ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.– The 6 vs. 11 game in the MAAC tournament was one that brought disappointment to the Marist men’s basketball program just twelve months ago. Tuesday night would produce a much different outcome, as the Red Foxes walked out of Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall with their heads held high.
Marist was excellent in the first half, putting themselves in a comfortable position heading into the halftime break. Manhattan gave them their best shot in the second half, but the Red Foxes were resilient and outlasted the Jaspers 61-50 to punch their ticket in the quarterfinals.
“I’m really happy for the guys because there has been a lot of time this year where we could have put our head down and folded through some tough stretches,” Marist head coach John Dunne said, “Their character never wavered and neither did their will to prepare. I couldn’t be more proud of the guys.”
The Red Foxes have produced some good stretches of basketball over the course of the season, but none were bigger than their opening 20 minutes against Manhattan. Patrick Gardner was their focal point right from the jump, and the Jaspers had no way of shutting that down.
Gardner scored the first five points for Marist, which really set the tone for what the contest would like. Neither team was able to score the ball at a high percentage for large portions of the half, but when it opened up, it was Gardner who found the scoring touch.
Marist went on an 18-0 run over the final 5:43 in the first, including this smooth off-balanced layup from Gardner. He would score ten points during that stretch, putting the team up 36-17 at the break.
The Red Foxes held a 19-point lead at the half because of their aggressiveness on the defensive end. Manhattan shot 25.9 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from three. Ant Nelson, who scored a game-high 22 points in the Jaspers win against Marist on Dec. 19, shot one-for-seven from the field in the first. Isaiah Brickner and Noah Harris did an excellent job frustrating the former Seton Hall Pirate.
A game-high 15 points for Gardner put Marist in a great spot at the break, but the game was far from over. Manhattan interim head coach RaShawn Stores made some adjustments in the locker room, putting his veteran team in a position to climb back into the game.
“We knew (Manhattan) weren’t going to quit, even when we were up by 19. We talked about it. We needed to stay resilient when they made a run,” coach Dunne said.
The Jaspers came out in full-court pressure to begin the second half, a decision that would benefit Manhattan down the stretch. That adjustment sped the Marist offense up, which caused them to take quick shots or even turn the ball over.
Still, it would not be until the 6:24 mark in the second half that Manhattan cut the deficit to single digits. The Jaspers ramped up their ball pressure on Brickner as the momentum was beginning to flip.
Nelson would score seven points in a 9-0 run for Manhattan, making it a four-point game with 4:42 remaining. With their season hanging in the balance, Marist needed to dig deep to create on the offensive end.
The Red Foxes ended the Jaspers run with a tough finish from Gardner, who had two of three Jaspers draped all over him. That basket would prove to be a critical one, as Manhattan was never able to regain the momentum.
Once the game entered the final three minutes, the Jaspers elected to send Marist to the free-throw line. Time and time again, the Red Foxes delivered at the charity stripe. Gardner, Brickner, and Javon Cooley hit late free throws to ice the game.
Manhattan did everything in their power to extend the game, but Marist battled and withstood every punch the Jaspers threw at them. This was a step in the right direction for a program that had crumbled in the final minutes of a handful of games in the regular season.
Gardner was impactful from start to finish, going for a game-high 22 points and 11 rebounds in 31 minutes. “It feels really good. When your teammates play well, it just makes it so much easier for me. Playing with guys like Isaiah (Brickner) and Noah (Harris) makes it easy for me,” Gardner said.
Marist will turn the page to Thursday night when they’ll face the Quinnipiac Bobcats in the quarterfinals. The Red Foxes played well for long periods against the Bobcats, despite losing by a combined 18 points. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on ESPN+.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane
Edited by Jonathan Kinane