ALBANY — The result didn’t go the way he wanted.
But Jamion Christian left his first home game as Siena College men’s basketball head coach convinced future ones will — and before too long.
“I love our team’s effort,” Christian said Wednesday after Siena’s 80-69 loss to Lehigh at Times Union Center. “I think we’re pretty close to being an elite team.”
Since he was hired back in May, Christian has powered his program with optimism and positivity. That was no different Wednesday despite a game in which the Saints couldn’t make enough shots and allowed Lehigh to make one pivotal 3-pointer after another.
“The difference in the game are the 3s,” Christian said.
For the second consecutive game, and loss, Siena struggled shooting from 3-point territory. The Saints made 5 of 24 shots from 3 in their loss Sunday against Holy Cross, and Siena (2-3) made 8 of 30 long-range shots against Lehigh (4-1).
Meanwhile, Lehigh made 12 of 19 shots from downtown against the Saints, who often scrambled themselves out of position to defend the perimeter in an effort to offer defensive help.
“It’s kind of like a virus right now,” Christian said of the contagious nature of the Saints’ defensive breakdowns.
“That’s just something we’re going to have to fix,” Siena senior Evan Fisher said.
But, still, there were those signs Wednesday that Siena is trending in the right direction despite dropping its second game in a row. Freshman Jalen Pickett, the first player Christian got to commit to Siena after his hire, dazzled in his home debut with 25 points, seven assists and six rebounds — plus a winning attitude.
“That really doesn’t matter to me,” Pickett said of his statistical output, which was achieved in a team-high 38 minutes. “We’re just coming out here trying to get the win every day and trying to compete.”
Beyond Pickett, no Siena player delivered an above-average individual effort. Instead, the progress continued to show in key areas that Christian cares a lot about as he molds Siena’s program into his vision for it. To that end, Siena didn’t foul much and took care of the basketball against Lehigh, only committing 12 fouls and seven turnovers.
Siena, though, just couldn’t make enough shots against Lehigh to steal a win. The Saints got within 64-61 with 6:39 to go, but then missed their next six shots as Lehigh built a double-digit lead.
Jamion Christian said he thinks his team is close to being “elite” after its loss tonight. pic.twitter.com/asxWRZE353— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) November 22, 2018
Despite the defeat, Christian said he enjoyed his first experience coaching at Times Union Center.
“Just knowledgeable fans. They really have a great understanding of it,” said Christian, whose parents sat behind the Saints’ bench. “It’s just a great feeling in the building, and you want to do a great job for [the fans] because they support us so well. Hopefully they’re pleased with our effort, and can kind of see where we’re going with this thing and how it’s going to build.”
Besides Pickett’s 25 points, Fisher added 13 for the Saints. For Lehigh, senior Kyle Leufroy had 25 points.
Siena next plays Saturday vs. Colgate back at Times Union Center. Before that game, members of the Siena program and their families plan to spend Thanksgiving together at Christian’s home. Wednesday’s loss, Christian said, won’t make for a less-celebratory gathering.
“This is a really important time for our team because I want them to know that you’re loved no matter how you perform. I think, in general, what happens in sports too often is you’re loved when you perform at a high level and I think that’s unfair,” Christian said. “We love our guys no matter how we perform. There is a performance level that’s expected and it’s a standard, but the way we love them on a day-to-day basis has nothing to do with how they perform on the floor.”
Andree 3-6 0-0 8, Karnik 2-4 2-5 6, Leufroy 8-11 5-6 25, Tejada 1-5 0-0 2, Cohen 5-8 3-4 15, Bennett 1-3 0-0 2, J. Wilson 4-6 0-0 10, M. Wilson 5-6 0-0 12, Lynch 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 29-50 10-15 80.
Seymour 3-9 0-0 9, Fisher 5-13 3-3 13, Degnan 3-6 0-0 7, Camper 2-5 4-4 8, Pickett 10-19 1-2 25, Bayer 0-0 0-0 0, Smithen 0-1 1-2 1, Huerter 0-2 0-0 0, Ratliff 0-3 0-0 0, Friday 3-6 0-0 6. Totals: 26-64 9-11 80.
Halftime: Lehigh 42, Siena 37. Three-point shooting: Lehigh 12-19, Siena 8-30. Rebounds: Lehigh 32 (Karnik 8), Siena 31 (Fisher 7). Assists: Lehigh 17 (Cohen 4), Siena 10 (Pickett 7). Turnovers: Lehigh 12, Siena 7. Total fouls: Lehigh 13, Siena 12. Attendance: 4,908.