last week, before playing Siena, Monmouth men’s basketball head coach King Rice was effusive in his praise of the on-court abilities of Saints stars Manny Camper and Jalen Pickett.
This week, after playing Siena, Rice had more to say about Siena’s top players — specifically, regarding the leadership they demonstrated in making sure the Saints started their season off with a sweep at Rice’s expense.
After Monday’s 76-62 Siena win, Rice said he knew the Hawks were in trouble before the game after watching the pre-game effort of Camper and Pickett — and the effort they demanded from the rest of the Saints playing their second game in as many days after not playing for 298 days.
“Jalen Pickett and Manny Camper had a great warm-up. They made sure everybody else had a great warm-up, too,” Rice said. “Well, when you’re two leaders — all-league players — are taking the responsibility that way, you’re going to have a really good team.”
Siena, which won its final 10 games last year prior to the season ending prematurely because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, certainly looked like a really good team in opening its season with two wins. While the Saints earned a one-point win Sunday, Siena used a 23-6 run in Monday’s second half to secure a 2-0 start.
Rice? He was impressed with how Pickett continues to remove any weaknesses from his game, and how Camper has continued to evolve from role player to star.
But what most impressed Rice was seeing — and hearing — Camper and Pickett lead the Saints, constantly making sure Siena didn’t allow Monmouth a chance to get back into Monday’s game in the second half.
“Every time there was a spot in the game where it could have been interesting, Manny and Jalen got their group together,” Rice said.
Monmouth entered its series with Siena at 3-1 in the MAAC, but left it at .500. Rice said it made him “sick to my stomach” to watch how Siena cruised past Monmouth, but also appreciative of the way Camper, Pickett and Co. handled the start to their season.
“When you see kids grow like I’ve watched those kids grow,” Rice said, “you’ve got to take your hat off to them.”
Pickett averaged 19 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game against Monmouth, while Camper averaged 13 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
The 40-minute effort in the second game of a back-to-back?
That was the easier of the two days for Camper.
“To be honest,” a smiling Camper said, “the first game was a lot harder than [the second] game.”
Camper played 36 minutes in Siena’s opener. In that game, played after a stretch of weeks in which Siena rarely practiced, Camper said he could tell his conditioning was off.
“It was tough,” Camper said. “I think the first two media timeouts, you felt it. I really felt it.”
And Siena did have more stretches Sunday during which it looked tired on the court than it did Monday, playing a game that tipped off approximately 24 hours after Sunday’s ended.
Four Saints averaged at least 35 minutes per game in the team’s opening two games.
“These guys proved that they’re not as in bad shape as we thought they were going to be,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said.
He made 1 of 9 shots and none of the six 3-pointers he attempted Sunday.
That night, Siena sophomore Jordan King said his coaches text messaged him, reminding him to make sure he kept firing away when the Saints played Monday.
King did, and made 5 of 13 shots. He only made 1 of 7 from 3-point territory, but he offered 15 points after only scoring two in Sunday’s game.
“I was more aggressive,” King said after Monday’s game.
And a little more relaxed.
“I was just really nervous,” King said of Sunday’s game. “It was our first game back in 300 days.”