On Jan. 15, Patrick Gardner and the Marist Red Foxes had one of their biggest performances in a road win at Niagara. The two teams would face off again on Sunday, a game that proved to be a monumental moment in the big man’s career. Marist leaned on their defense throughout, capitalizing at the free throw line late in a 61-52 victory to complete the season sweep over the Purple Eagles.
Gardner entered today’s contest needing just 14 points to reach 2,000 for his career. The redshirt senior began to take over in the final seven minutes, which not only helped the team get the win, but ultimately helped himself reach a milestone.
“I’m so excited for the guys to get this win, especially in front of a really nice crowd. I told the guys in the locker room that we couldn’t get a win if we didn’t have high-character and the will to prepare yesterday,” Marist head coach John Dunne said. “Despite some losses, we’ve maintained our good character and spirit and it showed today.”
Neither team shot the ball particularly well in the first half, as it was more of a defensive battle. Marist got off to a quick 6-0 start, thanks to two baskets from point guard Isaiah Brickner.
Niagara would immediately bounce back with ten points of their own, setting the tone for what the rest of the contest would look like. The teams would continue to trade blows in the first half, leaving the score at 24-22 in favor of the Red Foxes with 2:15 remaining.
The Purple Eagles scored the final four points of the half, getting a basket from Noah Thomasson and two free throws from Aaron Gray. To that point, the Red Foxes did a great job on the defensive end, especially on Thomasson.
Through 20 minutes of play, Marist shot 37.5% from the field. They outshot Niagara, who were only at 27.6% shooting. Despite the difference in shooting, Marist was struggling with turnovers, with six going into the second half.
Even after halftime, scoring droughts proved to be an overarching theme. Both Niagara and Marist went through large periods of the game where they could not put the ball in the basket. Some of that was down to both teams missing open looks, but it was mainly caused by relentless defense on both sides.
The momentum flipped in favor of Marist with just under seven minutes remaining. For over 30 minutes, the Purple Eagles did everything in their power to frustrate Gardner. It was clear that Niagara head coach Greg Paulus and his staff did not want his team to get dominated by the same player that had 31 points against them over a month before.
Gardner had two straight baskets, cutting the deficit to one with 5:46 remaining. Over two minutes later, Marist would regain the lead, getting another two from Gardner.
One of the moments that changed the game came off a missed three-pointer. Noah Harris got a shot up from the corner, but it would not fall. Stephane Ingo was in a good position to attack the offensive rebound, creating a deflection that would result in Kam Farris gaining possession. The guard would set his feet, burying the three to give Marist a 50-46 lead with 2:07 left.
On their next possession, Gardner went to the line. He made the first, which would be the shot that got him to 2,000 points.
“It is a testament to his hard work and focus towards the game. I am so proud of him,” Ingo said about Gardner’s achievement.
Gardner would miss the second, but Marist forward Ingo was able to force a jump ball. The possession arrow favored Marist, and they took advantage. Farris would draw a foul, hitting both free throws to put some distance between themselves.
Niagara would try to extend the game by putting Marist at the line, but the home team delivered yet again. The Red Foxes battled adversity all afternoon, but they responded well to every run the Purple Eagles had.
Two of Marist’s biggest wins on the year have come against Niagara. The way they’ve played in those two gives the team hope that they can do something special in Atlantic City. If they play with that level of intensity, they can push anyone in the MAAC to the brink.
Gardner, a player whose sole focus has been on the team performing well, said something very aligned with that in the postgame presser.
“It feels better to win the game because it wouldn’t have been as special of a moment without it,” Gardner said about reaching 2,000 points.
It was not only a special moment for him on an individual level, as his teammates were quite ecstatic for him as well.
“Patrick [Gardner] is one of the best people I have ever been around. He is so unselfish and such a nice guy, so it is just amazing,” Farris said.
The defense against Thomasson was excellent all afternoon, holding him to 6-for-22 shooting from the field 0-for-3 shooting from three. He would wind up finishing with 15 points, getting three of those from the free throw line, but it was a tough game for the MAAC’s leading scorer.
“We were just trying to take him out of stuff and make him uncomfortable. We wanted to extend his catches and really focus on forcing him to his right hand,” Farris said about defending Thomasson so effectively.
Marist is set to begin a two-game road trip next weekend, starting with a matchup against the Manhattan Jaspers on Friday, Feb. 24. The Red Foxes lost their conference opener versus Manhattan 80-69 all the way back on Dec. 19. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at Draddy Gymnasium.
Photo From Jonathan Kinane
Edited By Dan Aulbach