ALBANY — In recent games, it’s become Siena College men’s basketball head coach Jamion Christian’s favorite play, one he shouts for each time his star freshman Jalen Pickett finds himself beyond the 3-point line with a favorable matchup.
That play was a staple Sunday for Siena in its triple-overtime loss to Quinnipiac, a game that saw Pickett score 46 points and dish 13 assists on his way to winning his program-record ninth MAAC Rookie of the Week honor and his first CBS Sports/USBWA National Freshman of the Week award.
Against Saint Peter’s on Tuesday, Siena turned to its get-out-of-Pickett’s-way play whenever the Peacocks tightened the score in a contest Siena emerged from with a much-needed 72-62 win at Times Union Center.
“Teams are kind of doing a lot of different stuff, trying to control him,” Christian said, “and the best thing with Jalen is he’s a guy that when he gets downhill, he’s able to make great decisions.”
All that continued Tuesday night as Siena avoided a three-game losing streak. Saint Peter’s sent extra defenders at Pickett throughout the night, and the unflappable freshman picked apart the Peacocks’ defense in compiling 18 points and nine assists.
Against the heavy pressure he faced, Pickett committed two turnovers in 39 minutes. Pickett played a team-high 53 minutes Sunday against Quinnipiac, but said he felt strong throughout Tuesday’s MAAC matchup.
“You got to fight through it every day,” Pickett said, “and just come ready to work.”
Siena (9-6, 14-14) did that against Saint Peter’s (3-11, 6-20), as Siena started the game with a 6-0 spurt and never trailed. The Saints led by as many as 16 points in the contest, and maintained at least a seven-point lead throughout the second half against last-place Saint Peter’s.
“Just couldn’t be more proud of our team having a great reset, and being able to put everything emotionally and physically into this game,” Christian said of his team following up Sunday’s triple-overtime loss with a decisive win.
The victory, too, added more fun to the MAAC standings. As Siena beat Saint Peter’s, Iona beat Quinnipiac — and that left those two winners in a five-way tie for second place along with Monmouth, Quinnipiac and Rider. In first place remains 9-5 Canisius, which is just above the 9-6 cluster of teams.
“When you’re a kid, you want to be playing games in February with a chance to achieve something special,” Christian said. “That’s why we’re all here at Siena.”
“I love how we’re playing,” Pickett said. “We’re coming to practice every day and we’re learning. We’re competing . . . at a high level. We’re just really improving — skyrocketing — and everybody’s happy and enjoying it.”
Sloan Seymour set the @SienaMBB freshman record for 3s in a season tonight, taking down a Scott Knapp record.— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) February 20, 2019
Seymour said he knew he was nearing the record. Sounded like Jalen Pickett made sure of that. #MAACHoops pic.twitter.com/lKvAzcuYei
For Siena, senior Evan Fisher had a team-high 21 points and freshman Sloan Seymour added a dozen. Seymour’s points came on four 3-pointers, as the Shaker High School graduate moved ahead of former Siena star Scott Knapp to become the program’s freshman record-holder for made 3s in a season. Seymour tied Knapp’s record on Sunday, and the current freshman now has 80 made 3s this season.
The ability of Saints such as redshirt seniors Kevin Degnan and Kadeem Smithen, and Seymour to space the floor with their shooting ability has helped allow Siena to utilize Pickett more in isolation sets. Christian said that shift is part of an effort to “increase [Pickett’s] volume” in terms of making offensive decisions for the Saints as opponents try more often to get the ball out of his hands.
“We’re just trying to stay ahead of what teams are doing against us defensively,” Christian said.
On the season, Pickett — a slam-dunk favorite to be this season’s MAAC Rookie of the Year — is averaging 15.6 points and 6.5 assists per game. With three regular-season games to go, Pickett is 10 points away from matching former Siena player Nico Clareth’s program freshman scoring record.
“He’s got a lot of stuff he can improve on, too,” Christian said. “That should be scary for everybody because I think he’s learning the game at such an incredible rate.”
As Pickett has earned one accolade after another, Christian said he has appreciated the freshman’s focus staying on team success.
“When we were not playing well, he was all about our wins and losses — and he’s still that way today,” said Christian, whose team has won eight of its last 11 games. “He was still that way yesterday. There’s just not many guys like that in the country. They don’t make them like that anymore.”
Underwood 0-0 0-0 0, Idowu 2-3 0-0 4, Watson 3-8 1-1 8, Turner 6-12 2-4 16, Taylor 6-9 0-2 12, Ndefo 5-6 2-2 12, Dixon 0-3 2-2 2, Woods 0-2 2-2 2, Hicks 0-0 0-0 0, Majak 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 24-46 11-19 62.
Seymour 4-7 0-0 12, Fisher 7-13 6-6 21, Degnan 3-8 0-0 7, Camper 2-4 3-6 7, Pickett 5-13 5-5 18, Smithen 1-2 4-4 7, Ratliff 0-1 0-0 0, Tchougang 0-1 0-1 0, Huerter 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 22-49 18-22 72.
Halftime: Siena 33, Saint Peter’s 21. Three-point shooting: Saint Peter’s 3-9, Siena 10-22. Rebounds: Saint Peter’s 31 (Taylor 6), Siena 23 (Camper 7). Assists: Saint Peter’s 4 (Four tied with 1), Siena 13 (Pickett 9). Turnovers: Saint Peter’s 15, Siena 4. Total fouls: Saint Peter’s 20, Siena 17 Fouled out: Ndefo. Attendance: 6,398.