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Lack of depth forces change for Siena men's basketball

Lack of depth forces change for Siena men's basketball

Saints cut back on pressing, trapping
Lack of depth forces change for Siena men's basketball
Kevin Degnan goes for a shot during Saturday's Siena loss.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

LOUDONVILLE — After a loss Saturday in which his team had a lead as large as 15 points, Siena College men’s basketball head coach Jamion Christian said the Saints’ lack of depth wasn’t an excuse.

But it did necessitate a major style change for the Saints, who mostly abandoned their pressing-and-trapping ways in their 70-66 MAAC loss against Canisius at Times Union Center in Albany.

“As these bodies come back,” Christian said, “maybe ‘Mayhem’ will come back and present itself in some opportunities for us.”

Against Canisius, Siena only had two-thirds of its 18-man roster available to play and a third of those options were non-scholarship players. Siena ended up playing its starters for 90.5 percent of the game’s minutes, and Christian said the team’s less frenetic defensive strategy was partially a concession to trying to keep senior Evan Fisher on the court for as many minutes as possible.

“Our strong suit right now is we’ve got a great big man. I think he’s playing as good as any big man in the league — [he’s] maybe the best big in the league. I believe so,” Christian said of the 6-foot-9, 246-pound Fisher, who is averaging 16.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. “So running him around, pressing and trapping [with] him a ton, might not be the best strategy for this year’s team, but maybe a year from now that’ll be here, and that’s something we’re definitely going to grow into.”

Defense has been a challenge for most of the season for the 5-10 Saints, who have lost four of their last five games. Siena has defended better in recent games, though, allowing 1.05 points per possession in its last four games. 

“The encouraging thing is our half-court defense continues to improve,” Christian said. “If we can really make that a staple, then when you add the pressing, trapping component into it, now all the sudden you’ve got something else to go to that can beat opponents.”

Against Canisius, Siena was without redshirt junior Elijah Burns and sophomore Don Carey, both of whom are sitting out because of NCAA transfer rules. Injured Saints for that game were sophomore Manny Camper, junior Sammy Friday, redshirt freshman Jimmy Ratliff and junior Khalil Richard.

Christian said it’s likely Camper will be back for Friday’s game at Marist.

BACK ON TRACK

Freshman Sloan Seymour has put a shooting slump behind him and has made at least four 3-pointers in each of Siena’s last three games. Against Canisius, Seymour matched a season-high with five made 3s on a dozen attempts.

“Just did a good job hunting those openings and those gaps, finding those spots where Jalen [Pickett] could hit me,” Seymour said.

Seymour has made 13 of 27 3s in Siena’s last three games after making 7 of 29 in the previous four games.

“Me spacing the floor opens up other opportunities for people to score,” Seymour said. “[Canisius was] just taking away other things [Saturday], so my shots were there.”

On the season, Seymour is averaging 9.3 points per game and is shooting 35.2 percent from 3-point territory, a distance from which 94.0 percent of his shots have been taken.

PICKETT, AGAIN

Siena freshman Jalen Pickett secured his fourth MAAC Rookie of the Week award Monday.

Pickett, a back-to-back winner of the award, averaged 15.0 points and 9.5 assists per game during Siena’s 0-2 start to MAAC play. Against Canisius, Pickett flirted with a triple-double with 14 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

Christian called Pickett “the best point guard in the league” after Saturday’s game, but said the freshman can improve on his playmaking after reviewing game footage.

“He’ll probably see some areas where he can keep improving delivering that ball on time,” Christian said.

On the season, Pickett’s 7.3 assists per game leads the MAAC and ranks No. 5 in the nation through Sunday’s action. 

MAAC TAKING SHAPE

Through Sunday’s action, three MAAC teams were still undefeated in league play.

Canisius, Iona and Rider are all 2-0 in the MAAC. Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon’s squad won both its game on the road, topping Marist 75-72 last Thursday before beating Siena.

“You get nine chances to get [a road win], and you try to get them every chance you get,” Witherspoon said. “Fortunately, we’ve got a couple of them already.”

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

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