LOUDONVILLE — For really the first time this season, Wednesday’s loss against Lehigh included prolonged stretches of play in which the Siena College men’s basketball team’s full-court press caused an opponent consistent headaches.
In Siena’s 80-69 loss, the Saints scored 13 points off 12 Lehigh turnovers. Siena’s full-court press was responsible for several of those turnovers, while the Saints also often used their “Mayhem” pressure to disrupt Lehigh from getting into its offensive sets in an efficient manner.
“I think that will continue to progress,” Siena head coach Jamion Christian said of his team’s ability to use its press as a weapon. “One of the biggest things when you’re playing a new style, especially when you’re pressing, is are the guys learning their level of aggressiveness, [in terms of] when to be aggressive and when to take chances.”
Throughout most of Siena’s 2-3 start, the Saints have been content to apply full-court pressure only until an opponent beats Siena’s first trapping attempt. Against Lehigh, though, the Saints stuck with their press longer than that on several occasions, showing the team is gaining confidence in its ability to work Christian’s zone press.
“I think if we continue to teach it and the guys continue to kind of learn how far they can go with it, I think it will naturally get better,” Christian said after Wednesday’s loss.
Siena, which plays 2 p.m. Saturday against Colgate at Times Union Center, had only forced double-digit turnovers in one previous game before doing so on Wednesday. That first instance was in Siena’s opener when the Saints forced Providence to commit 15 turnovers.
In his first five college games, freshman Jalen Pickett has lived up to the lofty expectations many had for Christian’s first Siena commit.
Pickett is coming off his best all-around performance, as the freshman scored 25 points, dished seven assists and grabbed six rebounds against Lehigh. On the season, Pickett is averaging 14.2 points, 5.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game.
Christian said the Saints want to do even more to put their young point guard in positions to succeed.
“We’ve just got to make sure we’re playing lineups that allow us to have more shooting out there and I think that will open it up a little bit more to let Jalen play a little bit faster and get downhill,” Christian said.
The lone area of concern to this point with Pickett has been his workload, as he is averaging a team-high 35.8 minutes per game.
“But I feel great,” Pickett said at a practice earlier this week. “I’ve been playing a little bit, but I’m enjoying it. I’m loving it. Nobody ever wants to sit. I wish I could play the whole game, so I’m fine with it. I’d love to play 40 minutes.”
Christian, though, wants Pickett’s minutes somewhere in the 30-to-32 range. Freshman Georges Darwiche and redshirt senior Braedon Bayer continue to battle for the backup point guard spot in the Saints’ rotation.
“I think one of those guys will emerge,” Christian said. “We’ve got to keep letting them compete it out.”
Second wave struggles
Christian likes to describe his team as playing in waves, but the second wave of Saints — the team’s rotation players off the bench — never got it going against Lehigh.
Siena’s bench players scored seven points and shot 3 of 12 against Lehigh. Junior big man Sammy Friday scored six of those points and made 3 of 6 shots.
While the Saints’ backup point guard spot is still open, the rest of Siena’s second unit appears set. Besides Friday, seeing regular minutes off Siena’s bench are junior Thomas Huerter, redshirt freshman Jimmy Ratliff and redshirt senior Kadeem Smithen.
“Each one of those guys that comes off the bench gives us something a little bit different,” Christian said.
From that bench group, Ratliff is the player Siena looks to for some long-range shooting. Since making 2 of 4 3-pointers in his debut, though, Ratliff has shot 2 of 14 from downtown.
Against Lehigh, Ratliff missed all three of his 3-point attempts, but Christian was pleased with the looks Ratliff got — and the coach expects the redshirt freshman to keep shooting every open shot that comes his way.
“If he makes one or two of those [against Lehigh], it’s a really different ballgame,” Christian said.