By Dan Gardella
Bridgeport – As the season was in its early stages and began to move towards conference play, no freshmen were as must-watch as Neftali Alvarez and Jalen Pickett.
The two guards who combined for nine MAAC Rookie of the Week awards met for the first time Thursday evening as Siena traveled to Bridgeport to take on the Stags.
It was Pickett who would win round one by scoring a game-high 20 points to help Siena get to .500 in MAAC play with a 57-48 victory.
It was only fitting that after a slow start to things, Jalen Pickett would get position down low and clean up a Siena miss to put the Saints on the board first, nearly two and a half minutes in. Pickett would score the next bucket as well to help Siena strike first.
After the initial punch, Fairfield once again would go to work with a deficit, something that has been a common theme during their three game losing streak. They would start slow from the opening tip, making just three of their first 13 shots and missing their first seven from beyond the arc.
Although they started off slow, Fairfield would manage to keep Siena in check to prevent the lead from ballooning. For every lead Siena would take, Fairfield would hustle back and knot things even, but could never lead.
The Stags would come back on three separate occasions to tie the score at 11, 13, and 18 before the Saints would close the final seven minutes of the first half on an 11-6 run after Fairfield managed to tie things at 18 to take a 29-24 lead into the locker room at half.
With the offense struggling, sophomore Wassef Methnani saved the Stags by connecting on three three-pointers to score 11 points in the first half.
“I think with our program, I’m committed to playing the guys who are the best guys in the gym,” Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson said. “I think it’s a clear statement that Wassef was the best guy in the gym.”
To begin the second half, Siena would a get a three-pointer from Sloan Seymour to prompt a Johnson timeout just ninety seconds into the half.
Fairfield would continue to struggle on the offensive end, going scoreless for over six and a half minutes, ranging from the end of the first half and into the beginning of the second. Siena would manage to score 11 points in that period and open the lead to 14.
The Stags would finally crack the scoring column again on a Jesus Cruz layup at the 14:40 mark of the second half to make it 38-26.
Cruz’s layup would be the beginning of an 8-0 run that would bring the Siena lead to six, 38-32 with 10:47 to play.
After absorbing the metaphorical punch, Siena would respond with a 7-0 run of their own to bring the lead back to 13.
Fairfield, once again down big, would cut the lead back to seven with 4:24 left but needed to get stops down the stretch if they wanted to fully climb back.
But the freshman who calls Albany home would rise up.
Pickett would come up with big buckets and the Saints would knock down their free throws to put the nail in the coffin for the Stags.
While it was a battle of two teams looking to turn things around in their conference season, internally, there was some intrigue between the top two freshmen in the league squaring off.
“I was,” Siena freshman Jalen Pickett said when asked if he was looking forward to the matchup. “I’m going to play him a lot more times than this. He’s a great player.”
Outside of Pickett’s 20 points, Siena (8-11, 3-3 MAAC) got contributions from Evan Fisher, who scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds, and Sloan Seymour, who chipped in with nine points on three three-pointers.
Fairfield (5-15, 2-6 MAAC) were led by Wassef Methnani, who scored a season-high 15 points while grabbing five rebounds off of the bench.
In a game where the Stags scored the fewest amount of points in a game this season, there is no need for a change in the offensive game plan.
“The way we looked tonight is not how we’ve looked in our gym,” Johnson said. “We’re playing a certain way where it’s crisp, it’s sharp, and then it didn’t show up tonight.”
Siena, now winners of two straight, flexed their defensive muscle in the win, holding a team under 50 points for the first time this season.
“Tremendous defensive effort from our team,” Christian said. “They are really growing defensively. Another great job defending the three against the best three-point shooting team in the league. Couldn’t be more excited for our guys.”
PHOTO: Jalen Pickett/sienasaints.com