ALBANY — The result was solid.
The tone Siena’s latest new-look starting lineup set for Friday’s MAAC men’s basketball game against Marist was more important.
The Saints opened their 70-57 win at Times Union Center with a lineup of fifth-year senior Elijah Burns, junior Manny Camper, redshirt sophomore Don Carey, freshman Gary Harris and sophomore Jalen Pickett. That group combines Siena’s four double-digit scorers with the program’s top athlete — Harris — and the Saints started Friday’s win with a 9-0 blitz against Marist.
“We love Gary’s energy in transition, so being able to start him and get him running helps us,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said after the win.
The move to offer more offensive firepower at the game’s start played a role, too, in helping to put Pickett more in the role of playmaker. With the 6-foot-7 Camper and 6-foot-6 Harris as options up the floor, Pickett was able to find capable finishers with longer passes on a night that saw the guard post eight assists and only one turnover.
“Those guys are both great athletes and when they can get out there and they can run, we’re really hard to beat,” said Pickett, whose team hosts Quinnipiac at 2 p.m. Sunday. “I love throwing it up to him and seeing what Gary can do in the open floor . . . and, then, Manny’s just a grown man down there, getting and-1s [with] strong finishes and great takes.”
Some foul trouble limited how much Siena’s newest starting five was able to play together in Friday’s first half, while the team often opted to utilize fifth-year senior Matt Hein instead of Harris in the second for defensive purposes. Together, though, Friday’s starters outscored Marist 14-6 in 8:34 of action.
Meanwhile, another group that had success in Friday’s win was a combination of Camper, Pickett, Harris, and freshmen Jordan King and Kyle Young. During Siena’s 16-0 run in the first half, that group was on the court together for a 9-0 spurt within it.
“It definitely started with the defense,” King said. “We started getting some defensive stops and everybody started running the floor.”
‘JUST PLAYING MIND GAMES’
One of the unique parts of Pickett’s game is how often the 6-foot-4 point guard blocks shots.
In a key moment against Marist, Pickett seemed to use his reputation as a rim protector to his advantage. After his lone turnover of the game, Pickett got back on defense seemingly to challenge Marist’s Matthew Herasme’s fast-break layup attempt, which missed.
“I went like I was going to jump and I think he just short-armed it,” said Pickett, who then grabbed the rebound, dribbled up the court and found Burns for an alley-oop. “Just playing mind games, hoping he’d miss. I didn’t want to pick up a cheap foul there, and I’d just turned the ball over; I didn’t want to make two bad plays in a row.”
Pickett didn’t record a blocked shot in Friday’s win, snapping a 13-game streak in which he had at least one. On the season, Pickett is averaging 1.2 blocks per game, which ranks him fifth in the MAAC this season. Per sports-reference.com’s database, Pickett is one of three players in the country this season averaging both at least one block and four assists per game.
MAAC’S TOP TEAM
After losing back-to-back conference games, Quinnipiac (5-2, 10-7) won 81-67 Friday against Fairfield. Heading into its matchup with Siena (4-4, 8-9), Quinnipiac is tied for first place in the MAAC with Monmouth.
The MAAC standings, though, feature little separation at this point. Each of the league’s teams have won at least three MAAC games, and it’s possible Siena — tied for fifth place with Rider — could leave the weekend with as many league wins as any team in the conference.
Junior Rich Kelly leads Quinnipiac’s offense this season at 17.6 points per game, while senior Kevin Marfo is tied for the NCAA lead in rebounds per game at 13.9. An offense based around the perimeter, Quinnipiac has taken 51.2% of its shots this season from 3-point territory, which ranks as the second-highest percentage in the country.
Siena is 8-0 at Times Union Center and 0-9 away from it. The Saints are the only remaining team in the country that is undefeated at home and winless on the road.