A 20-0 run in the first half spurred Niagara in their 86-72 victory over Marist, handing the Red Foxes their second loss of the season in the teams’ second meeting of the weekend.
“We have to get a lot better with our own intensity level and being able to execute through intensity,” said Marist head coach John Dunne. “These are some growing pains for us but we just have to grow from it, learn, and get better.”
Niagara entered the weekend series on a three-game winning streak after sweeping Fairfield and beating Albany in a non-conference matchup. The Red Foxes handed Niagara their fourth loss of the season on New Year’s Day with a 63-61 win that improved them to 6-1 on the season, marking the first time a Marist team is 6-1 to start a season since 1998. It set up a Saturday grudge match at McCann Arena on Saturday afternoon.
Marist continued their success from yesterday early on after jumping out to a 13-8 lead. A 26-4 run from Niagara set Greg Paulus’s squad up with a 34-17 lead with six minutes left in the first half. Ten first-half three-pointers for the Purple Eagles helped create a 51-37 advantage heading into the intermission.
“Niagara out-energized us in the first half,” said Dunne. “If the game wasn’t lost before it started, it was lost in the first half.”
Multiple Red Fox runs were able to knock the lead down to as low as seven in the second frame but were never able to complete the comeback. Niagara was a nearly perfect 24-for-25 at the line and was able to hold off any Marist run with timely shots and clinical free throw shooting.
“Even when we were grinding on the way back, there’s still a lot of loose ball plays that we’ve got to get better at as we mature as a team,” said Dunne.
Despite the loss, Marist shot a season-high 52.9 percent from the floor and went 11-for-26 from beyond the arc. The typically stingy Red Fox defense struggled to force turnovers against Niagara with just four in the game, a season-low for the Purple Eagles. Although shooting just 40 percent from the field, the free-throw efficiency was the catalyst towards Niagara’s fourth win of the season.
Freshman guard Ricardo Wright was the lone spark in the first half for Marist with a career-high 16 points as Wright was the leading scorer for Marist and finished the game with 19. Senior center Jordan Jones continued his dominant run against Niagara with 17 points on eight-for-nine from the field. Jones also contributed with six rebounds, four assists, and four blocks. Freshman forward Javon Cooley set a career-high with 15 points including four three-pointers in the defeat.
“We had a lot of confidence in Jordan to throw it into him,” said Dunne. “For two days, he scored when he needed to and passed it when he got crowded. Whether it’s Niagara or anybody else, when Jordan’s got a clean post-up, we need to give him the ball.”
Junior guard Marcus Hammond lit it up as he scored 23 points to pace the Purple Eagles in the victory. Hammond was a strong five-for-nine from the perimeter and tallied six rebounds in the outing. Sophomore guard Nick MacDonald was a surprise contributor for Niagara after attempting just one shot in yesterday’s loss. MacDonald shot a blazing five-for-seven from deep and poured in 15 points, the second-most in a game for his career. Kobi Nwandu, Justin Roberts, and Raheem Solomon each pitched in with double figures.
“A lot of Hammond’s buckets are isolation buckets, you just can’t give him a rhythm three,” said Dunne. “He’s a really tough cover. He’s, in my opinion, a first-team all-league guy. You just want to make it harder for him over the course of 40 minutes.”
Marist will travel to New Jersey next Saturday as they take on Monmouth in a weekend series. Tip-off is at 2:00 p.m.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane