WASHINGTON -- Jamion Christian roamed the sideline, emitting the energy and enthusiasm that helped land him the Siena College men’s basketball head coaching job just months ago. He pumped his fists often. He motioned, sometimes with animation, for specific plays.
When things teetered, he corralled himself and his Saints, and the newly-implemented “Mayhem” style of basketball took back over. They hit drive-and-kick 3-pointers. They blitzed the offensive glass. They applied ball pressure and capitalized off ball screens.
And when it was crunch time, they showed grit.
With a double-digit lead shaved to one with under two minutes to go Thursday night at George Washington’s Charles E. Smith Center, senior forward Kevin Degnan drilled a 3-pointer to effectively put away the Colonials and start winning ways in this fresh era.
When the clock hit zeros, Christian pumped his fist twice more and Siena cherished a 69-61 victory over George Washington, marking win No. 1 for the 36-year-old coach at Siena.
“That’s a really big deal,” said Degnan (15 points on 5-for-6 shooting from deep) of playing a hand in Christian’s first win at the helm of Siena. “His energy is amazing. We feed off that every single day in practice. The amount of energy he puts off … we try to absorb it and use it.”
For Christian, the first win at Siena (1-1) is just a check off the to-do list. The real reward lies within his upperclassmen and returners, the guys who won just one road game in 16 tries a year ago. Just three days into the regular season, they match that total.
“The guys, they’ve been bought in since [the first day] we signed here as a coaching staff. I wanted it really for them,” Christian said. “They’ve earned this opportunity. Their connectivity tonight was infectious. … To win on the road, you have to have great connectivity and great toughness. We are just trying to coach the best way we can.”
Freshman point guard Jalen Pickett performed beyond his one-game level of collegiate experience, scoring a game-high 19 points on 5 of 12 shooting (4 of 9 from deep) while dishing six assists and wrangling down five rebounds. He turned the ball over just once, commanding the Mayhem system productively and efficiently. In Tuesday’s 77-67 road loss at Big East perennial Providence, Pickett scored just seven points on 2 of 11 shooting.
“He showed a lot of growth tonight,” Christian said.
While both Siena and George Washington entered the night 0-1, the two programs entered with contrasting openers. On Tuesday, the Saints turned an 18-point second-half deficit into a seven-point game with three minutes left, then ran out of steam. George Washington, meanwhile, squandered a 22-0 opening lead and lost to Stony Brook in overtime.
This time, the Saints didn’t need to climb out of a late hole. They staked themselves to a 39-32 halftime advantage and led by as many as 11, powering ahead with a 10-2 run late in the first half.
After George Washington’s Arnaldo Toro cut the Saints lead to 41-39 with a free throw at the 16:42 mark, Siena slowly built its lead back to double digits and finally did so when Degnan swished a 3 to make it 55-45 five minutes later. Over the next five minutes, though, Siena went through a scoring drought -- a part of a second half that saw 10 of 33 shooting (5 of 19 from deep) -- and a 10-0 Colonials run tied it at 55 with 7:27 to go.
Evan Fisher responded with a sweet turn-around, one-legged jumper and Manny Camper followed with a tough layup to help close the deal.
Picked to finish last in the conference, Thursday’s win could be the start of something for the Saints — but Christian said he’s not focusing on expectations for his group — even positive ones.
“Expectation is the enemy,” Christian said. “I think when you put an expectation on something, you don’t allow yourself to let the miracle happen. The miracle is never the expectation.
"I like the fact that when things aren’t going perfectly, we can rally together," Christian added. "That’s a sign of what good teams do. We’ve been able to do that in [both games].”
Pickett 5-12 5-6 19, Degnan 5-7 0-0 15, Camper 4-10 1-5 9, Fisher 4-10 0-0 8, Seymour 2-7 0-0 6, Ratliff 2-7 0-0 5, Smithen 2-3 0-0 5, Friday 1-6 0-0 2, Huerter 0-0 0-0 0, Darwiche 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 25-63 6-11 69.
Mazzula 8-14 0-1 18, Nolan 6-13 1-3 17, Toro 4-6 1-2 9, Williams 2-8 3-4 8, Potter 2-8 0-1 4, Jack 1-3 0-0 3, Langarica 0-0 2-2 2, Brown 0-1 0-0 0, Offurum 0-1 0-0 0, Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Mitola 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 23-53 7-13 61.
Halftime: Siena 39, George Washington 32. Three-point shooting: Siena 13-34, George Washington 8-18. Rebounds: Siena 42 (Friday 9), George Washington 32 (Nolan, Toro 9). Assists: Siena 15 (Pickett 6), George Washington 10 (Potter 3). Turnovers: Siena 7, George Washington 8. Total fouls: Siena 12, George Washington 10. Attendance: 2,083.