Friday, March 2, 2012

Confidence of Marist Men Grows With Each Win

Marist coach Chuck Martin claims he could see a vast improvement in his team as early as this preseason, when players returned after the summer break.

"Jay Bowie (a sophomore swing man) put on muscle in the off-season and came back looking like a linebacker," said Martin. "Devin Price (a junior guard) came back with more muscle and you could tell that he had really worked on his shooting in the off-season.

"Seeing the product of all the work the guys put in over the summer and fall ... I knew we were going to be significantly better."

It would have been hard not to be better than last year's six-victory season, yet it still took some time for the Red Foxes to show the on-court results as they integrated freshman point guard Isaiah Morton and swingman Chavaughn Lewis into the starting lineup.

But when the improvement finally showed up, it showed up in a big way. Since Feb. 4 of this season Marist is 7-2, including Friday's 64-57 victory over Saint Peter's in the first round of the men's MAAC tournament.

To put that in perspective, Marist has had more wins in the last 28 days than it had in the entire 2010-11 season.

The Red Foxes, now 14-17 overall, advance to Saturday's 4:30 p.m. quarterfinal round contest against top-seeded Iona.

But, Marist goes in with a growing sense of confidence. And, why not?

One of the two losses in the recent run was a relatively close 83-74 setback to Iona on Feb. 12, a game in which Marist was still within three with under seven minutes remaining.

"We're playing Iona (24-6 overall), but it's March and anything can happen," said Martin, after Friday's game. "Last year Saint Peter's won this tournament and they weren't expected to do that. But they beat (higher seeded) Fairfield and Iona in the final two (tournament) games. This is why it's fun to play in March."

It's particularly fun for a youthful Marist team that has just one senior contributor (guard Brandon Hall, who had 12 points against the Peacocks) and a sense of confidence that is seemingly growing with each late-season victory.

"Confidence is a key for us," said Price (14 points against Saint Peter's). "We're getting it at the right time. We've become a dangerous team. We think we can play with anyone."

To advance, though, Marist had to get past last year's tournament winner Saint Peter's, and it wasn't an easy task even though the Peacocks have only one starter back from last season's run, junior post player Darius Conley (19 points, 13 rebounds in Friday's game).

When St. Peter's freshman Lamin Fulton drained a three-pointer with eight minutes left, the Peacocks had a 43-40 lead. But, Marist's precocious freshman Lewis answered with back-to-back treys, Bowie added a put-back bucket and Price dropped his own trey with the run giving the winners a 51-43 edge.

After that Saint Peter's never got closer than four again.

"We played the game the right way tonight but they made some shots and we didn't," said Saint Peter's coach John Dunne.

Maybe Marist's strong shooting (46.3 percent from the floor) is another product of that growing confidence.

How confident are the red-hot Red Foxes?

"We've very confident," said Lewis. "We think we can win it."

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