With basketball season rapidly moving toward March, we decided to reconvene our writers from the pre-season roundtables and have them discuss how both Marist teams are performing to this point in the season.
Today, it’s the men’s turn. John Dunne’s squad looked lifeless after an 0-4 start in MAAC play but three straight wins have the Red Foxes revitalized. Is Marist in position for a strong end to the 2022-23 season or will it be another disappointment in March?
Let’s hear what our writers have to say.
What do you make of the season so far?
Christian De Block, Men’s Basketball Beat Writer: Marist’s start to the season has been in line with my expectations coming in. Head coach John Dunne brought in a bunch of new players, so it was inevitable that the team would suffer from growing pains. It wasn’t until early January that the Red Foxes really began to hit their stride.
Individually, Patrick Gardner has been everything the team could have asked for and then some. Many wondered how he would perform after playing at the DII level with Saint Michael’s College, but those concerns are longer a talking point. Gardner is averaging 18.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and shooting 52 percent from the field, numbers that have put him in the MAAC Player of the Year conversation.
Players like Stephane Ingo, Javon Cooley, and Isaiah Brickner have blossomed in their specific roles, especially over the last few weeks. The sweep of the Buffalo trip in recent days gives me a lot of optimism that this team can make a strong push in the second half of the season. If they play as well as they did against Canisius and Niagara through the rest of January and February, Marist will be in good shape by the time they arrive in Atlantic City.
Matt Spirio, Contributing Writer: For starters, going 4-5 through non-conference play was quite encouraging. There were a lot of games that could have gone the other way for the Foxes, so sitting at one game below .500 was an alright place to be.
The emergence of Gardner as a legitimate star for the Foxes was another welcome sight, and it seemed in the early going that this wasn’t like past Marist teams. Unfortunately what followed was a four-game losing streak to open MAAC play that sunk the team to 4-9 and cemented Marist as one of the least efficient offenses in the country. The team has responded well to that adversity though, firing off three straight conference wins and resurfacing back to around where we expected them to be.
The question will be which Marist team will we see more of going forward: the group that lost by 27 to Iona on their own floor, or the Red Foxes who won by double digits on the road at Canisius?
Dan Aulbach, Associate Editor: Unfortunately, these are growing pains and much of the issues that have led the team to their 7-9 (3-4 in the MAAC) record were to be expected of this team this year. However, there is a feeling of athleticism and grit in Dunne’s fresh-faced squad. JUCO transfer Patrick Gardner has proven himself to be a force to be reckoned with, leading the Red Foxes in points per game (17.9) and rebounds (6.8). In non-conference play, the game plan was pretty simple: feed the ball to the crafty big man. However, early conference opponents prevented Gardner from scoring late, which meant the Red Foxes had to adjust. He may have had the game-winner against Niagara, but he will be the focal point of every team’s scouting report for the rest of the season. As the depth of the team is tested against a relentless conference schedule, can the Red Foxes continue their good run?
Brian Ramos, Contributing Writer: This season has been off to a rough start as Marist sits in seventh place with a conference record of 3-4 and an overall record of 7-9. However, they have shown new signs of life on this three-game winning streak. Their next two games are against the two last-place teams in the conference in Saint Peter’s and Mount Saint Mary’s.
I expected a rough start to the season as this is a completely new roster as seven players entered the transfer portal. The only players that have previously played for Marist head coach John Dunne are Noah Harris, Javon Cooley, Tyler Saint-Furcy, and Rollin Belton.
This new roster is filled with transfers and freshmen. The rough start can be chalked up to the players’ need to adjust to the MAAC and gain chemistry. However, I thought the team would be in a better position than they are, as they were 4-5 before conference play.
Why did the team get off to such a disappointing start in MAAC play?
Christian: I’m sure you will see a lot of the same answers on this one. The biggest reason for their slow start to the season is they don’t have enough scoring behind Patrick Gardner. He accounts for over 29 percent of their points, so the team suffers anytime he is off the floor.
Marist has complementary pieces that can score at a higher clip, but they just haven’t done it in enough games. The Red Foxes are ninth in the conference with 63.5 points per game, something that has to improve for the team to take their game to the next step.
Matt: They can’t put the ball in the basket. Plain and simple. There are 363 Division 1 college basketball teams in the nation. The Red Foxes rank 345th in scoring, 330th in field goal percentage, and 276th in free throw shooting.
Those are numbers that have been even worse in conference play and just will not hold up no matter how solid your defense is. The trio of Noah Harris, Isaiah Brickner, and Kam Farris, who are supposed to be this team’s lead guards, are shooting 30, 34, and 33 percent from the field. Someone needs to step up alongside Gardner who is currently accounting for roughly 30 percent of Marist’s scoring output, making him one of the most valuable players in the country.
Dan: There’s quite an identifiable problem, as I’m sure my fellow writers will also talk about. I’m going to exclude their buzzer-beater win against Niagara and follow the trends. While most of their production is coming from Gardner—hovering around a 50 percent field goal percentage—this team desperately needs a number-two scoring option to emerge. While Noah Harris was expected to shoulder the load, he’s only converting less than a third of the time. And while he mostly shoots from the behind arc, it would be nice to see some more consistent production.
Harris is trending upward after the Red Foxes’ big win against Canisius with a 4-for-6 shooting effort from three. While Harris improves, I would like to see the ball in the hands of Javon Cooley more, who, other than the Canisius game, has been absent from larger point totals.
Brian: Marist is currently 3-4 in MAAC play, albeit they are on a three-game win streak. The main reason Marist got off to such a disappointing start in conference play is they simply cannot play two halves of basketball. In their 11-point loss to the Manhattan Jaspers, Marist allowed 41 points in the first half while only scoring 28 in the second.
In a 19-point loss to the Fairfield Stags, the Red Foxes were outscored by 15 while allowing 45 points in the second half. Marist was then flat-out embarrassed by the Iona Gaels, not competing in either half and losing by 27. Marist’s defense needs to step up as opponents are shooting 42.7 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from the three-point line.
Do you think that John Dunne’s team is too dependent on Patrick Gardner on offense? Who else needs to step up?
Christian: My response to the first question is yes and no. Patrick Gardner is the most gifted offensive player in the program, so it is perfectly reasonable to rely on him to put the ball in the basket. The counter to that point is, what happens if he has an off night or gets into foul trouble? Who would the team go to for scoring if that were to happen? Marist is dependent on Gardner too often, which is why they absolutely need more from their supporting cast if they want to be considered among the best in the MAAC.
Two players who really need to step up are Noah Harris and Kam Farris. Harris is the best three-pointer shooter on the team when he is going right, but the guard is shooting just 30.4 percent from distance this season. Isaiah Brickner handling most of the point guard responsibilities has allowed Harris to play more off the ball, which suits his game better.
Farris has a strong case as the second-best pure scorer on the team despite coming off the bench. The Robert Morris transfer has scored in double figures six times this season, so it is all about doing it more consistently. Farris is another player who is down in three-point percentage this season, falling to 29.5% after shooting 40% with the Colonials last year. If Harris and Farris can figure out a way to step up, Marist will be in good shape on the offensive end.
Matt: I’ve already addressed the triumvirate of Harris, Brickner, and Farris and it seems hopeless to expect any of them to truly step up based on what we’ve seen thus far. I think until someone other than Gardner can prove that they can effectively create quality chances for themselves it has to run through him.
Maybe one of the guards can step up as a facilitator and get more open shots for guys like Javon Cooley, who shoots 39 percent from three-point range, or freshman Jaden Daughtry who has shown flashes in limited minutes. Or maybe the three guards can help each other out and stop trying to do it all on their own.
Dan: There are two truths about the fate of the Red Foxes: Patrick Gardner is a monster, but teams will figure out a prevention plan for the big man. Despite their losses, Gardner has been incredibly efficient in MAAC play, shooting 63 percent in those games. What has been working for teams is to shut down the perimeter of the Red Foxes and deal with Gardner’s shiftiness inside the paint just enough to prevent any real threats to their lead.
After putting up a season-high 31 points (Oh yeah, he hit two three’s by the way), Gardner’s transition to the MAAC is an example of Dunne’s excellent scouting ability as the center looks unstoppable. These recent wins look great, but sooner rather than later, Dunne will have to coach up the offense to feed off of each other rather than just Gardner.
Brian: There is no problem with relying on your best scorer which is Patrick Gardner. However, he needs help and a better surrounding cast. When you constantly rely on Gardner, opposing defenses can scheme around it and send double teams and force other players to step up. One player that should definitely step up and offer some help offensively is sophomore guard Noah Harris.
Harris is one of the veterans on the team who has experience playing for Dunne. Going into this season, I suspected Harris would emerge as a breakout player and a double-digit scorer. However, he is averaging 9.2 points per game and has only scored double-digits twice in his last five games.
What does this team need to do to keep the positive momentum going?
Christian: I think the biggest key is taking care of business at home. Marist is 1-2 at McCann Arena in conference play, with their only win coming against Mount St. Mary’s on Jan. 8. The loss against Iona is one that many expected, considering the amount of talent and experience the Gaels have. I’ll give the Red Foxes a pass on that one, but the loss to Manhattan back on Dec. 19 is a game they ought to have won. Talent remains on the Jaspers roster despite the loss of Jose Perez, but that is a team that Marist should be able to beat at home.
I’ll also mention minimizing slow starts as a point of emphasis for the team. In many of their losses, Marist has gone down big in the first half, giving themselves too much work to climb back into the game late. The team is just 3-9 in games where they have trailed at halftime. In comparison, the Red Foxes are 4-0 when leading at the break. Those splits prove how important it is for Marist to start strong, especially in MAAC play.
Matt: I hate continuing to make excuses for this team, but the early-going MAAC schedule has been relentless. Road games at Rider and Fairfield who were both ranked highly in the MAAC preseason poll and then a home game against Iona were never going to be easy games to win. A win at home over Mount St. Mary’s was the first game the Red Foxes were supposed to win and they handled themselves fine, before sweeping the Western New York trip at Canisius and Niagara.
With the schedule starting to lighten up, hopefully someone can find a rhythm as a reliable second option and instill some confidence in shooters who are struggling to find the bottom of the basket. Rotating guys into the starting lineup until you find real chemistry could work, but it’s not just the fruit that’s rotting, it’s the whole tree.
The foundation of the offensive system needs to change and unless John Dunne can change his entire basketball philosophy midway through the season, don’t expect a sudden burst in scoring production.
Dan: A win for this team this year would be to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack and maybe make a little playoff run. After looking bleak with a 0-4 conference record, three consecutive wins keep those hopes alive for a young Marist team.
With the isolated Patrick Gardner formula soon to be figured out, it’s about time some of Marist’s other options begin to complement the talent of Gardner. Marist has two games they could win coming up against bottom MAAC opponents Mount St. Mary’s and St. Peter’s. What this team needs is a winning streak to get going, and that lies in the hands of Coach Dunne and his ability to give his offense different looks to keep the momentum alive in the top talent of the roster.
Brian: Even with the recent success, I think this team needs a spark and to change something around in order to avoid losing in the first round of the MAAC Tournament again. The spark that should be considered is starting Kam Farris over Isaiah Brickner.
In Marist’s most recent win against Niagara, Farris had 18 points off the bench and, along with Gardner, was the only Red Fox in double figures. He’s played starters’ minutes in several games this season, but giving him a spot in the lineup may unlock more consistent performances. In Farris’s first game as a Red Fox, he erupted for 20 points going 5-for-5 for three in a win against American.
Shifting the starting lineup will not only be beneficial for Farris and the team as they gain more scoring, but this could also be beneficial for Brickner. With Brickner, moving to the bench he will get more scoring opportunities as he would be tasked with being the anchor of the bench unit.
The big question(s). How does this team do the rest of the way and does Dunne get an elusive MAAC Tournament victory?
Christian: Although Marist did struggle to begin conference play, I believe we have yet to see the best from the team. They swept the Buffalo trip over the weekend for just the second time in program history, a potential sign of what is to come. Yes, that may sound a bit crazy to say considering how reliant they have been on Patrick Gardner, but their supporting cast has the shot-making ability to contribute on the offensive end.
The Red Foxes will find their feet toward the second half of MAAC play, finishing with a conference record of 9-11. The drought in Atlantic City will come to an end in 2023, as head coach John Dunne will earn a first-round victory as a lower seed.
Matt: I originally said 11 wins with, 8 of them coming in conference play. I’ll drop that number down to 7 considering they found an extra win in their non-conference schedule. I feel like I always say the Red Foxes will find a MAAC tourney win and they never do so I’ll say they are a first-round exit and hope for the opposite result.
Dan: A MAAC tournament victory is not likely this year, I think anyone can tell you that. A successful season could only be capped off by a playoff win, something this program desperately needs. I had this team 7-13 in conference play at the start of the season, but given their current momentum, this team has a chance to win one or two more if they figure things out on the offensive side of the ball.
Brian: I have Marist going 6-14 in the MAAC and 10-19 overall. Coach Dunne and the Marist Red Foxes will once again get eliminated in the first round of the MAAC Tournament in Atlantic City.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane and Luke Sassa
Photo from Marist Athletics