ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – The Marist men’s basketball team arrived at the 2023 MAAC Tournament with little to no expectations externally. As an 11-seed, many were unsure if they would even make it past Tuesday night.
Marist is now just one win away from the NCAA Tournament after their semifinal against the Saint Peter’s Peacocks. The Red Foxes were pushed to the brink in the second half, but their resolve down the stretch helped them hold on for the 69-57 victory.
“These guys deserve to be in this game tomorrow. We are really excited and all the credit goes to them. They showed great character this year, and we continued to improve every day, through the wins and losses. I’m so proud of them,” Marist head coach John Dunne said.
The Red Foxes could not have gotten off to a better start then they did against the Peacocks. Saint Peter’s sat in a zone in order to limit Patrick Gardner’s impact, a decision that would prove to be costly. The Marist big was able to isolate his defender once the ball entered the high-post, giving him every opportunity to score.
Marist jumped out to an early 8-0 lead, with six of those points coming from Gardner. Saint Peter’s would not get on the board until Jayden Saddler hit a free throw at the 15:06 mark.
Isaiah Brickner, Noah Harris and Gardner were playing with so much freedom that is almost seemed like everything was coming easy for them. The Red Foxes would continue to build upon their advantage, slowly but surely. Marist would increase their lead to 12 following a three-point make from Jaden Daughtry, leading 24-12 with 6:46 left in the first half.
The three guards for Marist were getting to whatever spot they wanted on the floor, doing a tremendous job of controlling the offense. Brickner hit back to back free throws to end the half, capping off a 8-2 Marist run over the final 2:21. The Red Foxes were taking a 21-point lead into the locker room, a result many did not expect coming into the game.
Saint Peter’s shot 21.6 percent from the field and had failed to make any of their nine three-point attempts in the first half. Marist was defending without fouling, contesting every shot and making it so tough for the Peacocks.
With their season on the line, Saint Peter’s came out of the break with a sense of desperation. Their intensity in the full court press increased to an even higher level, testing the will power of the Red Foxes. That constant pressure pulled the Peacocks within 14 before the U16 timeout, forcing coach Dunne to burn a quick timeout.
Even when Saint Peter’s was unable to force a turnover, they were able to speed Marist up as a whole. The Red Foxes wanted to play slow and control the pace, but the Peacocks were relentless and their guards were flying all over the floor.
At the 7:28 mark, the Peacocks finally cut it to single digits following a jumper from Jaylen Murray. All the momentum was in favor of Saint Peter’s, and their fans were starting to get even louder.
Marist made some unforced errors and their opponent took advantage of it. A 7-0 run, capped off by a three-pointer from Kyle Cardaci, made it a three-point game with 4:33 remaining.
The Red Foxes were truly in danger of falling apart, but coach Dunne and his staff were able to keep their team level-headed. Marist came out of a timeout with a differently level of attention to detail, which led to the biggest shot of the season.
With just under two minutes remaining, Harris dribbled the ball up the floor. Saint Peter’s collapsed on the guard as he entered the paint, leaving a trailing Gardner wide open from the top of the key. The stepped right into the shot and hit nothing but net, putting Marist back up by seven.
“That is a shot you practice in your driveway during summer nights. I’m just confident in myself and I feel like that was a big moment. I was open and it was a good pass from Noah (Harris). He trusted me and that is something this entire team has,” Gardner said.
That three-point make completely flip the momentum, and even though Saint Peter’s continued to press, it was too little, too late. The Peacocks made the final 1:32 a free throw game, one that Marist was able to thrive in. Saint Peter’s simply ran out of gas, as the Red Foxes scored the final seven point to cap off a 12-point victory.
Gardner led the way with a team-high 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting and 11 rebounds. Despite just three field goal attempts, Noah Harris finished with 10 points, going 7-for-11 from the free throw line. Isaiah Brickner and Javon Cooley also had 10 point apiece, as Marist was able to showcase a well-balanced scoring attack.
Marist has defeated Manhattan, Quinnipiac and Saint Peter’s in the last three days, but their opponent on Saturday night will provide a much bigger test. The Iona Gaels, led by head coach Rick Pitino, won 17 games in conference play this season. The Red Foxes will be heavy underdogs in the championship game, with all the pressure being on the Gaels.
Marist was never expected to get to this point, but they are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time. They are the first 11-seed to ever get to this point of the tournament. The players, the coaching staff, and the fans have created something special this week. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.
Edited by Andrew Hard
Photo from Marist Athletics