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Right away, Siena men's basketball freshman Pickett has Christian's trust

Right away, Siena men's basketball freshman Pickett has Christian's trust

Freshman point guard leads Saints in minutes on opening night
Right away, Siena men's basketball freshman Pickett has Christian's trust
Siena plays Thursday at George Washington.
Photographer: Gregory J. Fisher/USA Today Sports

LOUDONVILLE — His shooting could have been better. His ball-handling, and control of the team’s offense, was solid.

None of those things, though, represented the best way to judge Siena College men’s basketball freshman Jalen Pickett’s opening night and his standing within the Saints’ program.

What was?

Easy.

That’s how much time he spent on the floor, something Pickett led the Saints in with 32 minutes at the most important position within head coach Jamion Christian’s offense.

“He’s just a guy that just understands the game,” Christian said of his point guard after Tuesday’s 77-67 loss at Providence. “Understands what he needs to do. Understands the offense. Understands his teammates.”

Pickett — Christian’s first commit as Siena’s coach — shot 2 of 11 from the field and 1 of 7 from 3-point territory, but dished nine assists against two turnovers in his debut. He scored seven points.

“I thought he played well,” Christian said. “Obviously, he didn’t make shots at the rate he normally does, but just a great job taking care of the basketball.”

Often the only true ball-handler on the court in an offensive system that requires a lot from its playmakers, Pickett handled himself well in his Siena debut against a Big East Conference foe despite battling some opening-night jitters.

“It’s very different,” Pickett said of his first college game. “I’ve never had this experience before, going up against a big school like this — especially a Big East team in Providence. We’ve played some scrimmages, but when the lights come on [with] the fans and a Big East team, it was just a very different experience for us.”

Christian identified Pickett as the guy to lead the Saints into that experience. While the coach said junior Khalil Richard likely would have started at a guard spot if he hadn’t suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason, Pickett’s place in the starting lineup was likely secure before Richard’s injury since Christian generally prefers to play two ball-handlers together.

“I want to get these [young] guys as much experience as I can early on to make sure when we get into conference play [that they] really understand what they need to do to help our team win,” said Christian, who also started a freshman — Sloan Seymour — in the frontcourt.

Seymour led the Saints in scoring against Providence with 15 points on 5 of 9 shooting from 3-point territory. Pickett assisted on a pair of Seymour’s baskets, and the freshman guard from Rochester showed off his potential as a playmaker when the Saints made their late charge to make things interesting down the stretch. Pickett registered assists on four consecutive possessions as the Saints cut their deficit to seven points with 3:25 to go.

“The biggest thing that sticks out about Jalen is how tough he is,” Siena senior Evan Fisher said. “For a freshman to come in and play against some Big East guards, his toughness is great. . . . For him to stay steady for us is huge.”

Siena needs that type of effort — plus some better shooting — from Pickett when it tries 7 p.m. Thursday at George Washington for its first win of the season.

“We’re leaning on him a ton,” Christian said of Pickett, who assisted half of Siena’s made 3-pointers against Providence.

From his team’s first game, Pickett said he came away confident this season’s Saints have the right mindset after not giving up after they fell behind 18 points midway through the second half.

“We just wanted to keep fighting,” Pickett said. “Everybody believed that we could win the game.”

Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.

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