It was a crucial weekend for both Marist basketball teams. The men and women each came in at 3-4 in the MAAC and had a chance to work their way closer to the top of the conference standings if they could take care of business.
Instead, the teams combined to go 1-3 with the women splitting games against Mount St. Mary’s and Quinnipiac to sit two games out of fifth place and the men dropping two games to MAAC bottom-dwellers St. Peter’s and Mount St. Mary’s to fall to 3-6 in the league and back toward the basement.
A closer look at each reveals that they share one critical weakness: a lack of balance on offense.
If they didn’t know already, opposing coaches are beginning to figure that taking one or two key individuals out of the equation is the key to winning against Marist.
It’s no secret where Marist women’s basketball goes when it needs points. Zaria Shazer (15.6 points per game), Kiara Fisher (14.4 points per game), and Kendall Krick (10.5 points per game) account for about two-thirds of the scoring offense.
After the “big three,” no Red Foxes player averages more than 4.4 points per game. Marist’s other starters—Julianna Bonilla and Maeve Donnelly— have shown flashes this season but haven’t established themselves as real scoring threats.
Bonilla is more of a catch-and-shoot threat but is shooting 31 percent from beyond the arc. Donnelly’s 6-foot-5 frame is very valuable on defense but a 37 percent shooting clip from the field is not good enough for someone who has a size advantage in the post on a nightly basis.
Without much bench scoring to speak of, there are nights when it feels like Brian Giorgis’s team is playing three-on-five.
In Marist women’s basketball’s last two games, an individual has outscored the rest of the team.
In Thursday’s crazy 83-77 win over Mount St. Mary’s, Fisher went off for a program-record 44 points with her team needing every last one of her contributions to get across the finish line.
When you add in Zaria Shazer’s 20 points, the Elmira duo scored all but 19 of their team’s points in Marist’s first MAAC encounter with the Mount.
On Saturday night against Quinnipiac, it was time for Shazer to carry the load. She had a career-high 29, but the problem was that the other seven players only combined to score 23 in the 58-52 loss.
In recent defeats to Quinnipiac and Fairfield, both sitting toward the top of the conference standings, the Bobcats and Stags were able to take at least one of Marist’s “big three” out of the game.
Fisher, Shazer, and Krick combined for 25 of the team’s 34 points against Fairfield, but they combined to shoot 11-for-40 in the ugly loss. The game plan was simple from the Stags’ perspective: try to contain the known scorers and make someone else beat you.
The same was true for Quinnipiac, who took Fisher entirely out of the proceedings with great help defending. She finished the game with more turnovers (three) than points (two). Without Fisher and Krick also having a relatively quiet game, Shazer’s career-high 29 points were not as problematic as they could’ve been.
When the motion offense is humming, usually everyone gets good looks, but over the last two seasons, there have been far too many examples of a stagnant offensive set ending with someone throwing up a contested look.
Hopefully, the ball moves better and someone else can establish themself as a scorer in the second half of the season, or else the Red Foxes will be totally dependent on Shazer, Fisher, and Krick to keep them afloat. If opposing coaches can figure out how to neutralize either Shazer or Fisher, Marist will have a difficult time scoring enough points to get key wins down the stretch.
As for the men’s team, Patrick Gardner can only do so much. The 6-foot-11 transfer leads John Dunne’s team in points (18.4) and rebounds (6.3) per game while trailing only Isaiah Brickner when it comes to assists.
Gardner is the only Marist player that averages double-digit points per game and has only failed to score over 10 points once this season (Nov. 16 against Lehigh).
He’s gone for 23 points or more in four of the team’s seven wins this year, including his heroics against Niagara when he had 31 and the game-winner in the closing seconds.
The problem is that when he scores less than 20, the Red Foxes are just 2-8.
Like the women’s team, it is obvious where opposing coaches will dedicate most of their attention. After all, Gardner is a pretty big target.
Noah Harris is the team’s second-leading scorer but he’s shooting just 31 percent from the floor and averaging 9.8 points per contest. It’s been a wildly inconsistent season for the sophomore who was one of the few holdovers from last season.
After a slow start, it looked like Harris might have found something with a 23-point performance against Boston University but he hasn’t gone over 15 points in a game since and is struggling to find efficiency.
Speaking of inconsistent, it’s been a feast or famine year from Robert Morris transfer Kam Farris. This season, he’s gone into double-figures five times but has failed to score four times, including twice in the last two games.
Brickner and Javon Cooley are good role players but neither have shown enough consistency to be the team’s second scorer.
If the Red Foxes had more shooting, teams would have a little more hesitation over double-teaming Gardner. But as was the case in Sunday’s loss at Mount St. Mary’s, the opposition is more than happy to make Marist’s other players beat them.
The parallels between Marist men’s and women’s basketball on the offensive end are quite intriguing. Both teams are in the bottom three in the league in scoring offense and have struggled to consistently find the touch from deep.
Both squads rely too heavily on a few individuals for the bulk of their offensive production. Sometimes it’s enough to get the job done, sometimes it isn’t. Fisher isn’t going to score 44 points every night and teams are going to be giving more and more attention to Gardner, who is playing like an All-MAAC First-Teamer.
When the rest of the MAAC gets a second (and in some cases, third) look at both Red Foxes teams, coaches will make adjustments if Fisher, Shazer, or Gardner tagged their team for a big performance.
There’s talent on both teams, but if neither can add another dimension on offense, it could be more misery in Atlantic City.
Edited by Andrew Hard
Featured Image Edited by Jarod Rodriguez
Photos from Marist Athletics