Marist was one of few schools to end their season prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A last-second layup from Niagara’s Rasheed Solomon ended Marist’s season in the eventually doomed MAAC Tournament and sent them reeling to a first-round exit for the fifth straight season. The college basketball world would then crumble within the following 48 hours.
The Red Foxes have already been challenged before even stepping foot on the court. The program has been under a pause on any team activities or practices since November 1st and has yet to run a five-on-five scrimmage this offseason.
“It’s disappointing that we can’t be on the court,” said Dunne. “It’s what we all love to do.”
Looking back at last season, the offense struggled to find any consistency. It ranked second-to-last in the MAAC in points per game, but a structured and stout defense helped guide the roster to a few wins throughout the season. The struggles with the ball ultimately became too much to overcome and the Foxes finished the season with a record of 7-23 and at the bottom of the MAAC.
Dunne recognized the offensive struggles of the team during last season’s campaign. They were rocked by the loss of sophomore Darius Hines right around the turn of the new year. His departure created a serious lack of a true point guard on the roster, something the team desperately needed at times.
“We got guys that we feel can put the ball on the floor and make plays not just for themselves but for others as well,” said Dunne.
A high level of player continuity gives hope to a Marist team that has seen double-digit wins just once in the last six seasons. Nine of 14 players from last year’s roster return, and are ready to make a leap from their last-place finish in the MAAC. Dunne sees it as a chance to amp up the intensity on defense. All three leading scorers also return in Michael Cubbage, Matt Herasme, and Jordan Jones.
“We were pretty good on the defensive end last year,” noted Dunne. “The guys got better and better as the year went on at being able to prepare for games and being able to execute the game plan. Having that experience come back is a big bonus.”
Marist sees four newcomers enter the mix in Raheim Sullivan, Hakim Byrd, Javon Cooley, and Ricardo Wright. Sullivan and Byrd look to fill the missing point guard role for Dunne’s offense. Cooley provides a wing with a consistent perimeter jump shot, and Wright offers a dynamic off-ball scoring threat.
“Speaking from a team perspective, I think their strengths play into the other guys’ strengths,” said senior center Jordan Jones. “They’ll be able to set a lot of guys up. A lot of guys won’t have the responsibility of creating their own shot. They’re very versatile players.”
Junior guard Matt Herasme hopes to be the beneficiary of the addition of players like Sullivan and Byrd. The junior has grown into a leadership position with the team and has become one of the better shooters on the team. He shot a lowly 18 percent from the perimeter his freshman year but bettered it to a team-best 40 percent for his sophomore campaign.
“We brought in some great talent, some great ball handlers,” said Herasme. “Guys that can create and get in the lane, draw defenders, and then kick. And we surround them with shooters and big men who can finish down low. They’re going to help relieve some of that tension, get the ball in the paint, and improve some of our spacing.”
Junior center Victor Enoh will make his much-awaited debut as a Red Fox this season after sitting out last season following his transfer from Memphis due to the NCAA’s transfer rules. Jones looks forward to the opportunity of anchoring the paint alongside someone he competes with every day in practice.
“Vic and I have challenged each other ever since he got here, trying to get better,” said Jones. “I think we bring a lot of competitiveness, playing hard, and offer a lot of rim protection and defense. Whenever I’m playing or he’s playing, just being able to be an anchor on defense for the team.”
A mass exodus of high-profile MAAC players took place in the offseason, with the likes of Monmouth’s Ray Salnave, Quinnipiac’s Kevin Marfo and Rich Kelly, and many others departing from the conference to play at high-major programs. It has left many teams gutted but allowed younger players to step up.
“It’s the nature of the beast,” said Dunne. “It’s unfortunate because it hurts our league overall. There’s talent in this league, you don’t have to look far.”
Close games were a weakness of the Red Foxes a year ago. Marist was 2-13 in games decided by less than ten points in 2019-20, a mark that must improve for the team to climb the standings.
“It always comes down to the little plays,” said Herasme. “Coach is always emphasizing that when we watch a lot of film to see what we could have done better. Sometimes it comes down to somebody not boxing out or getting back in transition.”
For the first time in the MAAC’s history, teams will be playing back-to-backs every Friday and Saturday throughout the season. One team will have the weekend off each week as the rest of the league plays each other twice in two days.
“It’s going to be something new,” said Herasme. “We’ve played Friday and Sunday games with one day rest, but back-to-back against the same team is going to be different. We have a great coaching staff who’s really good at making adjustments game to game so that’s something that could benefit us. Something we have success in on Friday may work on Saturday and vice versa.”
The men begin their season against Canisius on the road on December 11th at the Koessler Athletic Center. Tip-off time is yet to be determined.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane