Thursday, February 7, 2013

Marist Shocks Iona, Biggest Win For Coach Martin

On a night when three of the four men's conference games were won by decisive underdogs, none was a more surprising result han Marist's victory over Iona.

Tough enough to have to travel to the home court of the favored Gaels, one of the highest-scoring teams nationally. And, then, it got tougher when the Red Foxes' top guard, Devin Price, had to sit out the game with an ankle sprain.

On the surface it looked like the proverbial mismatch. Iona entered the contest in a three-way tie for second place in the league standings with an 8-4 record. Marist entered in a two-way tie for last at 2-10 in MAAC play.

But, the higher the mountain the greater the feeling of accomplishment upon reaching the summit.

Marist had plenty to feel good about Thursday night after earning a 105-104 victory over Iona in double overtime.

The good feelings, and likely the sense that something special indeed was brewing, began when it looked like Iona was going to hold on, holding a three-point lead with seconds left in the first overtime session.

But, Marist's standout sophomore swingman Chavaughn Lewis (who finished with 21 points) took an in-bounds pass, took three dribbles up court and let loose with a 60-foot desperation attempt that fell through at the buzzer to send the contest into the second extra session.

To even get to within range for that shot to be meaningful the Red Foxes had to overcome a 12-point, 52-40, deficit with 16 minutes left in regulation.

And, then, Marist had to survive a late turnover with just seconds remaining in the second overtime while holding a one-point advantage and, then, survive a last-tick three-pointer by the Gaels' Sean Armand (blocked by Lewis) as time ran out.

But all of that happened on a night when everything fell into place for a program that has struggled for much of Martin's tenure since taking over at Marist prior to the 2008-09 season.

Things appeared to be turning around for Martin's team when it won seven of its final 11 games a year ago and returned much of its playing group.

And, then, the team lost 6-5 junior forward Jay Bowie with a concussion early in the season, and Bowie missed 13 games.

"People who kept asking me how much we missed Bowie must not have seen us a lot," said Martin, via phone from the team bus on its return to Poughkeepsie Thursday night. "Because we missed him plenty."

Not coincidentally, Bowie made his return on Thursday, made two three-pointers early, made five in the game and scored five of his 21 points in the second overtime period. The outside play of Bowie and Lewis opened things up inside for junior center Adam Kemp, who had one of the top games of his career with a team-high 29 points.

The victory won't get Marist into the race for the regular-season title. After all, the Red Foxes are still only 3-10 in league play, although they're no longer in last place.

But, it's likely to be a significant boost, a confidence builder, for a still-young team that likely desperately needed something like Thursday night's victory.

"I hope this helps energize the guys," said Martin. "I'm proud of the kids. They played well. They fought through a lot. This game says a lot about them."

Typical of a coach to defer credit while expressing the sentiment that he was happier for his players than for himself.

But, Martin surely felt more than a little joy over Thursday's outcome, enough to rate it his most-rewarding victory since taking over Marist.

"It's probably one of the top five or six victories I've ever been associated with," said the coach, who had been part of some pretty big wins as an assistant coach at Memphis where that program went to the NCAA championship game in 2006-07 and to the Elite Eight round the following season.

"This was just a fun game to be part of," added Martin. "A double-overtime game ... a three-quarter-court shot at the end of the first overtime ... a game with the score in the 100's ...

"It was just a great game to be part of."

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