LOUDONVILLE — It wasn’t his best game.
Statistically, it was one of his worst since joining the Siena College men’s basketball program.
But the game plan wasn’t going to change down the stretch Friday against Marist, and it won’t as this season continues for the Saints.
Siena continued putting the ball in Jalen Pickett’s hands, continued trusting the freshman to make plays.
“He’s such a good player,” Siena head coach Jamion Christian said. “When you’re a good player, you’re able to let the game come to you in a lot of different ways.”
For the first 30-plus minutes, Marist was able to keep Pickett — a four-time winner of the MAAC Rookie of the Week award already this season — in check in Friday's 71-66 win for the Saints. Marist head coach John Dunne knew doing that for a full 40 minutes, though, would be next to impossible, given how Pickett has performed in his rookie college season.
“He’s just really good,” Dunne said after Siena’s win in Poughkeepsie. “You have to pick your poison. If you kind of just hedge a little bit and don’t stay with the trap [on Pickett], he’s really good at playing with the ball up there and getting into the paint. If you go under the ball screens, you’re going to give him some open 3s — but he’s not going to settle for 3s. He’s going to play with the ball and change direction.”
Pickett finished shooting 2 of 6 for nine points, six rebounds and eight assists against Marist — and seven of those points, two of those rebounds and four of those assists came in the final 7:03 after Siena had fallen behind 51-44.
“Like the special ones do, when that moment presents itself for them to get into attack mode, they’re able to find that moment and be able to do that,” Christian said of Pickett, who is averaging 14.7 points per game on 44.8 percent shooting plus 7.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds. “They have enough confidence to be able to do that.”
While Siena is off to a 6-10 start heading into Monday’s 7 p.m. game at Times Union Center against 3-14 Monmouth, Pickett has had the chance to develop as an end-of-game playmaker after rarely playing point guard previously in his career. While his ball-handling still needs polishing, Pickett’s already shown an ability to penetrate opposing defenses regardless of their focus on containing him.
“He’s going to get in the paint,” Dunne said. “He’s really, really good at finding his guys.”
Christian said he has confidence in other players on his roster to handle the ball in key situations, but the coach changed his attack in the game’s final minutes so Pickett could remain the one deciding Siena’s fate despite Marist attempting to double-team him in pick-and-roll situations. Down the stretch, Siena had senior Evan Fisher set consecutive picks for Pickett on a few plays so the guard could shift away from the double-team, plus spaced shooters such as redshirt senior Kevin Degnan and freshman Sloan Seymour differently in an attempt to keep the Red Foxes spread out.
“Coach is a great coach,” Pickett said. “He saw some things in the first half that he wanted to wait [to use] in the second half.”
Since Pickett became Christian’s first official signing at Siena, the coach has expressed confidence in the player’s ability to lead the Saints as they rebuild their program. After topping Marist, Christian reiterated why that’s the case.
“The guy that handles the ball the majority of the time for us is the guy that has the most confidence and enough bravado about himself that he can let the game come to him,” Christian said. “That’s why he’s won so much in his career and that’s why he’s going to win a lot here.”