The Marist men’s basketball team came into this season with many new faces, both through the transfer portal and the incoming freshman class. It has taken the team some time to gain continuity, which is certainly reflective of their slow start to the year.
With a record of 5-9 and 1-4 in the MAAC, Marist has had some encouraging non-conference wins mixed in with some disappointing losses early in the conference schedule. Their victory over Maine at the Basketball Hall of Fame London Showcase is their biggest win to date, coming from behind to earn the win.
An 83-57 thrashing at the hands of Iona was the lowest of lows as the team got off to an 0-4 start in MAAC play. The Red Foxes did grind out a 63-56 win over conference newcomer Mount St. Mary’s on Sunday, but John Dunne’s team still has some winning to do to if it wants to get out of the bottom of the MAAC.
The Red Foxes have a lot of questions to answer as the season progresses deeper into conference play. Let’s take a look at a few key talking points that will be at the front of people’s minds through the rest of conference play.
Can Marist Get Off to Better Starts in Games?
Getting off to a slow start in games has been a constant concern with this team throughout non-conference play and now the early stages of the MAAC season. Marist has struggled to outplay their opponent in the first half on many occasions, which has left them with a lot of work to turn it around in the second half.
Through 14 games this season, the team has trailed at halftime 10 times. It’s never easy to overturn a halftime deficit, and the Red Foxes are just 2-8 in the games where they trailed after 20 minutes with one of those wins coming on Sunday against the Mountaineers.
The margin for error is always slim when it comes to MAAC play, something I have certainly witnessed over the last three years. Doing the “little things” really well on a consistent basis can be the difference between earning a first-round bye and playing on Tuesday night at the conference tournament.
If the team wants to achieve more success in the new year, starting games with more attention to detail will be crucial. Marist cannot be reliant on turning games around in the second half, especially against top teams in the conference like Iona, Siena, and Niagara.
Will Patrick Gardner Finish the Season as a First-Team All-MAAC Player?
The most fascinating newcomer coming into this season for this team was the 6-foot-11 center, Patrick Gardner. He had a very successful run for Saint Michael’s College in Divison II for the last few years, but many wondered how the big man would adjust to the next level.
Gardner quickly answered those questions, as he would be able to put his mark on games early in non-conference play. His size combined with his ability to stretch the floor was something that most opponents had not really seen a lot of. His willingness to take the ball off the dribble and finish with his left hand at the rim has made him nearly unguardable.
Gardner’s 17 points per game rank third in the MAAC, only behind Noah Thomasson of Niagara and Javian McCollum of Siena. He is also putting up 7.3 rebounds per game, which ranks fourth in the conference. Teams have started to double Gardner whenever he gets the ball in the post, which has allowed him to show off his skills as a passer as he is second on the team in assists with just over two per game.
If the season were to end today, Gardner has the numbers to make a strong case for a First-Team All-MAAC selection. The only question revolved around that is how much will team success play a role in that conversation. Marist may need to finish in the top half of the MAAC in order for Gardner to earn that award.
Who Can Consistently Provide the Scoring Off the Bench?
Gardner and the rest of the starting five have led the way in the scoring department. Where the team could use some improvements is in their bench scoring. The current starting five is averaging over 72 percent of the team’s total points. With the offense running mostly through Gardner, a more balanced scoring attack could give opponents fits when defending Marist.
Kam Farris, the Robert Morris transfer, has been the team’s leading scorer off the bench all season, averaging 7.4 points per game on 32 percent shooting from the field. Marist head coach John Dunne mentioned after the opening-night win against American that Farris was prepared to play the six-man role, which he has certainly thrived in.
Farris would certainly love to be shooting the ball more efficiently from three (28 percent on five attempts per game), but Dunne must love what he saw from Farris at Rider on Dec. 22 (12 points and four made three-pointers in 27 minutes) and against Mount St. Mary’s on Sunday (12 points and three three-pointers). The next step is stringing a few of those performances together.
Forward Jaden Daughtry is another candidate in the second unit who can increase his scoring as conference play progresses. The 6-foot-6 freshman is averaging 14.6 minutes a night, scoring 3.6 points per game. Daughtry has the strength to get downhill and finish at the basket, especially with his left hand.
Trace Salton, Rollin Belton, and Tyler Saint-Furcy are a few other names to mention when it comes to getting more scoring off the bench. Marist is averaging a league-low 62.4 points per game this season, something it would like to change as MAAC play continues.
What Can The Team Expect From Noah Harris?
Sophomore Noah Harris was expected to take a significant leap in his second season with the Red Foxes. An increased role coming into the year was expected to allow him to be more involved on the offensive end, both as a playmaker and a scorer. Harris is the second-leading scorer on the team but he hasn’t had the season many thought he would.
As it stands, he is averaging 9.2 points per game but is only shooting 29 percent from the floor and three-point range. Those numbers indicate that Harris has lacked the consistency that it takes to be a true scoring threat.
Harris’s numbers were even lower through the first eight games of the season before he erupted for 23 points and seven three-pointers in a loss against Boston University on Dec. 10. There were hopes that the performance would really kickstart his season but since then, it’s been a mixed bag for one of the only holdovers from last year’s squad.
In his last three games, Harris hasn’t scored more than eight points and is shooting a combined 7-for-32 from the floor and just 2-for-19 from beyond the arc. The sophomore needs to find his touch if Marist wants to be taken seriously within the league.
Shifting to playing off the ball might be a factor in helping Harris find his shooting and scoring touch. At the beginning of the season, he assumed the responsibility of handling the basketball with the starting five. That all changed when freshman Isaiah Brickner was inserted into the lineup, who is more of a traditional point guard.
Brickner has proved to complement Harris really well, as the two guards have begun to build quite a bit of chemistry. As the season progresses, I expect to see growth between those two, which will hopefully allow Harris to thrive in more of an off-ball role.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane
Photo from Marist Athletics