The Marist men’s basketball team is playing their best basketball of the season, at just the right time. The Red Foxes earned a 74-56 victory on Senior Night over the Manhattan Jaspers on Friday night.
Marist now has a 9-9 record in MAAC play this season, which is good for fifth in the current conference standings. A few weeks ago, the Red Foxes were trending in the wrong direction, but a six-game winning streak has this team in a good position to earn a first-round bye in Atlantic City right now.
The atmosphere for the final home game of the season was as good as it has been in a very long time. Final attendance was 2,665, but being inside McCann Arena made it feel like even more people were there.
“I’ve seen a few senior nights here and I got to say, I have never seen the gym like this. Coming out for the game, it was just amazing to see,” graduate student Jordan Jones said about the atmosphere.
The Red Foxes outplayed Manhattan for nearly the entire first half. Marist jumped on the Jaspers early, and the home team took advantage of the energy the crowd was creating. A made free throw from senior guard Rahiem Sullivan gave the Red Foxes their largest lead of the night at 29-11.
Baskets from Jones and Sullivan in the final minute of the first half extended the Marist lead back to 15. The Red Foxes held the advantage for nearly 18 minutes in the half, proving how well they were playing to that point.
But in stark contrast to the opening half, Marist got off to a much slower start to begin play in the second. Manhattan was far more aggressive, getting to a majority of the 50/50 balls and creating better looks on the offensive end.
Instead of running the offense through mainly star player Jose Perez, Manhattan began to rely upon Ant Nelson creating for himself. That was a decision that certainty paid off for the Jaspers, as the guard cut the deficit to three with just under eight minutes in the game.
All the momentum was in favor of Manhattan until the Red Foxes dug deep and went on a run of their own. Marist proceeded to go on an 11-1 run over the next three minutes, capped off by a three-point make from Sullivan.
At that point, the Jaspers were beginning to run out of time to get within striking distance. Marist gave them no chance to turn things around, finishing the game on a 13-8 run to earn the win.
“I’m just proud of our guys. It wasn’t going great for us and we still showed resilience and we stayed strong,” coach Dunne said.
Perez, who came in the contest as the leading scorer in the MAAC with 19.4 points per game, struggled to deal with the intense defense of the Red Foxes. The 6-foot-5 forward was held to just 14 points on 3-for-16 shooting from the field and 0-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc.
Sullivan played a critical role in the victory for the Red Foxes. The 6-foot-1 guard had a team-high 15 points on four-for-11 shooting from the field and 5-for-6 shooting from the free-throw line. Sullivan also contributed with four rebounds and three steals in 29 minutes.
While he spent a lot of time on the bench in foul trouble, Jao Ituka was able to finish the game strong. The freshman guard had 15 points on four-for-five shooting from the field and was also able to create 13 free throw attempts for himself. Ituka was aggressive all night, putting a countless amount of pressure on the Manhattan defense.
The Red Foxes have just two games left on the schedule. With their win over Manhattan, Marist is in the driver’s seat to finish in the top five of the MAAC, which would result in them getting a first-round bye.
Marist returns to play on Mar. 3 at 7 p.m., when they face the Canisius Golden Griffins at the Koessler Athletic Center. The Red Foxes earned a 71-70 victory at home when these teams faced off earlier this season on Feb. 12th, 2022.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane
Photo from Marist Athletics