The Marist men’s basketball team won their home opener against the VMI Keydets in thrilling fashion on Saturday night. The Red Foxes could have finished it off in regulation, but a 78-74 victory in overtime has the team at 2-2 on the season.
“At the end of the day, we battled and showed a lot of resolve. I’m just really proud of the guys,” Marist Head Coach John Dunne said.
The Keydets got the scoring started with a three-pointer at the top of the key from senior center Jake Stephens. As soon as Marist inbounded the ball, VMI came with full court pressure, forcing a turnover in the backcourt. Junior guard Kamdyn Curfman connected on another three to give the road team an early 6-0 lead just over a minute into the game.
Marist got right back into it, getting a bucket from sophomore guard Ricardo Wright followed by a two-point jumpshot and a three-pointer from senior forward Sakelo Cele. This really set the tone for what was going to be a back and forth game throughout.
Senior guard Matt Herasme knocked down a three-pointer with just under a minute remaining in the half, giving Marist a 32-25 lead going into the break. Neither team shot the ball particularly well in the first, as both sides were just 33 percent from the field. Curfman led all scores with 13 points on four-for-eight shooting from the field at the half.
Following the break, the Red Foxes got right back to what was so effective in the first twenty minutes. Marist spaced the floor, giving senior guard Rahiem Sullivan the space to take his defender one on one. The point guard drove to the right side of the basket, finishing off the glass to extend the lead to nine.
VMI would then proceed to go on a 15-5 run over the next six minutes and change, taking a 40-39.
Minutes later, with the score tied at 42 apiece, freshman guard Noah Harris started to heat up for the Red Foxes. The freshman guard hit back-to-back threes, taking his point total to 12 and giving his team a six-point advantage.
A three-pointer from Wright gave Marist a ten-point lead with 5:41 remaining. Once again, the Keydets showed they were not going to go down without a fight. VMI responded with an 11-3 run, cutting the deficit to just two with just under a minute remaining in the half.
After a few misses from both teams, the Keydets called a timeout with 12.8 seconds left. On the ensuing inbound play, VMI got a layup from Curfman coming off a down screen, tying the game at 66 apiece.
With a chance to win the game in regulation, Sullivan came down the right side of the floor. The guard took a three-pointer, which was just off to the left. The rebound fell to the hands of Cele, who missed a putback in traffic as the clock expired.
The beginning of overtime was dominated by the road team. VMI got the scoring started with a layup from junior guard Sean Conway, eventually leading to a 68-67 advantage in favor of the Keydets with just under four minutes remaining.
This is when Wright began to grab a hold of the game. The sophomore from Eustis, Florida scored the next three baskets for Marist, including a fantastic turnaround from just beneath the free throw line to put the Red Foxes ahead 73-70 with 1:35 remaining.
VMI cut the deficit to one with just over a minute remaining but was never able to get over the hump. Two free throws from Wright with just seven seconds left in overtime gave Marist a four-point lead, sealing the win for the home team.
Wright finished with a career-high 29 points on 11-for-22 shooting from the field and three-for-eight shooting from three. “If I keep going without worrying about missing shots, I just need to play defense and everything else will fall into place,” Wright said.
Cele was another dominant performer against VMI tonight. The 6-foot-5 forward had 11 points on four-for-eight shooting from the field as well as eight rebounds. “It was everything I expected it to be,” Cele said about what it was like to play in front of the home fans for the first time at McCann.
While it may not show up in the stats, graduate student center Jordan Jones made a massive impact on both ends of the floor. The 6-foot-8 center drew a handful of fouls while attempting to grab offensive rebounds, helping the team get into the bonus early in the second half. Jones had six points and a career-high 11 rebounds in 28 minutes.
Marist returns to play on Nov. 27th at 1 p.m., when they face the Army Black Knights at Christl Arena in West Point, New York. Marist is 10-1- all-time against Army, including a six-game winning streak that stretched from 1998-2011. The Black Knights won the last matchup between these teams, earning a 66-64 victory in overtime on Nov. 30th, 2019.
Edited by Bridget Reilly
Photo Credit: Jonathan Kinane