Thursday, February 16, 2012

Marist Men Start Winning Ahead of Schedule

Even though Marist suffered a 66-55 defeat when it played at Siena on Jan. 27, your Hoopscribe was impressed enough to remark to Red Foxes' coach Chuck Martin that his team looked like a team with a future, that brighter years were ahead.

Martin took slight offense with the observation, immediately remarking that he thought his team was capable of doing some good work in the remainder of current season.

As is almost always the case, coaches have a better grasp of any situation than a sideline observer.

And, Martin certainly was right as it didn't take his team much longer after that loss to Siena to start finding some success.

After losing to Siena, the Red Foxes then dropped contests at Fairfield and at Manhattan, teams currently in third and fourth place, respectively, in the conference standings.

And then, the turnaround began.

Marist has won three of its last four games with the only loss in the last two weeks an 83-74 setback against first-place Iona in which the Red Foxes played well and held a five-point lead early in the second half before the Gaels took over.

It pushed Marist's overall record to 10-16 and 5-10 in conference play. The league wins are already the most for the program since the 2007-08 season and the non-conference victory total matches the best of any of the past three seasons.

What Marist did not have while getting the first nine of its 10 overall victories was one against a quality opponent, a "signature" win, if you will.

That came Wednesday night when Marist knocked off Loyola, 72-54, and the Greyhounds were just two games removed from a victory over Iona that, at the time, put them in sole possession of first place in the MAAC standings.

Loyola still had a share of the top spot in the conference standings before Wednesday's setback.

Marist not only got a victory over a quality opponent, but did so in a quality manner. The Red Foxes trailed by two with a little over seven minutes left to play when sophomore center Adam Kemp (17 points, 11 rebounds, 8 blocked shots) tied the score on a dunk.

Then junior guard Devin Price made back-to-back three-pointers, and the Red Foxes were on their way to outscoring Loyola, 25-5, down the stretch to win the game.

"We had closed out a couple of other games earlier this year, but hadn't closed one out against a real good opponent," said Martin, when reached by phone Thursday afternoon.

"We had been playing pretty well lately ... our group has really been developing. But you also need to have some tangible results. When you start getting some wins, the kids start to believe in all the things our coaching staff preaches every day. They start believing in hard work. They start believing all the stuff we say because they see the effects on the court. Now, they're really believing in what we're trying to do."

And, now, Marist is getting hot at the right time: late in the season. The Red Foxes are still two games out of sixth place with just three remaining conference contests, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that it could finish sixth and avoid the post-season tournament's play-in round.

Marist has Fairfield, Siena and Niagara remaining on its league schedule, with all three games at the McCann Arena where it has an 8-3 record so far.

It remains to be seen how well Marist can finish. But, for now, a very youthful team is starting to play beyond its years.

Still, its best players will all be back next season. Kemp, who only played 16 games a year ago, is only a sophomore. Price is a junior. Jay Bowie (13 points vs. Loyola) is a sophomore. Chavaughn Lewis (12 vs. Loyola) is a freshman, as is starting point guard Isaiah Morton.

It looks like better years are ahead for the Marist program. But, now, it looks like better days are starting to arrive this season, too.

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