ALBANY — Leading up to Sunday’s game against Marist, Siena College men’s basketball head coach Jamion Christian had said he wasn’t sure if he’d start all five of his seniors on Senior Day.
In the end, there was no decision to make.
Only one option stood out to Christian, even if Sunday’s game was a critical MAAC matchup for the Saints.
“I think you always want to be better to people than they expect,” Christian said. “I think you want to always set that as a standard.”
So all five seniors — including walk-on Paulo Morastoni and seldom-used reserve Braedon Bayer — started after the day’s Senior Day ceremony concluded at Times Union Center, a celebration that saw Christian’s eyes well several times.
“These guys mean so much to me,” Christian said. “I wanted our team to do a great job honoring our seniors today.”
And that was accomplished, as Siena continued its strong play with a 67-55 win against Marist that left the Saints tied in the loss column with four other teams atop the MAAC standings. In breaking former Siena player Nico Clareth’s program freshman scoring record, Jalen Pickett produced a stellar all-around game with 11 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists, but senior Evan Fisher had 16 points and redshirt senior Kevin Degnan scored a career-high 25 points to lead the Saints.
“It’s great, but, end of the day, we’re looking to get wins right now and I’m just trying to do everything I can to help this team win,” said Degnan, who made 6 of 9 3-pointers.
Last season, Degnan rarely played. He has started every game this season, and has emerged as one of Siena’s leaders a season after scoring a total of 26 points.
“This team is everything to me,” Degnan said, “and that’s speaking from the heart.”
Along with redshirt senior Kadeem Smithen who scored nine points, Degnan and Fisher were the senior Saints who were with the program for multiple seasons with former head coach Jimmy Patsos at the helm. Christian took over from Patsos after the former head coach resigned following an 8-24 season and a school investigation into the conduct of the coaching staff.
“I inherited some great seniors with great chips on their shoulders who wanted to be really successful,” said Christian, whose Saints were picked to finish in last place and secured a winning MAAC season with Sunday’s victory.
Fisher, the program’s lone scholarship senior that spent his entire college career at Siena, was introduced last during the pre-game Senior Day celebration, in which the 6-foot-9 senior received a thunderous applause and shared a lengthy hug with Christian.
“It was really special. It’s something that kind of just brings your whole basketball career together,” Fisher said of celebrating Senior Day. “Since [I was] a little kid, I’ve had the goal of playing Division I basketball on scholarship, and to be able to do it at a place like Siena — for a coach like coach Christian — you know, I couldn’t ask for a better ending.”
Siena (10-6, 15-14) led Marist (7-9, 12-16) 31-28 at halftime, and maintained at least a three-possession lead for the final 15:09. Siena shot 50.0 percent from the field, while Marist made 2 of 17 3s as part of an overall 21 of 58 shooting performance.
Degnan, Fisher and Smithen combined to score all of Siena’s points in the first half. With a safe lead built, Bayer and Morastoni joined Siena’s other three seniors in the lineup to finish the game they all started together.
“It was incredible,” said Morastoni, who had three rebounds in four minutes of action. “That was a dream right there. I couldn’t believe it. It still hasn’t hit me yet that all that happened.”
Christian coached six seasons at Mount St. Mary’s before Siena hired him last May. He credited his senior Saints with making his transition a smooth one.
“They didn’t have to accept the things we were trying to do,” Christian said.
But they did, and now the Saints will head into their final two games of the regular season still in contention to earn the No. 1 seed for the MAAC tournament.
“From Day 1, there’s been nothing but belief in ourselves,” Fisher said. “Coach has done a great job with that.”
Christian confirmed Sunday that junior Sammy Friday (knee) won’t return this season, and the Saints will apply for a medical redshirt for Friday. If that is granted, Friday will have two remaining seasons of playing eligibility. Friday hasn’t played since early December.
Christian also said sophomore Denzel Tchougang missed Sunday’s game with an illness and should return when the Saints play Friday at Canisius, and freshman Georges Darwiche (lower-leg injury) is day-to-day.
Lamb 2-7 0-0 4, Sjoberg 1-6 1-4 3, Hines 1-4 0-0 2, Parker 5-13 5-6 15, Knudsen 4-6 0-0 8, Dozic 2-3 0-0 4, Funk 3-7 3-3 11, Herasme 1-3 1-2 3, Nedrow 2-6 1-1 5, Williams 0-3 0-0 0, Carmello 0-0 0-0 0, Lee 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 21-58 11-16 55.
Fisher 7-12 1-1 16, Degnan 8-12 3-4 25, Bayer 0-1 0-0 0, Morastoni 0-1 0-0 0, Smithen 3-5 1-1 9, Camper 3-4 0-0 6, Pickett 4-10 3-4 11, Seymour 0-5 0-0 0, Ratliff 0-0 0-0 0, Huerter 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 25-50 8-10 67.
Halftime score: Siena 31, Marist 28. Three-point shooting: Marist 2-17, Siena 9-28. Rebounds: Marist 32 (Lamb 7), Siena 32 (Pickett 8). Assists: Marist 10 (Parker 6), Siena 17 (Pickett 10). Turnovers: Marist 9, Siena 13. Total fouls: Marist 12, Siena 12. Attendance: 6,806.
Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.