For what is now the sixth season in a row, Marist leaves the MAAC Tournament without a victory as they fell to Niagara 67-62 for the second straight season in the tournament quarterfinals Thursday night. The Red Foxes nearly rallied from a 19-point second half deficit.
“They just out-hustled us and out-toughed us in that first half,” said Marist head coach John Dunne.
It was hard for anyone to believe Marist didn’t have a point to prove out of the gate in this year’s MAAC Tournament after overachieving the team’s 9th preseason coach’s poll ranking by five spots in the regular season. Head Coach John Dunne missed out on a MAAC Coach of the Year award after bringing the team from last place a year ago to fourth this season and the program’s first winning season since 2008. Freshman guard Ricardo Wright also missed out on conference Rookie of the Year after leading all freshmen in scoring in the regular season.
The two teams split their season series in early January as well as faced in last year’s tournament in the first round where Niagara triumphed on a Raheem Solomon layup in the dying seconds just before COVID-19 cancelled the remainder of the tournament.
It was Marist’s second lowest point total of the season in the first half, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Red Foxes shot just 27 percent from the floor and mustered just 20 points in the opening frame and found themselves down eight at the intermission.
“I think we had nerves,” said Dunne. “A few guys were excited, and when you’re excited sometimes you do some things that are uncharacteristic. I was getting a sense that we were a little nervous.”
John Dunne’s squad was able to rally in the second half. A lead that ballooned to 19 early in the half was brought to within three with less than a minute to play. A trap in the backcourt by Marist forced a Niagara turnover and gave the Foxes a chance to tie the game with six seconds to play. A careless turnover off the foot of Ricardo Wright on the inbound sealed Marist’s fate and eliminated them from MAAC Tournament contention.
“It’s a play we’ve worked on the last year or two,” said Dunne. “We’ve actually ran it a few times and had some success. We just didn’t execute it to the best of our ability.”
Marist was paced by senior center Jordan Jones with 14 points and ten rebounds. Raheim Sullivan had 12 points while Hakim Byrd and Herasme each pitched in with 11.
“We easily could have folded down 19 in the second half,” said junior guard Matt Herasme. “Coach challenged us in the timeout, and we responded well. It just wasn’t enough.”
Junior guard Raheem Solomon led the way for Niagara with 17 points in the victory. Redshirt senior forward Kobe Nwandu and senior forward Nicholas Kratholm followed with 15 and 10, respectively. The Purple Eagles were able to snatch 13 offensive rebounds in the first half alone.
“It shows a lot to be able to build a lead,” said Niagara head coach Greg Paulus. “For us, in these types of situations, it’s about surviving and advancing. Doesn’t matter how you do it. The most important thing is that Niagara was able to find a way.”
Niagara improves to 9-10 on the season and advances to the MAAC Tournament semifinals and will take on Rick Pitino and Iona for a spot in the championship game tomorrow night.
Marist finishes the season at 12-9, their second season with 12 wins under John Dunne.
“I’m very, very proud of them,” said Dunne. “We showed exceptional growth this year. But if we want to become a championship-caliber team, we certainly have another step to take.”
Edited by Nicholas Stanziale