LOUDONVILLE — Shaheen Holloway didn’t miss a beat as he transitioned from talking Thursday about one Siena men’s basketball guard to the next.
Yes, the Saint Peter’s head coach is “absolutely preparing” as if Siena junior Jalen Pickett — the reigning MAAC Player of the Year who has missed Siena’s last three games because of a right hamstring injury — will play when the two MAAC schools meet up at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Alumni Recreation Center with Siena’s 16-game winning streak on the line.
“But,” Holloway said, “the kid King, I can’t believe the jump he’s made.”
That’s Jordan King, Siena’s sophomore guard who was a walk-on last season, a scholarship player this season and the most-recent MAAC Player of the Week. An Albany native who played at CBA, King is coming off a weekend at Rider during which he registered career-high scoring outputs on consecutive days, and Holloway said the 6-foot-0 guard has developed into a player opposing teams now need to make sure they’re prepared to defend.
“His confidence is way up,” said Holloway, last season’s MAAC Coach of the Year. “He went from being a spot-up shooter and getting some minutes to being one of their main guys.”
King has started every game this season for Siena. Since a rough outing in Siena’s opener that saw King make 1 of 9 shots and score two points, King has averaged 16.8 points per game on 50% shooting from the field.
Holloway said King’s improvement is “even more impressive” when it’s considered that Siena, like so many college teams, didn’t have a traditional offseason filled with workouts because of restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said how King pushed himself to be better led to the results the guard is getting this season on the court.
“That’s what makes Jordan a good player. He’s hungry,” Maciariello said earlier this week. “He’s competitive and he loves to play . . . and those are the guys we want to recruit.”
As for Pickett? Maciariello has consistently described Siena’s 6-foot-4 lead guard as “day to day,” but said Thursday evening that Pickett was able to practice some on Wednesday before taking part in 45 minutes of the team’s Thursday practice.
A decision on Pickett’s status for Siena’s games against Saint Peter’s, Maciariello said, will be determined after Siena’s Friday shootaround.
Siena’s last loss?
That was against Saint Peter’s back on Feb. 2, 2020.
Holloway said he, “to be honest,” didn’t realize his Peacocks were the last team to knock off Siena, while Maciariello — besides referencing that his players “know that” Saint Peter’s was the last team to beat Siena — downplayed the notion that Siena is motivated by any reason other than that “this group really understands that we can do something special” if it continues to improve.
“We can’t really just show up and think we can say [that] we’ve arrived,” Maciariello said. “Regardless of our record, we’re not playing the best basketball we can play, and we need to hold ourselves to our standards and then the scoreboard will take care of itself.”
Siena is 6-0 on the season, with all of its games taking place within MAAC play. Saint Peter’s is 3-3 in conference play and 6-5 overall ahead of Friday’s game, which will be televised on ESPNU.
Siena’s 16-game winning streak that goes back to last season is the program’s longest such streak at the Division I level and is tied with the program’s overall record from a batch of wins that stretched from the 1949-50 season into the 1950-51 campaign.
While Siena’s noteworthy streak is its consecutive wins, Saint’s Peter’s significant streak will sit at 20 by the time the two teams play Friday night — and that streak is how many days it will have been since the Peacocks last played because of coronavirus-related issues. The most-recent issue for Saint Peter’s was that its games last Sunday and Monday against Iona were postponed on the eve of the teams’ series because of a positive COVID-19 test result within the Gaels’ program.
“Just been trying to keep guys engaged and keep them fresh,” Holloway said of his team’s break from game action.
Siena’s roster includes two stars, senior Manny Camper and Pickett, capable of dominating a game in multiple ways.
For Saint Peter’s, such a player is junior KC Ndefo, the reigning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year and MAAC Sixth Player of the Year whose impact is felt even more this season since he’s starting and playing more minutes.
Maciariello said Ndefo is “probably one of the hardest-playing guys in the league,” and that shows in his statistics. After averaging 8.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.4 steals in 22 minutes per game last season, Ndefo is averaging 12.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.6 blocks and 1.5 steals in 27.5 minutes per game this season.
Ndefo is the MAAC’s leader this season in blocked shots per game, while he ranks in the top 10 in points and steals.
Saint Peter’s leading scorer on the season is Ndefo, and he’s one of three Peacocks averaging more than 10 points per game.