The Marist men’s basketball team picked up a 68-45 victory at home over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats on Wednesday night. This win means that the Red Foxes finish out non-conference play with a record of 5-4.
Marist head coach John Dunne stuck with the same starting five for the first ten games of the season. To the surprise of everyone, the first adjustment came at the hands of one of the more important players on the team against the Wildcats.
Sophomore guard Ricardo Wright, who came into the game as the team’s leading scorer at 14.8 points per game, started the contest on the bench. Freshman guard Noah Harris took his place, getting his first start of the season.
“There was no specific reason behind the change. I thought Ricardo had a slow start but came out for the second half and played really well. Hit a big-time three for us as well,” said Dunne.
For the first few offensive possessions of the game, Marist was unable to find their rhythm. After over three minutes of play, senior guard Rahiem Sullivan got the Red Foxes on the board with a three-pointer from the top of the key.
Marist was then able to control the tempo on both ends of the floor. An extended 21-4 run across nearly nine minutes of play put the Red Foxes up 24-9 with 07:13 left in the half.
Senior forward Samkelo Cele shined in the first 20 minutes, leading all scorers with 14 points on five-for-eight shooting from the field and three-for-six from beyond the arc. The Red Foxes finished the first on a 6-1 run, taking a 33-18 lead going into the half.
The defense played a critical role in Marist jumping out to a big lead. Bethune-Cookman shot just 16.1 percent from the field in the first half. A combination of the Wildcats missing shots and the Red Foxes forcing the team into difficult opportunities, put Marist into the driver’s seat going into the second half.
The Wildcats scored three of the first five points to begin the second half. Following that, a three-pointer followed by two made free throws from freshman guard Jao Ituka gave Marist a 40-22 lead going into the U16 media timeout.
With 14:35 left in the half, the Red Fox faithful began to raise the energy in the arena following a ferocious right-handed dunk from Ituka.
Three minutes later, Cele finished with an emphatic dunk of his own, coming in transition off an assist from Wright, giving Marist a 49-24 lead.
Bethune-Cookman found some rhythm towards the middle of the second but was only able to cut the deficit to as low as 17 with a little less than nine minutes in the game. At any time it seemed like the Wildcats had a chance to make a run, Marist came right back with a few baskets of their own.
Marist closed the game out on a 6-4 run over the final three minutes, finishing off a 23 point victory. The defense was a point of emphasis for the Red Foxes all night, as they were able to hold the Wildcats to just 21.3 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent shooting from three.
Cele was the standout performer for Marist on the night. The 6-foot-5 forward scored a game-high 18 points on seven-for-11 shooting from the field and three-for-seven shooting from three. This is the seventh game in which Cele has scored in double figures so far this season.
Matt Herasme had an excellent game on both ends of the floor against the Wildcats. The 6-foot-3 senior guard had ten points on four-for-nine shooting from the field and two-for-four shooting from three. Herasme also contributed with six rebounds and two assists in 31 minutes.
“We feel great right now. This was a big game for us. Like coach said, we have to carry this momentum into our next game,” Herasme said about how the team feels as they return to conference play.
Coming off a career-high 34 points against Boston University on Saturday night, Ituka followed that up with another good game against Bethune-Cookman. The guard finished with 13 points on three-for-seven shooting from the field and seven-for-ten shooting from the free-throw line in 24 minutes.
Marist returns to play on Dec. 31st at 1 p.m. when they face the Monmouth Hawks at the OceanFirst Bank Center in West Long Branch, New Jersey. The Red Foxes are 16-26 against Monmouth all-time, including a six-game winning streak that stretched from 1984-1988. The Hawks won the last matchup between these teams, earning a 72-62 victory at home on Jan. 10th, 2021.
Edited by Bridget Reilly
Photo Credit: Luke Sassa